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Essay: I ♥ NYC pizza

Posted 8:27am on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2012

It happened to me again: Like Charlie Brown compelled once more to attempt to kick that football, I allowed myself to be convinced by friends and colleagues that there really is good pizza in Texas. Despite being a born-and-bred New Yorker who clearly knows otherwise -- namely, that what passes for great pizza west of the Delaware River is really just the culinary equivalent of white noise -- I trudged off to Deep Ellum to finally sample Il Cane Rosso, which first opened as a mobile truck in 2009, and then set up physical shop in Dallas last winter.

This very publication placed it on its list of the year's best meals. Other friends have pointed out to me that Il Cane Rosso has received certification from the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana -- a distinction offered to only a handful of restaurants in the country, meaning they serve authentic Neapolitan pizza.

We got there early last Friday, to avoid the reported two hour-wait times. We ordered the "capricciosa" (fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, basil, mushrooms, olives, artichokes and prosciutto). I eagerly took a bite -- and tasted a chewy crust, a wan sauce and undersalted toppings.

Let me hasten to add that nothing about my Il Cane Rosso experience was especially bad: Pleasant service, nice starter salad and, ultimately, a perfectly acceptable if not exactly thrilling pizza. I've had similarly enjoyable experiences at Fireside Pies in Fort Worth, with its pecan wood-fired oven pizzas, and Eno's Pizza Tavern in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas, with its thin-as-a-tortilla crust.

But, come on, this isn't pizza -- at least not as it is known and celebrated in New York City, where the crusts are doughy, but never chewy, and where the tomato sauce is spicy and sweet in equal measure. In New York, you order a "slice" that should be folded in half, better to allow that thin trickle of grease to slide down your chin. The cheese stretches gloriously from your mouth to your plate.

That, my friends is pizza.

I can hear the objections already: I'm being a cultural snob; I am failing to embrace my own surroundings. Guilty as charged! Indeed, when I read on Il Cane Rosso's website that the owner's inspiration came during a honeymoon trip to Italy, where he discovered that "true pizza wasn't covered with grease, oil, salt," my response was: "Well, New York makes for a great honeymoon destination also."

My larger point here, though, is that sometimes a little cultural snobbery is good. We live in a rapid-fire, globalized age, which often fools us into thinking that you can have pretty much the same experience in Fort Worth as you can in Paris or Malaysia. But, at least when it comes to food, that isn't always the case. I don't know why New York pizza is so much better, or why places around here that advertise "New York-style" always fall short.

But I do know that credit should be given where it's due. Just as I have no interest in eating some trendy East Coast interpretation of Texas barbecue, I'm not buying into the hype that Texas pizza can somehow be purer than even the most average slice you might grab at a pizza shop in Manhattan. Why this insane bending over backward to convince ourselves that we, as Texans, are also pizza pros? How little confidence do we have in the things we do get right here -- burgers or Mexican food, say -- to have to lay claim to other regions' culinary treasures?

So, to my pizza-proselytizing Texas friends, I say this: You've fooled me once, twice and even thrice, but from here on out, I'm going to grab a burger at Fred's instead.

And to those who think Chicago-style deep dish is the best pizza, well, may God have mercy on your souls.

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