Pizza is the United Nations of food, the one dining option that a group of hungry riders can readily agree upon. Burger joints are for carnivores; salad bars are for rabbits. But pizza, ubiquitous pizza, can be customized for nearly everyone.
Chew on this for a second—on any given day, 13 percent of the U.S. population is having a slice of pie. That’s over 41 million people eating pizza daily in restaurants, pubs, at home, and for those with titanium-lined stomachs, at gas stations. Pizza has clearly conquered the New World, but its spiritual home is still in the Northeast where Italian immigrants at the turn of the 20th century brought their traditions and recipes. My father-in-law, a first generation Italian-American, has mastered the family recipe; who else continues their pizza lineage? During an October sabbatical, a 2015 Indian Scout brings me to the old Italian neighborhood of East Boston to find out.
I belly up to the bar at Santarpio’s and ask the bartender for their most popular pie. “Gah, lick, and sausage,” he says. Hmmm … I never heard of “gah” before and “lick” doesn’t make sense here. But if gah, lick, and sausage are what the locals eat, then I’ll give it a try. Then I remember—I’m in Boston. Gah+lick=garlic.
I chat with the couple to my right, who’ve been coming here every Friday for nearly 30 years, and I’m pretty sure it’s not for the circa 1963 basement den decor. The gah, lick, and sausage pizza arrives, and after just one slice I start making plans to come here every Friday even though I live five hours away. The pizza has a thin, crispy, and flavorful crust, as well as tasty red sauce, good cheese (enough but not too much), and great tasting sweet sausage. I’d grown up thinking that all the best pizza was within 25 miles of New York City, and here on the first bite I’ve been proven wrong. What other revelations would this trip bring?
College Pie Providence
It’s spitting rain as I leave Boston. My first stop is Provincetown on the tip of Cape Cod. I roll through eastern Massachusetts along quiet backroads and through mill towns, which over the decades watched the bottom fall out of their economy. Once thriving, these downtowns and brick mills are now shadows of their former selves; one can only hope that they find a new way forward. I watch the land flatten and the sand dunes grow as I make my way along the Cape.
Provincetown feels like any other quaint New England sea town except for the preponderance of leather; it’s a popular vacation spot for the LGBT community, and I don’t look out of place in my leather jacket. On the main drag (Commercial Street) is Spiritus, just the kind of pizzeria/ice cream joint that you’d expect in a tourist town. I order a couple of fresh made slices and a soda. The cheese slice (their most popular) is OK but not special. The Greek slice with onions, olives, spinach, and feta is more interesting, with a nice combination of flavors on a good, thin crust. White pizza’s not my thing, though, and ultimately Spiritus is good but not great. I hang around Cape Cod for a while longer, breathing in the sea air and exploring the nearby dunes before I hop back on the Scout and retrace my route along the Cape before turning toward Rhode Island.
It’s dark and pouring when I finally get to Thayer Street in Providence, RI. The sidewalks are packed with soaked students from nearby Brown University. I join the dripping crowd in Nice Slice.
Pizza may be the perfect college food—cheap, filling, fast, and requiring no plates or cutlery that would inevitably end up in the kitchen sink for weeks. It’s also a social food, forcing kids to put down their smartphones to grab a slice.
And, Nice Slice doesn’t disappoint. I order a pie that’s half Margherita (a savory thin crust and a sweet red sauce … thumbs-up) and half Cranberry Picnic (dried cranberries, sliced almonds, baby spinach, and a mozzarella/cheddar blend). The almonds are crunchy and the cranberries are sweet, but I prefer the other half.