Sunday, October 02, 2005

Pizza My Heart

I have a complicated relationship with pizza. It's my husband's (and many other people's) favorite food, but I spent a good half of my life suffering from lactose intolerance. Where other people saw a tasty slice, I envisioned the mozzarella of doom--stomach pain, gas, and a general feeling of unwellness. Since pizza is such an important social lubricant in American society--perhaps moreso than beer, since it's such a staple in the diet of young kids as well as adults--I tried to grin and eat it, so to speak.

As I got older and came to worry less about what people would think (somewhere around grad school), I discovered that, yes, you can order a cheeseless pizza. Lots of sauce and other ingredients, but no cheese. (No doubt healthier, too.) My high- school-and-later friend Christy and I made a fine pair--she was intolerant of tomato sauce. So her pizza came sauce-free, mine cheese-free. I'm surprised restaurants didn't turn the locks and douse the lights when they saw us coming.

Somewhere in my thirties, my intolerance began to ease. Even though I'd spent years drinking Lactaid milk and avoiding pizza, I never gave up dairy products completely. So--perhaps using the same theory behind allergy shots--my lactose intolerance grew less and less. (Though it never completely disappears--a straight glass of milk is still a cause for discomfort, and I've given up on those delicious, creamy French soups like potato and leak.) But for years, I still had to grit my teeth and say, "Sure!" when people said, "Let's get pizza." It was almost a Pavlovian response--mention pizza and my stomach began to churn.

But I've really given it a try, and I've found the pizza that makes me happy. (Truthfully, the first such place was Pizzeria Paradiso in Washington D.C. But since I don't live there anymore, it's hard to get the pizza home while it's still warm. If you're ever in Dupont Circle in our nation's capital, though, check it out.) Although I will now eat the neighborhood pizza (don't you love that EVERY town in N.E. has a "House of NAME OF YOUR TOWN HERE Pizza?" And it's usually pretty good, too). But my real love for pizza in the Boston area now resides with Za and Emma's in Cambridge. (Neither place is large, so either come early or prepare to wait for a table.)

Both offer excellent, thin-crust pizzas--not too cheesy, which is my preference--and with some odd ingredients. I must admit, I like the odd-ingredient pizzas. Ever since Paradiso introduced me to a sunny-side-up egg on my pizza, I try to be open to the non-traditional. So at Za, don't be scared to try the one with figs, and at Emma's, I love, love, love the Number 4, which has--don't gasp--potato chunks, cilantro, dried cranberries, and smoked bacon. Heaven.

But don't panic--you can also order a straight-up pepperoni at either place. Not my style, but after conquering pizza dread, I'm willing to acknowledge that comfort comes in many flavors.


Blogger Rebecca said...

Mmmmm. Love love love pizza. But I'm pretty finicky on my choices. Nothing's better than Papa Gino's which brings me right back to being a kid again; or Pizzeria Regina. :) I'm so fortunate to not be lactose intolerant, because this girl, is all about the cheese.... :) But I'm glad that you're now able to enjoy it in small doses; my kids are lactose intolerant, but they put up with it for the pizza! ;)

3:16 PM  
Blogger David said...

When Za opened I was pretty unhappy. Just what Arlington didn't need--another pizza place. (It also didn't help that they took the place of our old favorite, Full Moon.)

But the other day I finally tried it, and was pleasantly surprised. My daughter and I went there after a matinee at The Capitol. As you wrote, they have very good non-traditional toppings as well as the usual. Katie got pepperoni, and I got portobello, caramelized onions and feta.

Way more pizza than we needed, but even so, I almost didn't leave enough to bring home a slice for my wife!

5:32 AM  
Blogger Alison Rose said...

That's the great thing about pizza--you can justify ordering a little too much because the leftovers are so tasty!

6:23 AM  
Blogger David said...

Allison, one of the things I miss the most from Cambridge is Emma's. I lived across the street from that place, but would have gladly travelled an hour to have that incredibly good pizza. It was probably the second-best pies I've eaten in my life - the absolute best was and will always remain American Flatbread in Waitsfield Vermont. The toppings all came from the farm out front, and they were cooked in Neolithic-style hollowed out boulders under intense wood-fires. If you ever get the chance to get to the Mad River Valley on a Friday or Saturday, run do not walk to the line. The wait is worth it.
Vancouver has pretty good pizza, but so far I've not found anything as good as Emma's. I'll keep looking, though.
-David, your friend and expat in Canada

11:06 PM  

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