food-holidays

It's National Pizza Week! How to find the perfect slice

Jan. 10, 2012 at 10:45 AM ET

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Colin Hagendorf is a venerable slice expert. The Brooklyn native recently completed his quest to eat at every pizza slice joint in Manhattan, chronicling his 370-plus slice binge on his blog Slice Harvester. In honor of National Pizza Week, Hagendorf, 28, offers his tips for finding pizza nirvana.

“All of your senses are part of the experience,” Hagendorf told TODAY.com. “You don’t hold your nose or wear gloves when eating pizza.”

Smell: The smell of the pizza should pull you out from the street and into the door. Everyone knows what the perfect slice smells like, even if they can’t describe it.

The first time Hagendorf ate his favorite slice at the now-shuttered St. Mark’s Pizza in New York, he knew it was something special. He and his father had just finished eating elsewhere and were uncomfortably full. Both men were hobbling to the subway when they caught a noseful of fresh-baked pie. “It was like a ‘Looney Tunes’ come-hither cloud. The smell pulled us toward the shop.”

A special pizza joint, Hagendorf says, should draw you in just by scent.

Courtesy of Colin Hagendorf /
Colin Hagendorf, a.k.a the Slice Harvester

Taste: It's all about ratio. An ideal plain slice, Hagendorf believes, should anchor the yeastiness of the dough and the acidic sharpness of tomato sauce with the right amount of cheese.

If a slice is too thick, there should be more cheese; if it is thinner there should be less sauce and cheese. Too much cheese can soak a slice; too little can leave it dry. “The warmth of the flavors should be rising off the slice and into your mouth as you start that first bite,” Hagendorf said.

The look and feel:

“Your favorite slice should be like looking into the eyes of someone you love,” Hagendorf said. It should be shaped like an isosceles triangle – about 10 inches long, 8 inches wide at its core, and approximately a half-inch thick. The crust should be slightly charred on the bottom and when folded, you should hear a distinct crack. The red from the sauce and the white from the cheese should become one glorious brown mixture after spending just enough time in the pizza oven.

Pizza is greasy, but after eating you should still be able to flip through your favorite paperback without leaving oily prints behind.

The place:  

Hagendorf doesn’t trust a place that looks too clean. “If there is no graffiti in the bathroom, I am going to be skeptical,” he said, adding that the location should be bustling. “It doesn’t matter if there is music on, pans banging, or the pizza guys talking, but the ambient noises should make you feel like you are inside of something.”

Hagendorf prefers specific music: Either the equivalent of “Miami freestyle from the ‘80s, which sounds like the ‘Beverly Hills Cop’ theme song,” or Mariah Carey's Christmas songs, which to him is the Beatles catalog of our generation.

No forks

Pizza is eaten with your hands, without exception. And unless you are “an alien life form or body-snatcher,” your pizza should be folded. End of story.

What makes your perfect slice? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Matthew Moll is a multi-media journalist living in New York. You can follow his local food tweets at @tasteoflocal

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