I was born in Manhattan and grew up in Long Island. Stifled by my provincial upbringing, I fled to Vermont for college, and in the years since, have traveled to myriad states for many reasons. I've taught at computer summer camps in Boston's suburbs; gone to a programming conference in Chicago; lived with my ex in Tucson, Arizona; interned at a big company while living in Canadensis, Pennsylvania; and that's just getting started.
One thing I've paid attention to in my diverse, yet mediocre, travels, has been pizza.
You can get pizza pretty much anywhere. Whether you're in a rural northeastern highway hub or a bigger city with a character of its own, there's bound to be at least one pizza joint within walking, driving or delivering distance. Of course, everywhere you go, it's going to be a little different. Not just from a business-to-business perspective, but between regions. A notable example is the delicious Chicago-style deep dish pizza, when the pizza is served taller than it is wide, and two slices will serve New England. However, there are three properties of pizza and its distribution that are unique to New York and the surrounding areas (from Long Island way upstate to Albany and Troy -- DTal), and I have listed them here in order of increasing notability:
The first time I walked into a Cleveland pizza joint, I asked for an order of garlic knots on the side. The guy behind the counter squinted at me and said, "What?" Assuming he didn't hear me, and that I wasn't just an insular douchewad from Noo Yawk, I repeated myself, and he said, "I, uh... we don't, I don't have those."
At the time, I was with my girlfriend--an Ohio native--and I glanced at her, figuring she'd give me a supportive look to bolster me through this man's ignorance. Much to my horror and chagrin, she was as nonplussed as he.
Tentatively, I said, "You guys... don't have garlic knots?" No matter how hard I tried, though, my incredulity couldn't change the cold, hard facts: The further you get from New York, where they are a staple supplement to any meal including pizza, the less likely it is they'll know what you're talking about when you ask for garlic knots. Why have pizza, stromboli, garlic bread and mozzarella sticks spread, where garlic knots haven't? I don't have the answer to this one.
Selling by the slice
Pizza is really popular in New York, mainly because it's so delicous. This means that New York pizza joints have optimized for high-volume PIZZA DISTRIBUTION ECOSYSTEMS. (It isn't clear to me why I had to type that in caps, but I did. Go ahead and try to type it without caps--it's impossible. PIZZA DISTRIBUTION ECOSYSTEMS.) Generally, when you walk into a New York pizza place, the second thing you'll notice is a glass counter under which many varieties of pizza and pizza-related foodstuffs lie in repose.
(The first thing you'll notice is a heart-wrenching overture of delicious pizza scent; a tangy musk of sauce, cheese and crispy dough.)
If you request a single slice of pizza, one of the pizzeurs behind the counter will remove it, place it in the oven for a few minutes, and give it to you, its taste and texture subtly altered by the second pass through the oven.
This is a level of convenience inaccessible in most other areas, where pizzas are made-to-order a pie at a time. Some places, like Boston (thanks, mkb), also offer this level of pizza availability. So, why is pizza more popular in New York?
Cheese pizza is prevalent in New York, and often referred to as "regular" pizza. For a long time, this mystified me, because in other areas, pizza with toppings is far more common, and no one knows what you're talking about if you ask for a slice of "regular". Recently, though, while pining for a slice from Lontza Pizza on Glen Cove Road, I realized why:
Cheese pizza is better in New York, by enough that it is a rewarding choice of pizza configuration by itself. In other regions, pizza is just a vehicle for its toppings; a lowly henchman of pepperoni and pineapple. Once you get into the Manhattan area, though, the ratio of cheese, pizza and dough is a sacred thing, and the ingredients are better-treated. New York cheese pizza isn't too salty or sweet; the sauce has body and flavor that aren't present in other regions, the dough always has the right amount of crisp, and the grease is like copious nectar. The first time my friend from Maine had New York pizza, her eyes rolled up into her head and she whimpered in culinary bliss.
Cheese pizza is what really sets New York apart from everywhere else.
Jack sez: I'm sitting on 26th street at the moment and I wouldn't call New York City pizza delicious. Convenient, fast and cheap are far more important qualities, and finding a decent slice in the city is getting harder and harder.
Looks like I might have an incomplete understanding of New York pizza after all... maybe it's just taste, maybe it's a deeper lack of pizza quality therein! Who knows?
wertperch sez: I have a co-worker who swears that the only pizza worth eating comes from New York. Me, I disagree - the finest pizza I ever had was in Nottingham. Thin, crisp dough with an awesome sauce, great cheese and some mushrooms. Divine.
In all likelihood, everything is better in Europe, but this must be worth mentioning, too.
DejaMorgana sez: ... truly i don't think NY pizza is all that. I remember it mostly for being classic munchies food - that slice of hot, gooey, greasy cheese goes down rrreeeeeeaaall nice when you're stoned and heading out for a very late night. I'm more than a little convinced this is one of the reasons pizza is so damn popular in NYC. But if you want a genuinely delicious pizza, i'd recommend a deep dish in Chicago or a New Haven "apizza".
I can vouch for Chicago Deep Dish being totally awesome. I've never heard of this mysterious apizza, however. I'll have to look into that.
La petite mort sez: I can name London and Melbourne as places to get pizza by the slice. And cheese pizza in Melbourne. Garlic option for the cheese pizza as it is usally a smaller starter pizza. I suspect cheese pizza works when you have access to good cheese. Best pizzas? Little caesars in Melbourne and butlers in cape town.
Okay, it's official now... if I'm ever in Europe, get some pizza. Same goes for Australia and South Africa.