The New York Pizza Quest

Once you’ve lived in New York, it’s hard to ever feel totally settled anywhere else. New York is the kind of place that gets under your skin. It’s the kind of place that just sort of seeps in and becomes a part of you if you let it.

I moved to New York in August of 1998 as a college freshman and spent the next nine years falling in love with everything about it from the people to the culture to the food.

When Stevie and I left New York in 2007, we left behind a lot. We left family and dear friends. We left pieces of ourselves. And we left a helluva lot of really amazing food.

Now don’t get me wrong, there’s good food everywhere. There’s this dish called Pollo Fundido at a little family-owned restaurant called LB Cantina in Florence, Arizona. It’s a homemade chicken chimichanga topped with jalepeno cream cheese and pepper jack cheese, and it will change your life. No joke. I may have eaten my weight in Pollo Fundido the three years we lived in Arizona, and every time I go back to visit, LB’s is one of the first places I go while I’m there. And here in Lincoln, Nebraska, we’ve got a bunch of really great restaurants serving some seriously amazing stuff. Take the Full Leaded Jacket from this little place called Leadbelly for instance. It’s a fresh hamburger patty served on a homemade cinnamon roll and topped with white cheddar, chili, sour cream, scallions, chopped tomato, red onion, fresh jalapeño, crisp tortillas, and a queso sauce so awesome they actually call it queso awesome. I know, it sounds like some stoners got together after a night of heavy smoking and just dumped together everything they saw in the fridge, but let me tell you folks, the Full Leaded Jacket is so freakin’ amazing it’s damn near a religious experience when you take your first bite of that flavor combination.

And yet, for all the great food we’ve had in Arizona and Nebraska and every other place we’ve traveled in between, there’s one craving we just haven’t been able to truly satisfy since we left and that’s good ol’ New York style pizza.

In Arizona, the first time Stevie called up the local pizzeria to order a large pie, the girl on the other end of the phone started to stutter.

“Um…sir…we sell pizza here.”

It took every last ounce of strength for my dear hubby not climb through the phone and shake her. Instead, he cleared his throat and tried again.

“Uh, yeah, I know,” he said. “I’d like a large cheese pizza, please.”

Luckily the pizza was tolerable. Not great, but not the worst we’d had in Arizona by a long shot.

When we moved to Lincoln, we embarked on what became known as The Great Pizza Quest, meticulously working our way through every pizza place in town, searching for something that could fill the void.

Sadly, it was an utter failure. Sauces were too sweet, toppings too heavy. Real pizza dough/crust was nowhere to be found and in its place, a dense bread that soaked up the oil from the overabundance of cheese and left a puddle on the plate. While places like Yia Yia’s and Momo’s had some really great flavors, the crusts were all wrong. We thought we might have gotten close the first time we ordered from Lazzari’s, but then the sauce got sweet and they started overcooking the pies, and there’s nothing worse than burned cheese and brittle crust.

Well, nothing worse except pizza cut in squares. I mean, what is that about anyway? Stevie got to the point where the first question he would ask when he walked into a new pizza place here in Lincoln is whether they cut the pizza in squares. If the answer was yes, he would do an abrupt about-face and walk right back out again.

Each visit back East only exacerbated our longing for some real, authentic NY-style pizza. And after our visit to New York last summer, where we spent 10 days gorging ourselves to get our fill before we flew back to our pizza-less lives in Lincoln, I decided enough was enough.

If I could teach myself to make Black & White Cookies that tasted every bit as good as the ones in New York, then damned if I couldn’t learn how to make NY-style pizza too.

And so, I set a little goal for myself and I put it right out there on Facebook for everyone to see, hoping that broadcasting it might help make me accountable.

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I’m thinking, after all this time, a lot of folks probably thought I’d forgotten. I mean, it has taken me almost 11 months, but here’s the thing…anyone who knows me well, knows that’s sort of how I operate, at least when it comes to big projects. Back when we were both students, it used to drive Stevie nuts. See, I’d get an assignment in class, say for a 20-page research paper. The deadline would be a month away. For a good 3 1/2 weeks, it might appear to the untrained eye that I was doing nothing. Then, a couple days before the paper was due, there would be a stack of books on my desk and a few scraps of paper with some notes scribbled here and there. Then, the night (or sometimes even a few hours) before the paper was due, I would sit down at the computer and begin to type. Then I would hand in the paper and the assignment was complete. Stevie always hated that I could do so well when it seemed I was always doing things last minute, but that wasn’t really the case. All those weeks when I was doing “nothing”, the idea was growing in my mind, the details marinating. I could “see” it coming together in my head. Every now and then I would jot down an idea or a few sentences that I could come back to later. By the time I finally sat down to hammer it out, it was all there.

So no, I hadn’t forgotten about my great pizza making resolution. And while it may have seemed like the idea was lying dormant, it has been on my mind all these months since I first challenged myself to do it. I’ve been going over the plan in my head, researching methods, reading blogs and articles and reviews, plotting just how exactly I was going to do this and do it right. (I was also waiting for the morning sickness to subside, and then for my aching pregnant body to return to semi-normal after Henry was born, so yeah, it has taken awhile).

By time time I finally purchased the ingredients and mixed up that first batch of dough in my kitchen, I’d spent 10 months making pizza in my head.

And I’ll tell you what, ladies and gentlemen, those were 10 months very well spent, because I’ve done it. Stevie is a self-professed pizza snob–he has no problem admitting it. Being a born and raised New Yorker who probably has pizza sauce coursing through his veins at this point, he is very picky when it comes to any pizza that claims to be NY-style. My first attempt last Friday was okay. The flavor was there, but I’d gotten way too overzealous stretching the dough and it ended up being so thin in the middle that it tore right through. Even so, Stevie declared that very first pizza the best in Lincoln.

But I knew I could do better.

I made another round on Saturday when we were at my parents’ apartment watching the Husker game. Again, the flavor was right, but after stretching the dough too thin the night before, I erred on the side of caution and the crust ended up being a little too thick.

Back to the drawing board.

Monday, I gave it another go, only this time I made the pizza way too big for the peel, and I had to try and cook it on the aluminum pizza pan I’d purchased for serving. The crust ended up cooking too fast on the edges, but was still underdone in the middle, so I had to cut slices and throw them back on the stone in the oven to crisp, which meant the outer crust was way too crispy.

So, I asked Stevie and Cadence if they were sick of pizza yet and when they both said no, I pulled out another piece of dough and went through the process again meticulously with Miss Cadence helping and Henry keeping a close eye on us from the living room.

And tonight…tonight Stevie folded his slice in half, took a great big bite, and gave me two very enthusiastic thumbs up.

And while I’m still planning to keep on practicing until I’ve honed my newfound skills to the point where I can make a pizza in my sleep, I’m satisfied, and pretty damn proud of myself for bringing another piece of New York here to my home in Nebraska.

Mission accomplished.

What’s next?

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The Great Bagel Delivery, Part 2

Last year, Stevie’s sister, Michele, decided to send us a little taste of New York for Christmas–a box with 1/2 dozen fresh egg bagels in it. She wanted to surprise us, which was awesome, but she’d never met Electra. How was she to know that our dog is a crazed food whore who would chew through layer of packing tape, a cardboard box, and a Ziploc freezer bag just to get to the bagels inside.

I caught Electra, with her head shoved in the box, just as she was attempting to swallow one of the bagels whole. Stevie and I couldn’t decide if we were angry, or a little impressed with her good taste.

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After the Great Bagel Heist of 2013, Michele let us know that we should keep an eye out for another delivery this year. The box arrived on Saturday, and Stevie made sure to set it on top of the piano where it was well out of reach. Electra spent the morning parked in front of the piano with her nose in the air, licking her chops, reminiscing about the delicious bagels of yesteryear.

By the time we began unpacking the box, she was drooling on the floor and panting heavily.

She gave it a valiant effort, stretching as far as her beagle/basset legs would let her, but she came up short. This year, sweet hound, the bagels are ours.

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NY Trip Photo Bomb (part 2)

We spent our first few days on Long Island spending some quality time with “Uncle” Foerth and “Uncle” Mike.

Cadence and Foerth had several serious conversations about baseball. Let’s go Mets!

And we ate our fill of Italian Ice from the Ice Hut near Stevie’s old house. Mmmm…watermelon.

Steven managed to eat about 5 gallons of bubblegum ice while we were there…

And Cadence looooooooooved the chocolate…

We tried to get a nice family photo by the big Italian Ice statue, but Cadence ended up having a minor meltdown when she found out we didn’t get to take the statue home with us…

Then, Stevie’s folks took us to the Cull House for some seafood. Mmmmm…we’ve missed the good East Coast seafood! Of course, Stevie couldn’t pass up a lobster…

Cadence wasn’t quite sure what to think…

And, as always, Foerth helped us all clean our plates. I would seriously kill for that boy’s metabolism.

Back at Gamma and Pop-Pop’s house, Mike introduced Cadence to the Talking Tom app on his phone…

And Cadence introduced Mike to the new Despicable Me 2 trailer on Steven’s Ipad…

Cadence loved playing in the backyard by Gamma and Pop-Pop’s pool. Unfortunately, that first day it was just warm enough to put our feet in, but that was enough for Cadence. She had a blast splashing with her Daddy.

And then, when Cadence finally want down for a nap, Mike busted out his newest obsession–rollerblades–and he managed to talk Steven into a few laps of the neighborhood.

Foerth and I were content to watch.

And just so I could be sure he was being safe rollerblading at night, Mike pulled out his headlight for a demonstration…

And Foerth entertained himself with a spiderman bat.

We had a little trouble trying to explain to Cadence why she didn’t get to see her cousins TJ and Tyler right away. She’d been talking about flying on the airplane to see TJ and Tyler for a solid week before our trip, and expected the boys to be there the moment we landed. Unfortunately, they were on vacation, and still had a couple days left at school. But, she did get to talk to them on Gamma and Pop-Pop’s phone when they called to let us know they were on their way over…

Oh no! They’re not here yet?

 

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