I've been watching those new Pizza Hut commercials with a mounting sense of unease. The ones where Donald and Ivana Trump discuss the new "stuffed crust pizza" design. Intended for those who like pizza but don't like the crust, this overhauled design wraps the crust around a string of mozzarella cheese.
This is exactly the wrong approach. It deprives us of the most crucial pleasure in pizza eating, which is the texture of a slice containing both pizza and crust.
The combination of soft and crunchy is the key to the greatest pleasures in the fast-food world. Steak 'n' Shake, which makes the finest fast-food hamburgers in the world, uses "toasted buns" and crisp onion and pickle slices to add texture as you bite through a burger. Chicken chow mein has more personality over crisp noodles than over rice. What would DeMet's Turtles be without their nuts?
When sharing a pizza, I am amused to see people diving for the center pieces, which are soggy, drippy, and loaded with too much cheese. I go for the edge of the pizza, those delectable little corner slices that are about half pizza and half crust.
My taste, which I believe is shared by all true pizza aficionados, led some years ago to one of the unsung inventions of the modern age, the Double Crust Pizza Ring.
My colleague Gene Siskel and I were lunching at Father & Son Pizza on Milwaukee Avenue, where we are particularly fond of the thin-crust pizza. (Thick-crust "Chicago style" pizza, I should add, is a gooey mess consumed mostly by misguided tourists.) We found ourselves engaged in a subtle competition to eat as many of the outside crust pieces as possible.
When nothing was left but center pieces, we glared at one another. And at that moment, much as Isaac Newton discovered gravity or Edward Lear the limerick, we simultaneously conceived of the Double Crust Pizza Ring.
The chef was summoned from the kitchen. Instructions were given. The pizza dough was to be formed in the shape of a large doughnut, with a round hole in the center. Thus, as any expert in topography can confirm, the pizza would possess two crusts - an outer, and an inner. By experimentation, the dimensions could be refined until every single piece of the pizza had a crust!
Father & Son offered the Double Crust Pizza Ring as an option for a while, but it never caught on. Now I offer it to Pizza Hut, as an alternative to the unfortunate stuffed crust pizza. I am sure the stuffed crust will find favor among those, like Donald and Ivana, who do not have a deep understanding of the Zen of pizza (in the ads, they are eying the pizza as if they wish it were caviar).
The secret is in the crust, all right - but it's not cheese.