In the Zone: Pizza Zone (“P’Zone”)

Do you remember the Pizza Hut P’zone? I don’t: I’ve never had one. I do remember an old friend telling me the story of how she made out with some dude who offered to buy her a P’zone* (and who reneged on his promise: tsk!).

(source)

I share this story 1) because it’s funny; and 2) because P’zone is going to be my new term for the slothful mood I fall into about once a week. Oh, jesus: Thursday was such a P’zone day. I woke up well before my alarm went off (hours before? Hard to say), haunted by dreams of getting edged out of the bathroom and being late to work. Despite a fleeting headache, I was hella productive at the office, but came home feeling wiped — Wednesday’s late-night spaghetti and Jameson adventures, coupled with those mundane nightmares, resulted in sub par sleep. I did what I had to do. I changed into comfypants, headed to Sabina’s, and ate the most Irving Pizza. OK, and drank wine and watched my first-ever episode of “Jersey Shore.” (I’m not sure how I feel about this viewing decision; I rather liked the rock I was living under before I ever heard Snooki’s voice. Sadly, what’s done cannot be undone.)

My relationship with Irving Pizza is as contentious as it is longstanding. Before I’d tried Pi (or Little Star, or Arizmendi), I claimed Irving as my favorite pie in the city. The crust is thick — but not too thick — and doughy enough to satisfy any carb-lover’s cravings. Irving’s toppings are solid: not gourmet, by any stretch, but the jalapenos sear the roof of my mouth, and the Pizza Master uses a heavy hand when portioning pineapple. Also, the sauce: the sauce is the boss, nimbly treading the line between saccharine and acidic. Yep: it’s safe to say that the sauce is Irving’s most finely crafted component.

What’s not to love? The service. Irving’s customer service leaves so much to be desired. When I moved here, nearly two years ago, delivery was consistent, if not exactly quick. (Gone are the days of “3o minutes or less.”) Delivery times grew steadily longer; I, being the assertive lady that I am, would call Irving for status updates.

“Oh, it’s on its way,” the cashier would assure me. Really? I wondered. Like, where on its way? Ten or twenty (or thirty) minutes later, the delivery dude would arrive, hella late and frustratingly un-sheepish.

Irving pizza is cunning, though, wooing me back with its gooey cheese and its crisp-exteriored jalapeno poppers. Despite the inconsistent service, I just couldn’t quit Irving, so ingrained in my routine it had become. Which leads us to the subject at hand: pizza traditions.

In keeping with my age, country of origin, year of birth, SES, and so forth, pizza has played a major role in my culinary history. My first pizza memory is of my parents’ homemade pie; weekends, my mom would make a batch of dough, letting it rise in the orange Pyrex bowl, draped gently with a clean towel. She made her own sauce, too, wilting onions in olive oil, adding minced garlic and her secret spice blend that, to this day, I’ve never faithfully replicated. In a nod to economic housekeeping, we shredded our own mozzarella from giant bricks; Ali and I, charged with this task, would sneak handfuls as we worked. My parents topped their ‘za with Italian sausage (gently browned) and green peppers; I fancied nothing more than cheese, or sometimes cheese and mushrooms. The taste of fennel revolted me then: it was too bitter, too strong. It disrupted the soothingly familiar flavor combination.

Frozen and delivery pizzas were rare in my childhood house (the latter more so than the former). The Red Baron made the occasional appearance, as did DiGiorno (oh, mid-90s!). If we did order pizza, we’d nearly always pick it up.

Chanticlear Pizza is, without a doubt, the pizza of my youth. A local chain that specialized in wafer-thin pies the size of manhole covers, Chanticlear’s nearest outpost was in a strip mall a few miles from our house. The crust was really marginal — too crispy for my liking, too sodden with sauce — and the cheese was unremarkable (gluey, paste-tasting). What I did love was Chanticlear’s tendency to cut their pies into tiny squares: perfect for snacking on the next day.For years, Chanticlear had an ingenious rewards program. Consumers were instructed to save the small portion of each pizza box known as the “Chanti-tab.” After collecting 15 tabs, you earned a free pizza — sweet, eh? I hated the kitchen drawer, already stuffed with dish cloths, rubber bands, Box Tops for Education, and 70s-hued kitchen implements, where my mom stashed the tabs. The Chanti-tab program lasted until recently, when Chanitclear, aware that it was whittling its profit margins, discontinued it. Which is a shame: I think we still have tabs in that kitchen drawer.

***

I’ve spent quality time developing my own pizza traditions. Like my parents, I make my own pizza. (I buy pre-shredded mozz, though: sorry, mom!) Nothing — nothing — beats homemade pizza.

Irving is synonymous with ritual relaxation; its associations are inextricably linked to sweatpants, cheap beer, and time spent on the couch.

Of course, no Irving experience is complete without an appetizer sampler, which includes chicken wings, mozzarella sticks, steak fries, and poppers. You might argue that fried food is hard to fuck up (and that my praise for the platter is rooted purely in ideology), but I’d tell you you’re wrong. Fried food is easy to fuck up; as a former grill cook, I’ve made and sampled far more soggy/burned/refried fries than any person should have to sample. Irving’s steak fries are a thing of beauty: consistent in size, pale gold in color, their exteriors are crisp and their interiors are pillowy. The poppers, though, are the star of the platter. Irving doesn’t skimp on the cream cheese (generic, no doubt, but decadent nonetheless), and the breading offers the correct level of crunch (smack dab between soggy and eyetooth-shattering).

Flavorwise, Irving pizza may be solidly middle-of-the-pack, but symbolically, it’s king.

***

*This friend was in college at the time, and drunk. She’s not the sort who normally swaps spit for fast-food, OK?

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