Tag Archive for pizza

Why the Hell Would You Eat That: Big Chain Pizza

Let’s get this out of the way up front: if you’re getting a pizza from a big pizza chain, you may as well be eating frozen pizza. Don’t trust any pizza place that can “run out of crusts,” because frozen pizza is exactly what you’re getting.

I didn’t even know this was possible until we moved from the Chicago ‘burbs out to central Illinois. One of the few pizza joints in the area at the time was a Marchelloni’s, which later became Geo’s. They had a thick, buttery, doughy crust most Chicagoans would call pan pizza, and they pretty much sucked. However, their competition was worse, so we gave them another shot one night and ordered a couple of large pizzas.

“We’re out of large crusts,” she tells me.

“Okay, can’t you make more?”

“We don’t do that here,” she says, all snide like I’m the asshole. Turns out the crusts are made elsewhere and shipped in frozen to the actual store. No thanks.

Know who else does this? Pizza Hut. Our local PH had a night donating their proceeds to our elementary school, so we paid them a visit. They were jam crowded with townies and unprepared, so they ran out of everything but regular thin crust (and those were “going fast”).

This is why these pizza joints’ pizzas are nasty, greasy messes. Yeah, Pizza Hut may be edible when it’s hot and fresh, but suck it down fast because it becomes slop two minutes after it hits the table.

Now, I realize some of you are stuck in the wild pizza frontier outside of Chicago and New York City. I realize some of you think Domino’s, Pizza Hut, and the bland bullshit served up  at your local mom & pop dustbowl pizza place is pretty good. I pity you. I really do. When some friends of ours from L.A. first tried Domino’s out in Baltimore and were impressed, I wept for their souls.

See, when the dough is made fresh on the spot, it’s got your standard dough ingredients. If you can see the guy rolling out your dough, you’re in the right place. Frozen dough? Now you’re getting preservatives and shit in it. It’s been processed, just like the garbage pizza in the freezer aisle. Not to mention these big chains need to make sure the crap they’re serving has to taste the same at every location, which means the rest of their ingredients are equally processed and preserved and loaded with things like MSG. Domino’s and Papa John’s can claim “fresher ingredients” all they want, but remember, McDonald’s makes the same nonsense claim about their fries.

I’ve tried your revamped pizzas gentlemen. An improvement? Maybe. Good pizza? Sorry, no.

I’ll admit I’m a pizza snob. Am I a Chicago or New York pizza guy? Both. I love a good Chicago stuffed pizza, and I like the giant slices you gotta fold in half to eat, so long as they’re not hyper-processed chain food disguised as the real deal.

Growing up in the ‘burbs, we could get good pizza just about anywhere, and most everywhere had a signature flavor the chains couldn’t match. Friday nights were pizza night in my family. Even our dog responded to the word pizza with excitement. Most places we called were dedicated pizza joints, but there were a couple bars that had pizza ovens, too.

Unfortunately, the farther I move from Chicago, the harder it gets to find good pizza. Things were so bad my mom, who commuted to the suburbs, brought pizza home with her on Friday nights. One pizza joint gave her an insulated delivery bag when they found out what she was doing. An hour from the oven, their pizza tasted better than anything local.

Out here in Peoria, most of the bars serve frozen pizza. The locals think it’s great, but to be fair, they have nothing to compare it to. In fact, the pizza is so bad out here, people dip it in ranch or Catalina dressing. I was horrified the first time I saw that. If the pizza is so bland you have to jazz it up with a dip, why the hell are you eating it?

The biggest culprit is Butch’s. Peorians love Butch’s because they make their pizzas locally in Morton, and they sell their own hot sauce and seasonings. My theory is they make the hot sauce to disguise the flavor of the pizza: no matter the topping, a Butch’s pizza tastes like a salt lick. It’s good bar food because you’re drunk and hungry and won’t remember the flavor anyway.

Monical’s is the nasty local chain of choice. They’re all over the Peoria area, and if I drive east on Route 24 into Indiana, I’ll pass half a dozen or so of them, all right there on Route 24. Their pizza is a cracker with a little spaghetti sauce on it. Dry and bland. Kids go ape over it, but they’re too young to know better.

Understand, no pizza is going to be good for you. My point is if you’re going to eat something unhealthy, shouldn’t it at least taste good? Shouldn’t it be worth those extra calories? The extra laps around the track you’ll have to punish yourself with?

Choking down a Caesar’s hot & ready just isn’t going to cut it.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Photo Friday: My Kind of Town

I miss Chicago.

I don’t miss living in the city most of the time, but I do miss being able to get downtown in just a short drive. Having been to LA, Seattle, St Louis, San Francisco, and a few other cities, I still find Chicago is my favorite.

Flags

Illinois, US, and Chicago flags

The wife and I spent the weekend of the 9th and 10th in Chicago with friends. It turned into a great mini-vacation, and of course I brought the camera along to do some shooting. Hang out, relax, see the sights… sometimes that’s all you need to recharge the batteries.

The trip started with the Chicago In-Water Boat Show. My friend Tim is a boater, and for him, lusting after bigger boats is the same as when I go lusting after bigger motorcycles. Sure, you’ve got a nice one, but you’re always going to want someone else’s. The Wife and I may not be able to afford a boat, but we’re happy to look and dream and drool, so we had no problem tagging along.

This is the One

The captain explores his future vessel

Many of these boats are like floating RVs. Some are fun little fishing cruisers, others are full-on yachts with all the amenities. I’m told this is Chicago’s first in-water show, where the boats are all floating as opposed to being propped up indoors somewhere like McCormick Place. We saw prices from $149,000 up to $2 million, and the sales folks welcomed anyone aboard to take a look. There were two exceptions to this, neither with a price listed, and boarding was by appointment only. I’m guessing that meant “serious buyers only, after we run your credit.”

We started at the low end of the range, with the Wife and I stunned that the boats cost more than our house. Then we saw the $2million-dollar boats and circled back to the $150K docks and thought “Wow, this is pretty reasonable!” It’s all relative.

Finally One I Can Afford

Ah, here's one I can afford. Does it come in black?

We went out for stuffed pizza after the boat show. No way I’m visiting Chicago without getting some real pizza. There’s one place in the Peoria area that serves up proper stuffed pizza, and unfortunately their sauce is crap and ruins the whole experience. Everyone else’s attempt is fat, greasy dough which is more like what Chicagoans know as pan pizza.

Our friends had been to Gino’s East before and wanted to try somewhere new, so we hit the Bella Bacino’s on Wacker, in walking distance from our hotel. We had a few drinks, pleasant conversation, and some good pizza. Then came the naked bike ride.

Wait, what?

Yes, the Chicago World Naked Bike Ride went down Wacker Saturday night. The waitress came over and told us “4,000 naked people are riding by on bicycles right now.” It’s not something you see every day, much less in a conservative area like ours, so we went and checked it out.

Naked Ride

No flash, wrong lens, so crap pics. Sorry. Well, mostly. In some cases you would have thanked me.

The ride promotes awareness of cyclists and promotes “the freedom from oil and the beauty of people.” Unfortunately we saw a cyclist who got knocked down by a car the following day. That driver must not have gotten the message.

On Sunday we decided to walk through Millennium Park and up and down Michigan Avenue to check out the architecture. This way we didn’t have to move the car and pay for more parking, or sweat paying for cab rides. Driving Michigan doesn’t compare to walking it, either, as there are plenty of little things to see.

The Cloud Gate

The Cloud Gate, aka "The Bean"

The old buildings are so much more beautiful than the new ones. Sure, the new ones are tall and cool and have their own beauty, but they’re all cold metal and glass, where the older, carved concrete buildings have a very organic feel. It’s certainly not the same as walking through the older parts of London or Paris, but it’s nice just the same to see some history and marvel at the things we accomplished with simpler tools and materials.

Trib Entry

You just don't see this anymore.

We settled down for a drink at Timothy O’Toole’s Pub before leaving the city. It’s a nice, faux-Irish pub tucked away in the lower level of one of the buildings at the corner of Fairbanks and Ontario. They were running the soccer games, and we enjoyed watching the soccer players ham up every little kick to the shin or tumble caused by an opposing player. Unfortunately Ireland lost the match to Croatia, and the local patrons were not happy.

The Black and Blue

Tim enjoys a Black and Blue: Guinness and Blue Moon

And yes, we found a time and place for cigars. Chicago may be an anti-smoking city, but what they didn’t know didn’t hurt us.

I took several more photos, all of which can be found in my Chicago set on Flickr.

I would love to have done some writing somewhere in the city, but we had a full weekend and it was more about relaxation and recharging than getting work done. I don’t regret it, and we’re already talking about going back in a few months. Next time maybe we’ll check out Navy Pier or hit the museum campus.

 

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Screwing Up Spaghetti

I’ve always been of the opinion it’s hard to screw up spaghetti. You boil up some noodles, heat up some sauce, maybe serve it up with garlic bread, and you’re good to go. The sauce is the key ingredient of course, making or breaking the whole mix, but in general, there’s nothing to it. It’s worked for centuries, ever since Marco Polo stole noodles from China and some other guy poured tomato sauce all over them.

Yet when you get south of I-80 in the great state of Illinois, people somehow find a way to screw it up. In fact, I’ve come to the conclusion people down here are like mad spaghetti scientists. They tell me they like to change things up because “spaghetti is boring,” without taking into account that it’s entirely possible their sauce just sucks.

The first time I knew something was amiss was when a friend of mine cooked up her noodles, drained the water, then opened a can of sauce and poured it right into the same pot as the noodles.

“What in the hell did you just do?” I asked her.

Dumbfounded, she explained she was cooking spaghetti.

I expressed doubt.

Growing up, my family had spaghetti every Sunday. My parents still do, in fact. Friends coming over for dinner would rave about my mom’s sauce, a blend she put together from different sources rather than open a single jar. Not once in all those years did she ever pour that sauce into a pot of hot noodles still sitting on the burner. Nor have I ever been to a restaurant — anywhere — that served their pasta in such a manner.

I thought maybe she was just weird, but then learned my mother-in-law does the same thing. With angel hair pasta, no less. They say it ends up this way on the plate, so why not spare the extra pan?

Because the sauce sticks to the noodles! They continue to cook it in the pot and everything congeals and sticks together. It’s just not the same. My wife defended it by saying that’s how it ends up the way we store leftovers, but leftovers are different; the initial meal is far more important than something I need to nuke up quick for lunch.

And by the way, my wife does not cook our spaghetti this way. I almost put it in our marriage vows.

The second oddity came from local restaurants. Somewhere along the line, someone determined pasta and fried chicken go together. I first encountered it at an all-you-can-eat chicken and spaghetti night, which my friends raved about. I soon discovered it at more restaurants, including one (alleged) Italian restaurant. They even serve it up with baked potatoes. Starch on top of starch? Odd.

You want chicken with your spaghetti? That’s what chicken parmigiana is for, people.

Next came the tendency to bake pasta. Not just lasagna, mind, but every pasta dish. It was many years after I moved before I could get mostaccioli without it being baked into a casserole. My friends’ parents made it that way, some relatives made it that way, and even a couple of restaurants made it that way. I guess all the layering of extra ingredients to make a really good lasagna is just too much work.

The local reasoning seems to be “Sauce sucks? Throw in cheese and bake the shit out of it.” Much like the pizza and Italian beef situations around here, I pretty much gave up. I lived and let live, content to let the locals continue in their ignorant ways while I get the real deal at home and visit the occasional restaurant that actually knows what they’re doing.

Then came insult to injury.

My wife found a recipe called “Baked Spaghetti” in a cookbook compiled by a local church. We’ve lucked into some good recipes this way, and I suppose the occasional violation of Italian food ordinances can be forgiven, what with my wife’s lack of appropriate zeal for the sacred art of pasta and the marital turmoil such disagreements can sometimes cause. (In other words, I sucked it up in case I wanted to get some that night.)

That’s when she broke out the bacon.

Yes, bacon.

Who in their right mind puts bacon in pasta? Apparently the same people who can’t figure out it’s time to change their freakin’ sauce!

So the bacon went into the mix and the whole thing, as indicated by its name, went into the oven. The end result? A thick stack of too-stiff noodles, a miserly layer of cheese, and a dribble of orange, watery sauce. When I griped about the noodles, my wife informed me the recipe called for two cups of water.

Bacon and water in the core of pasta recipes. Cracker-thin pizza cut into 2″ by 2″ squares. An inability to tell the difference between Italian beef and Arby’s roast beef sandwiches. Ye gods.

I truly am a stranger in a strange land.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.