LIFE OF PIE
EVERYTHING’S COMING UP PIZZA. BY LISA MISCHIANTI
We all love French fries, and you can’t really go wrong with ice cream; kale is having a moment, and doughnuts are the new cupcake. The food world will forever have its fads and perennial faves, but few eats make the transition from beloved nosh to downright cultural institution. Pizza, however, has always been special. Having a passion for pizza is a universal pastime. And judging by the steady stream of listicles and other assorted literature on the subject, it’s an eternally hot topic. Pizza’s many incarnations, geographical and otherwise, are incessantly ranked, categorized, analyzed, argued over, evaluated, and celebrated. But look beyond the mind-blowing goodness that is the food itself to discover an even more intriguing phenomenon—the way the mere idea of this cheesy, saucy, crusty delight has managed to leave a big ol’ welcome grease stain on every element of popular culture as we know it. Pizza has appeared on the silver screen, inspired countless musical stylings, fueled fashion decisions for the likes of Beyoncé, graced the walls of art galleries, cropped up everywhere from athletic events to DJ dance parties, and penetrated the deepest depths of the Internet. So what is it about pizza? Well, perhaps it’s the inherent communality of it, that it’s sliced to be shared. Or maybe we’re drawn to its customizable, and therefore deeply personal, quality. It could be the high-low factor—that it’s just as likely to be topped with truffle oil as it is to be sold for 99 cents. Who knows, this very air of mystery might even be part of the appeal. Whatever the case, we’re all obsessed. Here, we explore the cultlike fandom of everyone’s favorite food.
Hailing from the land of notoriously wacky pies (extra-large mayo-and-potato, anyone?), Tokyo-based Kimiaki Yaegashi is the artist behind this series of cute illustrations starring pizza. His work opts for a classic gooey slice alongside a recurring cast of characters, including the Japanese folk-tale hero Kintaro, the legendary supernatural creature Tengu, a bikini-clad girl, and the occasional critter. “I think pizza has a unique and humorous quality,” explains Yaegashi of his inspiration. “It makes people happy. It’s like magic.” Amen to that.
PIZZA IN THE WILD
Against the backdrop of a crisp, blue Los Angeles sky, a full-on pepperoni pie flops loosely over a red-lettered NO STANDING sign; it sits cautiously atop a desert cactus; it line-dries with the laundry; it even rides a majestic miniature pony. This is “Pizza in the Wild,” a photo series that thinks outside of the box, inserting pizza into unlikely outdoor scenes. Started in 2013 by photographer Jonpaul Douglass, it features $5 Little Caesars pies, which Douglass describes as “the most cartoony-looking pizza.” Sometimes he orders the pies undercooked for elasticity, other times he’ll age them for some stiffness, but he always gets them uncut. “You’d think they would remember me as ‘the uncut pizza guy.’ But no!” says Douglass, laughing. “I still feel really silly taking the photos,” he continues. “I’ll stand around with the box, and then when there aren’t a lot of people I’ll pull out the pizza like, ‘Oh, fuck it!’”
It’s the unofficial food of the night—the fuel for dance-floor domination, the panacea for after-hours munchies. DJ Sylo and Fidel of event company and music label Stuntloco bring that eternal pizza/party combo to the next level with their dance/rave series that literally takes place in pizza parlors around Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and New York City. Started three years ago as an underground event dubbed Pizza Party, the concept remains the same: “About every two months we set up a sound system in a pizza parlor, invite a bunch of dope people, give them free pizza, and make them dance,” says Sylo. So what is the perfect soundtrack for a slice? “Kaytranada, block party classics, and house music to start. But as the night goes on, bangers, hip-hop, Jersey club, reggaeton,” he explains. Needless to say, things get crazy: “You’re gonna see people standing on the booths.... You might see a slice go flying.
TRYING TO GET YOUR PIZZA PARTY ON IN CHI-TOWN? COWABUNGA SUNDAYS (YEP, AS IN TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES) HAS GOT YOU COVERED. THE SELF-DESCRIBED “GREATEST PIZZA PARTY ON THIS SIDE OF HEAVEN” TAKES PLACE EVERY WEEK, OFFERING FREE PIZZA WITH ANY DRINK AND ALL THE ELECTRO/HOUSE/TRAP/DRUM ’N’ BASS/ TRANCE/MOOMBAHTON/NEW WAVE/JUKE TUNES YOU COULD ASK FOR (PLUS A COUPLE OF GAME SYSTEMS SET UP FOR YOUR PLAYING PLEASURE).
SCOTT'S PIZZA TOURS
History buffs looking to learn (and get their grub on) will find their appetites satiated by Scott’s Pizza Tours in NYC. Operated by pizza wunderkind Scott Wiener and his legion of experts—including one Miriam Weiskind, three-time champ of the New York City Pizza Run (more on that later)— the company offers an array of public tours full of education and eating, ranging from the NYC Pizza Bus, which explores the outer boroughs, to the Greenwich Village Pizza Walk. (“Each week I get paid to take people around the city, teach them the evolution of pizza, and make them feel like pizza pros by the end,” gushes Weiskind.) Wiener also famously owns the world’s largest collection of pizza boxes, some of which can be seen in his book Viva La Pizza!: The Art of the Pizza Box and in an exhibit at Brooklyn’s City Reliquary museum through August 15. Here, Wiener speaks about his pizza endeavors.
What is your research process? We spend a lot of time at the Municipal Archives on Chambers Street. We also do a lot of ancestry.com stuff—they have an unbelievable amount of documents. I have folders full of primary sources dedicated to the families of pizza in New York, like the Lancieri family of Patsy’s, the Lombardi family of Lombardi’s, and the Pero family of Totonno’s.
Any surprising finds? Gennaro Lombardi’s wife is from a family of bakers, the Bellucci family, but Lombardi himself is not. The husbands always get the credit, but really, it’s not a founding father situation, it’s a founding mother.
How long have you been collecting pizza boxes? I started around 2008 or 2009. I now have about 970 boxes with 50 to 60 countries covered: Costa Rica, Liechtenstein, Morocco, South Africa, New Zealand, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Latvia.... I’m getting really close to needing a separate storage unit, but I have an apartment in Bed-Stuy that has a lot of closet space, and I guess I just don’t have a lot of clothes.
What are some of the weirdest boxes you have? This one from Amsterdam has Bart Simpson with a goatee and a hat and Homer with long hair. There is one with little perforations on it, and when you pop out the pieces, it becomes an 88-piece puzzle.
“I like to think of it as a shrine—a place to worship pizza,” says Brian Dwyer, co-founder of Pizza Brain, the world’s first pizza-museum-meets-pizza-parlor, which holds the Guinness World Record for the largest collection of pizza memorabilia. Located in Philly (or as Dwyer calls it, “Pizzadelphia, ZA”), the spot opened in 2012 and currently houses hundreds of “saucesome” pieces of pizza ephemera, from a Cool Times Ken doll rocking a pizza tee and toting a slice to a neon PIZZA sign “absolutely stolen off of an abandoned building in northeast Philly” to a plethora of Ninja Turtle items. But you’ll have to work for some of the sights: “If you can find the peepholes in the museum with strange pizza toys inside of them, I would say you are a pretty high-caliber human,” says Dwyer. Challenge accepted.
Every September for the past five years, 150 brave souls have assembled in NYC's Thompkins Square Park for a two-mile race with three slice-snarfing checkpoints dubbed the New York City Pizza Run. Winners are showered with prizes like gift certificates to local pizzerias, pizza books, passes to Scott’s Pizza Tours, free admission to defend their title the following year, and presumably a rather queasy but accomplished stomach. Competitors tend to show up in all kinds of costumes, such as full pizza suits and chef getups. “We are definitely the most pizza-loving generation of all time!” says the event’s founder, Jason Feirman. “I’d also say that we are the most Brussels-sprouts-loving generation. I just don’t expect to see the NYC Brussels Sprouts Run anytime soon!
Known for her self-described “gnarly” aesthetic, Singapore-born, Brooklyn-based street artist Sheryo has a body of work featuring one trippy pizza trope. The monster-like slice (with its jagged teeth and freaky features) has adorned all kinds of urban spaces. At the time of this writing, Sheryo is working on an installation for a party hosted by famed Brooklyn pizza mecca Roberta’s. Here, she talks about her craft and pizza passion.
When did you begin incorporating pizza into your work? I started eating a lot of pizza when I moved to New York, so I just started painting it one fine night—it all began from there.
Why do you think pizza is a strong visual? Pizzas are so awesome and versatile. No two are the same, much like the weird characters I meet on my travels.
Where can we find your pizza murals? I tend to leave a few slices around wherever I can, from Mexico to Southeast Asia to Australia.
Why do you think pizza has such an obsessive following? I can’t really put my finger on it. It’s so fun to eat a pizza slice and to paint one, too. I’ve got the pizza fever. Hot dogs come in second—but pizzas are still way cooler.
NEED MORE PROOF THAT PIZZA HAS PENETRATED THE ART WORLD? LOOK NO FURTHER THAN “PIZZA TIME!”: THE RECENT INAUGURAL GALLERY EXHIBIT OF MARLBOROUGH CHELSEA’S LOWER EAST SIDE SPACE IN NYC, WHICH CELEBRATED VISUAL REPRESENTATIONS OF THE TASTY TREAT. CURATOR VERA NEYKOV HAD BEEN NOTICING THE PREVALENCE OF PIZZA-THEMED ART, INSPIRING HER TO PUT THE SHOW TOGETHER. SO WHOSE ARTISTIC CANON IS MOST PIZZA-FLAVORED? “NATE LOWMAN, CATHARINE AHEARN, AND SPENCER SWEENEY REALLY LOVE PIZZA! THEY HAVE MANY WORKS THAT INTEGRATE IT,” SAYS NEYKOV. “HOWEVER, THERE WERE ALSO MANY ARTISTS I THOUGHT OF WHO COULD BE SAVED FOR A PART II.” FINGERS CROSSED!
PizzaSlime has its hands in a lot of different pies. In addition to its apparel, which has been spotted on the likes of Miley Cyrus, the Kardashians, Diplo, and Skrillex, the brand does original art/memes (think celeb heads as pizza slices), photography, and creative marketing and direction for everyone from Dillon Francis to Paramount Pictures. The brand logo is fittingly a slice of pizza rocking a gold chain, which adorns some amazing T-shirts and hoodies. (Not all of the gear features a slice itself, but the sentiment is surely still there.)
Billing itself as the “official and original pizza Twitter account,” @tweetlikeapizza features photos best qualified as #pizzaporn, exploring the food’s plentiful possibilities (pizza fries, pizza cones, pizza nachos, etc.). “I have many verified, well-known pizza companies who follow my account, including Domino’s Pizza, Dr. Oetker Pizza, the official @pizzahut, Pizza Hut U.K., and lots of other Pizza Huts in different countries. It’s a privilege,” says founder Scott Harris. So don’t be fooled by imposters—this here is the real deal.
The pizza tattoo is perhaps the ultimate display of commitment to this fabulous food. If you’re in the market for some tasty ink inspiration, check out @pizzatattoos on Instagram. (Also on the horizon, the first ever International Pizza Tattoo Week. Really.)
We can think of few better uses for Instagram than an account packed with Polaroids of badass girls chowing down on steamy slices. Founded by 25-year-old Marta Freedman last May after a rough period in her life (during which she suffered the loss of her mom and the end of a long-term relationship), the project that started as a fun hobby has blossomed into a phenomenon. Here, we chat with Freedman about rad chicks and cheesy goodness.
How do you curate the account? I think of HGEP as a “tasteful photo project celebrating cool girls and hot pizza.” I try to feature business owners, musicians, stylists, editors—just strong, creative, entrepreneurial women.
Who have been some of your favorite people to photograph? Girls that I once followed, who I now call friends! For example, I photographed designer Jena Kane of the brand The Lost Pony, and now we are working on an apparel collaboration.
What would you say are the most iconic “hot girl + pizza” moments in history? Julia Roberts in Mystic Pizza. (I loved watching that movie with my mom.) And more recently when Ellen served pizza to guests at the Oscars—there are photos of everyone from Jennifer Lawrence to Meryl Streep.
What are the most photogenic pizzas in New York? One of my favorites is Prince Street Pizza. The lighting is always on point and Polaroids look great resting on their pepperoni cups.
Why is it hot to eat pizza? I think when a girl really enjoys eating pizza she projects an “IDGAF” attitude and people love it!
THE PIZZA UNDERGROUND
With tracks like “Papa John Says,”“I’m Waiting for Delivery Man,” and “Take a Bite of the Wild Slice,” the concept here is clear: a cheeky pizza-themed Velvet Underground cover band. The group consists of Matt Colbourn on guitar, Macaulay Culkin (formerly of Home Alone pizza-delivery-prank fame) on kazoo, Austin Kilham on tambourine, Phoebe Kreutz on glockenspiel, and Deenah Vollmer on pizza box (yep). To date, the act has toured around the country and abroad, as well as put out a VHS-style music video. Here, we chat with the band, which credits its unity to the ’za: “Cheese is a real glue, you know?”
Are you the first band in history to have a pizza-box player? As far as we are aware, we are the first, which makes Deenah the most famous pizza-box player. We hope other pizza-box players come out of the woodwork now that they know it’s OK. Pizza boxes are a pretty good alternative to real drums because they are easier to travel with and we can give them away to fans. Also, our sound is more pizza-flavored because it resonates directly from the place where pizza was.
What type of slice do you find most musically inspiring? A good slice of plain cheese pizza is inspiring enough for us. We’re purists at heart and we prefer a traditional New York thin crust. The cheese pie at Joe’s on Carmine Street is one of our favorites.
If your music were a pizza, what toppings would it have on it? If it’s just one topping, we would have to go with pepperoni. But recently we had the good fortune to create a special Pizza Underground pie with Two Boots Pizza that has the best toppings: kale pesto, garlic, onions, plum tomatoes, and ricotta cheese.
BELIEVE IT OR NOT, THE PIZZA UNDERGROUND ISN’T THE FIRST AND ONLY PIZZA ACT IN TOWN. THE HOBOKEN-BASED BAND KNOWN AS PERSONAL AND THE PIZZAS HAS HAD ITS EYES ON THE PIE SINCE THE DEBUT OF ITS FIRST ALBUM IN 2010 (WHICH IRONICALLY WAS RELEASED THROUGH BURGER RECORDS). BELOVED TRACKS INCLUDE “PIZZA ARMY,” “PEPPERONI EYES,” AND THE SELF-EMPOWERING “I DON`T WANNA BE NO PERSONAL PIZZA.” THE BAND HAS EVEN BEEN KNOWN TO GNAW AT PIZZA ONSTAGE, “SO IT FLIES INTO THE CROWD,” THEY EXPLAIN. ACCORDING TO SEVERAL REPORTS, THERE IS A BIT OF TENSION (OR “BEEF” IF YOU WILL) BETWEEN THE TWO REIGNING PIZZA BANDS, BUT BOTH REALLY HIT THE SPOT.