Pizza and crime: how do I count the ways?
Anyone who knows me well knows that I’m seriously obsessed with pizza. My obsession with pizza started at a young age and has only grown in ardor as I’ve gotten older. It’s clinical and compulsive. I read books and magazines on the subject. I repeatedly watch TV shows about pizza. Wherever I travel (recently to New York City), I make sure to sample the best that the region has to offer. If I wasn’t so consumed pursuing my other passion—crime writing—I’m fairly certain I’d be spinning pizzas in the air. Oh well, maybe in another life.
Many people don’t know this, but pizza is to crime what peanut butter is to jelly. Or what brick oven is to pizza. The two go hand in hand, and in ways obvious and not so.
Real crimes against pizza exist. Like putting pineapple, mayo or Easter peeps on pizza. It’s a crime against nature to put chicken & waffles on a pie. Or macaroni and cheese. Buying frozen crusts or stuffing the crust with cheese should be a felony. Cauliflower crust pizza is on par with manslaughter (I’m guilty of this and on parole). Chicken and meatballs of any kind should never be put on a pie. And if you think I’m kidding about this, guess again. A safe rule to go by is that one should never put more than three toppings on any given pie.
The Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana is the governing body for creating authentic Neapolitan pizzas. They require a specific type of flour and cheese. Only San Marzano tomatoes grown in the dark soil of Mt. Vesuvius. And Italian olive oil. The pizza must cook between 60 and 90 seconds, no more no less. Punishment for breaking these pizza laws requires both feet to be dunked in cement and then tossed into the Adriatic Sea.
Now the flip side. Pizza has a long and rich history with criminal elements. Take the Pizza Connection Trial. Between 1975 and 1984, the Sicilian mafia was sending heroin to independent pizza parlors for distribution. Scores of Americans, Sicilians, Swiss and Spanish suspects were rounded up and arrested. Roughy 1.6 billion in heroin was brought into the U.S. during that time. Famed FBI agent ‘Donnie Brasco’ was the first source for information regarding the Pizza Connection. Clearly, they gave my favorite food a bad name.
In Chicago you can book a Crime and Pizza Tour and learn about Al Capone and all the mob related shoot-outs that took place in the Windy City. Although I have to admit. I’m more of thin crust, John Gotti sort of guy than a thick cruster, I’d certainly sign up for that tour.
Did you know that delivering pizzas is probably the most dangerous job in America? It’s estimated that two pizza drivers are killed every day in this country. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2013 748 Pizza drivers were killed on the job. It was three times higher than construction workers, who ranked 2nd in fatalities. Clearly, people in this country are crazy about pizza, although in unexpected and felonious ways.
Did you know that the crust of a slice of pizza was used to collect evidence, which then provided DNA used to convict a serial killer in California? A woman once saved herself from rape by throwing a hot slice at her attacker. And these are just a few of the many stories. Every day in this country, people literally kill for pizza. There was once a Twinkie defense used in a murder case. So could pizza be the reason people commit violent acts?
Despite pizza’s dubious connection to crime, I choose to look at pizza’s better angels. The bubbly, charred crust from a coal fired oven, say at Regina’s in the North End or Frank Pepe’s in New Haven. There’s the wonderful buffalo mozzarella cheese melted over the top. Salty but flavorful tomato sauce infused with oregano and imported Italian olive oil. I think about the old man, Dom Demarco, at Di Fira’s in Brooklyn, who at 83 has been making beautiful handmade pizzas since 1964 (Bucket list pizza, but that’s for another blog post). When nostalgic, I think back to my trips to Santarpio’s in East Boston, and Sally’s and Modern Apizza in New Haven. To the pizzerias in Rome and Florence. Or to the awesome family joint Zuppardi Apizza in West Haven. How about the Lynwood Cafe in Randolph, where they’ve mastered the bar pizza—thin crust, one size, and with sauce spread to the edge.
Then all the badness disappears and I’m one with the universe. Just be sure not to put pineapple on my pizza and we won’t have a problem.