Food Rivalries: Pie- or Square-Cut Pizzas
Ever notice how some arguments have had the same opposing sides for what seems like all of time? We’re exploring the discourse around common kitchen arguments in our series on ancient debates and food rivalries. There are always two sides to a story, and sometimes everyone’s right.
Have you ever gotten into a good-natured screaming match with someone you’ve only known for two-and-a-half days? We did. It was about pizza.
It won’t be surprising that we met at a program dedicated to food writing. Predictably conversations centered on food, and on the 4th of July, the topic wandered into pizza. We were off.
Meet Our Two Opponents
Claire: “I grew up just outside of Chicago. The city shapes you. I don’t think you can come out of Chicago as an adult without knowing how to walk against the wind, correctly eat a hotdog, or defend the city’s pizza to an inch of your life.”
Theresa: “I grew up between Philly and Trenton, which should be nationally acknowledged as part of the Pizza Belt. I can name at least 12 reputable pizza places in my area. My family’s favorite, Originals, is owned and operated by Mr. Sal Matarese, a man who has had more influence on my life than he can perhaps imagine. Would he ever think I’d use his pie-cut pizzas as my platonic ideal in such a debate?”
Claire thought Theresa, having lived in the Midwest since 2013, would understand party-cut. Theresa believed Claire’s college stint on the East Coast would’ve shown her the error of her ways. Below, we defend our favored slices, and you can decide which cut reigns supreme.
In Praise of Pie-Cut Pizza
My mom once described the best kind of pizza as “a slice where halfway through you notice a trail of warm, gentle oil all the way down your arm, dripping off your elbow onto the counter or paper plate in front of you.” Having experienced this miracle many times, especially on the boardwalk in Jersey, I can attest to its magic.
Growing up where I did meant access to all kinds of pizza: rectangular Sicilian, corners gone crisp; doughy pan cheese with spicy sausage, best eaten cold the next day; thin, floppy slices that demand folding and inhaling. The first bite of a pie-cut slice is the best: a slight rasp to the bottom of the crust (like very fine sandpaper) and then the melty heat of the cheese and the tangy sweetness of the sauce and olive oil swimming in the background. That bite offers the perfect ratio of what pizza has to offer. By the time you reach the slice’s cornicione (yes, this a real pizza term describing the ring that proceeds the crust), you’re happy and fulfilled and ready to tear into pure crust.
Party slices aren’t nearly as satisfying and straightforward as this. Instead, the Midwestern-style pizza acts as a vessel for as many toppings as it can bear, which to me signals they have no faith in their pizza’s crust. Then they cut the overworked pie into squares, leaving strange little triangles of stale cracker-like, substance-less crust for some poor schmuck who’s late to this supposed party. Party-slice pizza is a misnomer; a feint at politeness. Sure, this cut stretches a pie further, but who ever wants an amuse bouche of pizza instead of a complete meal? Pizza should always be the star, which is why I only ever want a giant, hot triangle of malleable, gorgeous crust with stretchy cheese, one topping max, and glorious oil running down my arms.
For the Love of Party-Cut Pizza
Tavern-style, party-cut, whatever you call it, I prefer my pizza in squares. I grew up on the dry crunch of the crust and the war for the corner slices, which I’ve never seen last more than five minutes. I guess it could seem a bit odd to the uninitiated, but here’s what East Coast pizza holier-than-thous do not understand about the party cut: It is a fundamentally social and considerate pizza.
The square cut maximizes a pizza’s shareability. As history and legend have it, square-cut pizza was born in the bars of Chicago’s South Side. To keep the good working people of the city drinking, the pubs developed a pizza that was less bready, a little more salty, and could be cut up into squares and offered to patrons for free. Eventually the square-cut made its way home and became the dominant thin-crust style in the city and suburbs.
There’s a fundamental illusion of bounty in the square-cut, and it is great. I haven’t done the exact math, but one typical pie-cut slice is about three or four square-cut slices. Whether you’re at the bar trying to feed too many tipsy coworkers after work or ordering pizza for your 9-year-old’s birthday party, you don’t have to worry about your slices disappearing in a minute flat. There is a pace built into the square-cut. You take a few slices and see how you feel. If you want more pizza later, you take more pizza and there’s no need to awkwardly halve a slice because you can just take a smaller piece. Which brings me to the smallest pieces (and pièce de résistance) of a square-cut pizza: the four corners.
When you’re cutting a circle into a square, you end up with four outer “corners,” which are actually very small triangles. They are perfect. Want a little taste? Go for a corner. Need to establish dominance over your siblings or in-laws? Go for a corner. Actually, take all of the corners because they are delicious and will help you wonder why more pizza isn’t cut into square to yield this sort of edible beauty. On the other hand, if crust is not your thing, navigate yourself to the centermost, cheesiest piece of the pizza, which has been guarded by the plastic pizza saver. Good luck trying that with a pie-cut.
Theresa: So, Claire, now that I’ve put it all in writing, have I wooed you to the pie-cut side?
Claire: Look, I am a woman of principle and a seasoned square-cut corner-stealer. I stand by my slice geometry.
What about you, Kitchn readers? Do you have a preference you’re willing to defend?