Sunday, January 13, 2013

Squares or Wedges?

More on that later.

As much as we like authentic VPN (Verace Pizza Napoletana) style pizza brick oven pizza with its ultra-thin crust and minimal toppings, there are times that we crave the style of pizza that we ate as kids. And we knew just where to find it in Tucson. Actually, we knew of two places but today we visit Oregano’s Pizza Bistro, one of about twelve Oregano’s in Flagstaff, Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Tucson.
After our first visit to the Oregano’s in Scottsdale, I wrote about the owner’s father and inspiration. And although I would like to think that my every word is indelibly imprinted in your memories, I know better and will repeat the story here from our December 13, 2009 blog.

“Lawrence Gibbilini was born on the north side of Chicago in 1918. When the crash of '29 sent the country spiraling into the Great Depression, he, along with his six younger brothers and sisters, helped make ends meet by selling their mother's pizza door-to-door; some say the first pizza delivery ever.
“Despite the tough times, the pizza business took off. Lawrence was in charge of the distribution department, but quickly tired of organizing his siblings and requested a transfer into production. His mother, a great traditional cook, taught him the secrets of her pizza and many other family recipes.

“When he was eighteen, his mother sold her pizza business and decided that Lawrence should go into the bricklaying business with his father. Lawrence had a passion for cooking and refused to give it up completely. On weekends he would throw a large checkered tablecloth over the dining room table, drag up every chair in the apartment and invite all his friends, family and acquaintances over for dinner.
“He would serve them his variations of time-honored Gibbilini dishes as well as recipes he was developing. Most received outstanding reviews and earned him the title of 'Lawrence of Oregano'” (Excerpts from the Oregano’s Pizza Bistro web site and menu).

Oregano’s serves all three Chicago-style pizzas—deep dish, stuffed, and thin crust. And it is the thin that we sought—“a style of…pizza
found in Chicago and throughout the rest of the Midwestern USA. The crust is thin and firm enough to have a noticeable crunch, unlike a New York-style pizza. The crust is topped with a liberal quantity of Italian style tomato sauce, which usually has quite a lot of herbs or is highly spiced, and typically contains no visible chunks of tomato. Next, a layer of toppings is added, and finally a layer of mozzarella cheese. This pizza is cut into squares, also known as party cut or tavern cut” (

I thought that Chuck and I were the only ones passionate about pizza, but learned, while doing some research for this blog, that there are many others like us. And the squares vs. wedges issue has devotees on both sides of the question. I think it all comes down to the style of pizza you are eating. Wedges work best with New York or brick oven style crusts. Squares are best with Chicago/Midwest thin crust. And then there is the rectangular thick crust pizzas call Sicilian that you can find in the East. (Often referred to as tomato pie when made without cheese.)

(The red and white checkerboard item hanging from the ceiling looked like an inverted speedboat.)
Why squares is somewhat of a mystery. I would guess the term “party cut” refers to the pizza generating more pieces and being easier to eat with one’s fingers. Some speculate that squares are a throwback to Sicilian pizza. Others think that the pizza pans originally used in Chicago were square. And then there is this from “Who originated the grid cut? I asked Chicago Magazine's Penny Pollack, co-author of Everybody Loves Pizza, and she said, ‘That's like asking who built Stonehenge. Maybe some malcontent diner said, 'I thought this pizza would have more slices,' and voila! A frustrated server brandished the pizza cutter to create more pieces.’ I can't improve on that theory.”

[NOTE: This seems like a good place to insert an anecdote attributed to Yogi Berra.

“Mr. Berra,” asked the pizza maker, “do you want you pizza cut into six or eight pieces?”

Yogi answered, “Better make it six—I couldn’t eat eight.”

NOTE 2: Could it be that Yogi's response was shorthand for a more elaborate thought process? What if he meant "If there are six slices, psychologically, that sounds that I could eat that much, but if I know there are eight pieces, I will think this is actually more and convince myself that I cannot that much."]

So with anticipation we awaited the arrival of our large cheese (light cheese) and sausage pizza with a thin crust and cut in squares.
What a disappointment!

The menu stated that the pizzas are made with REAL Wisconsin cheese, but nowhere did I see a reference to this being a blend of cheese. In addition to the mozzarella, I am sure that the mix included cheddar, possibly along with other cheeses. When I order pizza I want mozzarella. Period. And if this is light cheese, I’d hate to see what regular cheese is.

Second, the sausage was tasty. What there was of it. Many squares had at most two skimpy pieces which was not enough to overcome the taste of the cheese.

But the biggest disappointment was the crust. Where was the “noticeable crunch?” Nowhere to be found. In fact, the crust was chewy bordering on leathery.

Well, our craving for old time pizza was not satisfied at this 2.0 Addie stop (and that rating may be generous), but we still have one other restaurant and one other chance.

To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.

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