Wednesday, August 27, 2008

How to Order a Pizza

Tonight, for only the second time ever, and the first time at home, I ordered pizza delivery online. I started by visiting the Papa John's website. They're the best nationwide pizza-delivery chain - and that's a fact, not an opinion. Once you sign up, remember your password because they'll remember your email address, phone number, home address, credit card info, etc. You can even put the tip on your card without having to add the total in your head, which is nice for a mathematically-challenged clod like me.

The crucial part of the art of ordering pizza delivery is, of course, deciding what kind of pizza to order. I'm not just talking about choosing Papa John's over the competition, though I should note that their "original crust" is truly excellent - and in my opinion, it's the crust that makes the pizza. If you don't start with a great crust, nothing you put on the pizza will ever raise it above "so-so." This is why St. Louis's local pizza joints are not to be trusted; they have a fetish for flat, crispy crusts (a.k.a. cheese and crackers) - plus, they use a pestilential concoction, found nowhere else in the civilized world, called Provel Cheese; which is no more natural than Michael Jackson's face.

Somehow folks in this town got the idea that the ideal pizza contains the highest ratio of toppings to crust and its slices pull apart without any annoying, stretchy strings of cheese. Such people are to be pitied, truly. Pizza is bread with stuff on it, people! And if clingy strings of mozzarella don't stretch from the slice in your hand to the platter 3 feet away, how can you possibly tell whether it's cooked properly? Pshaw! That's like drinking flat beer without a foamy head! Or eating Chinese food without rice! Who does that?

Anyway, where were we? Ah, yes. Papa John's. They're not just the best because they have good crust. Theirs is also, for the record, the only delivery pizza that remains yummy after a night and a day in the fridge. I say this on the basis of repeated experiments. Cold, room temperature, or microwave-hot, PJ's pie is almost as good the next day as when it was first delivered - which, one realizes after trying to swallow many other brands of reheated pizza (from frozen as well as delivery), is really something special. Most leftover pizza registers somewhere between "disgusting but satisfying" and "don't even discuss it or I'm going to puke."

The next step: Choose your size. That's easy. Since the leftovers are so good, you can always go large. Then, decide whether to buy one of the "specialty pizzas" or to build your own. Advice: build your own. The specialty pizzas are for people with the taste and discrimination of dumpster-diving raccoons. Most of them have so many flavors on them that you can't really enjoy the taste of the ingredients; it ends up tasting like the smell of a defrosting refrigerator. All you really need are one, two, or three toppings. Choose wisely, knowing that some day, God willing, you will have a chance to order pizza again and can then try another combination.

I like some unusual combinations. Ham (or Canadian bacon) and pineapple are all right. Now and then I jones for Buffalo chicken pizza. I have also ordered all-cheese or all-vegetable pies. I can take any kind of meat commonly served on pizza, including ground beef, ground pork, and spicy Italian sausage - which, in my opinion, is the perfect topping to try when you want to find out whether a pizza place is any good. But since I know Papa John's is good, I usually start with pepperoni and add one or two of the following, more or less at random: onions, mushrooms, black olives, extra sauce, extra cheese. All of these "extras" share the property of enhancing the quality of any pizza they are on - but only one or two of them at a time; otherwise you might as well dump the trash can behind a supermarket produce counter onto your pizza, for all the enjoyment you will get out of the flavors.

Papa John's serves their delivery pizzas with a peel-open cup of garlic butter and a pepperoncini pepper. My advice: throw the pepper away immediately, so it doesn't stink up your refrigerator. Wash your hands after touching it. If you really must, rub it around the edge of the crust before you toss it. And keep the sealed cup of butter dip to use with the leftovers. Once the crusts become a skosh stiffer with age (rigor mortis, don't you know), you'll be glad of something to dip them in.

Finally, no pizza party is complete without side-dishes, pop, and dessert. Restaurants like Papa John's would be glad to sell them to you at a premium. My advice: plan ahead and buy that other junk, dirt cheap, at your local supermarket. Or skip it altogether. Pizza goes well with milk, too, you know.

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