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I'm having fun watching journalist Matthew Taub acclimate to Milwaukee. Taub moved to Brew City from Brooklyn – as I did in 1983 – to work at The Daily Reporter.
This week, he cracked open a discussion that obsessed me for quite a few years after my arrival: pizza.
It took me a while to get used to the cracker thin crust, which I now quite enjoy. But that's because I've learned that the world offers a panoply of great pizzas, from lightly sauced and cheesed whole Italian pies that one orders individually and cuts with a knife and fork; to New York's inimitable medium crust "Neapolitan" pizza cut into, and sold as, slices; to the Chicago-style stuffed crust pizza which nods a little at sfinciuni, a variation on which New Yorkers call "Sicilian" and on and on.
But one thing I'm still struggling with 30-odd years later is why on Earth would one cut a pizza into squares, called "tavern cut" or "party cut"? It's a pie. You don't cut your strawberry rhubarb or your banana cream into squares do you?
The problems are manifold.
First, you end up with those tiny triangle corner crust-only pieces that almost no one – except one of my kids – wants.
Second, you end up with squares in the middle, triangles at the corners (corners?! how do a circle end up with corners?!) and, typically, some rectangular pieces. It's a challenge to apportion this out equitably.
Third, those center pieces have no crust edges to hold the cheese. Invariably, you end up with a mouthful of cheese, a handful of crust and a cheated expression on your face.
"(I) need a bit of crust in every piece," says Michael Peragine, who hails from Queens. "Don't like the soggy crustless middle pieces."
On this we can agree.
Same goes for New Jersey native Joe Regan: "I’ve finally figured out that part of my problem with it is that it’s cut into squares."
For a while, I asked for my pizzas uncut. That's because attempts to get the kitchen to cut it into triangles went nowhere. I remember dining at Lisa's on Oakland once, probably around 1986, and asking the server for my pizza to be cut into triangles.
She returned a few minutes later and said the kitchen folks didn't understand my request. So, I drew it on a napkin, which she dutifully carried back to the cooks. Soon after, my pizza arrived. Cut. Into. Squares.
Though Peragine and Taub are having trouble getting used to the paper thin crust that aficionados of places like Zaffiro's and Calderone Club adore, that's no longer my issue. As I say, I've come to enjoy it. I embrace the diversity.
After all, I don't complain that beer in Britain tastes different than beer in Milwaukee. Or that bread in France isn't the same shape as bread in Italy. I love those things; they make the world an interesting – and more delicious – place.
I've learned you can't compare Calderone Club, Da Michele in Napoli and Di Fara's on Avenue J in Brooklyn. They're all great, though surely no one who has tried these would dare suggest they are the same, despite the fact that they're all called "pizza." Not the same.
After three decades here I can safely say that I prefer pie cut, but I don't mind tavern-cut so much anymore. Vive la difference!
As our Twitter discussion about this began to cycle down, Michael cracked open a whole new can of worms...
"Don't get me started on Milwaukee 'bagels'!"
Oy vey. Here we go...
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.