Thursday, 22 May 2014

On (Terrible) Pizza/Pizza Snobbery and "Authenticity"

I don't know about you, but bad pizza makes me really, really sad. Pizza is one of my absolute most favourite meals, hands down. Naturally, my trip to Italy last year was one of my favourite experiences of my lifetime, and this was in no small part due to the availability of incredibly tasty, excellent-in-every-way pizza every step of the way down most streets.

When it comes to pizza (or most things really), I'm no food snob. I can appreciate a gorgeous, hand-made and stretched, delicious puffy-crackly base topped with an array of high quality, simple ingredients in a minimalist fashion and then wood-fired at a blistering high heat. But, I can also appreciate a doughy, greasy, trailer-trashy pizza topped with a boatload of non-authentic ingredients such as smoky soy curls, pineapple, vege sausages, and finished with a swirl of satay, BBQ or creamy sauce. A lot. I just recognise them as two completely different foods that I want when I'm in two completely different moods. You're looking at a guy who sometimes wants nothing more than a vegan dagwood dog (corn dog).

That being said, I have to admit I don't understand the appeal of the "authentic" pizzas available here in Australia. I find that their "minimalist" aesthetic in striving for this authenticity far too often ends up actually achieving "stingy" and one-dimensional. Call it "authentic", "artful", or whatever, but when you're paying up to $25 or so for a fairly small pizza with just a couple of things on it, I'm really not impressed. I know that pizza ovens and dough rising takes time and money, but it all feels way too much to me like you're simply trying too hard. And it certainly reminds me nothing of the amazing pizzas I ate in Italy. Ultimately, food is about enjoyment for me. Not fitting into a box and applauding replication.


Maybe it's the prosciutto, but this pizza from another of Brisbane's best, just doesn't appeal to me in the slightest. That's not a meal. And for $23!!!!!!!
A photo I found on Facebook from another of Brisbane's "Best Pizza places". I'm sorry, but.. yuck. Just yuck.

All this being said, I recognise that it's hard enough to get good "regular" pizza here in Brisbane, let alone vegetarian pizza. People just don't have a clue. You have to source incredible tasting vegetables, and treat them with care and attention. So, I keep trying to find good pizza (for now, Colle Rosso is my favourite - and incidentally, it is run by a real Italian family. Read our review here).

Yesterday, upon seeing many recommendations rising up from both the ferals of urbanspoon AND professional food writers, I visited a place that many had described as "Brisbane's Best Pizza" and is well known for its beer selection. I've never wanted this blog to be negative, so I'm not going to name and shame, but boy, it was so bad. 

The first pizza ordered by our table was a margherita, without the dairy. Now, a good margherita doesn't usually have a lot of cheese on it anyway, so we thought that it wouldn't impact too negatively. This is what we were served, much to my amazement and heart-sinking disappointment:


The pizza that broke my heart. I wanted it to be extra big for you to see.

SO. BAD. The crust: Papery, cardboard-y, crackly, insignificant. It didn't even seem adequately cooked. But there wasn't really enough to bite into to get a good taste.
The sauce: I don't even remember. 
The tomatoes: Could they look any more like the cheapest, limpest, blandest, supermarket tomatoes if they tried? I don't think so. Completely flavourless as well.
The basil: On at least half of the pizza, right? So carefully placed. Not.
The green liquid: That was fruity olive oil. Certainly not the kind I'd put on pizza.
The presentation: Speaks for itself. This pizza was assembled and baked by someone who is either incompetent, or has absolutely no pride in their work. Look at the chunk-drops of basil and the drool-trails of olive oil.

The other pizza we were served was along the same lines. A little better looking due to the fact there were more toppings, but so bland. So. Incredibly. Bland. Crap vegetables treated with no care or respect, chucked on a half-assed base and poorly baked. And then bizarrely topped with sunflower and pumpkin seeds, and rocket. WHAT IS THE OBSESSION WITH TOPPING PIZZA WITH PEPPERY SALAD GREENS? It doesn't add to the authenticity. I don't remember the rocket in Italy being anywhere near as bitter as ours.

The bright side was that the "gnarly fries" and "onion rings" we got on the side were really good, despite oddly, both just being served with aioli. James ended up asking for tomato sauce, and a bottle was brought out from the kitchen and plonked on the table in front of him, no ramekins or sauce-pots or anything.


I'm sure they are probably from a mass-produced freezer bag.

To top it all off, I got to the end of my $10 tap IPA to realise that there was a big old bottle top floating in the bottom of my beer. How could someone not realise this as they were pouring? Whose bottle top was it? How did it get in there? I could have choked on it! To the credit of the waitress, she was very kind and apologetic and offered to replace the beer, and when I said it wasn't necessary just wanted them to know, she offered me a loyalty card with some free coffees on it. By that stage, I just wanted to get out, and had no desire to go back, so we thanked her and left.


The bottle top in bottom of my tap beer. Glad I drank slowly and didn't chug and choke.

I don't mean to rave, but how could a restaurant/bar known for its pizza serve this to someone? I must stress, they weren't particularly busy, and there were only two of us, so it's not like they were rushed off their feet. Were they just having a bad day? Do the ferals of urbanspoon and bloggers really just have no taste? If one person says something is good, does everyone else follow like Sheeple?

With very few exceptions (one? two), is good, authentic pizza outside of Italy even possible? Or are we better just hedging our bets and making something that tastes good to us at home?