It’s Not Amore Hitting Your Eye, It’s a Big Pizza Pie

When a moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore

                                                                             —Dean Martin


Is it any wonder that crooner Dean Martin likens love to a big pizza pie? Not in my book. Next Saturday, February 9, is National Pizza Day, and I couldn’t be happier. I’m not a huge fan of Valentine’s Day, but pizza I can get behind. And pizza inspires all sorts of feelings in people, including love. It even plays a leading role in the 1988 movie “Mystic Pizza,” the film that launched Julia Roberts career that is currently being made into a musical with a little help from Melissa Etheridge, who is reportedly writing the songs. Hollywood has produced a laundry list of movies featuring our love affair with pizza from “Fast Times at Ridgemore High” to “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”

My own love affair with pizza began way back in the early 1970s, long before there were pizza chains, or at least very few. Nothing was more exciting then when my Aunt walked in on a cold and dark Friday evening with several large pizza boxes still warm from Dino’s. Inside were perfectly cut thin squares of gooey cheese and pepperoni with just the perfect ratio of grease to sauce. Dino’s was just one of the many small mom and pop pizzerias in the nation at the time, but in our little town of Suitland, Maryland just outside of Washington, DC, Dinos was legend. The crust was thin, with just the right amount of elasticity on the bottom to fold it if you wanted with a slightly crunchy crust—but only on the outside.

Eating pizza with “friends” is the only way to eat it. Delivery is nice in a pinch, but I’m feeling nostalgic for the pizza experience.

But pizza doesn’t just inspire love and good memories. There are serious debates on what toppings belong on a pizza (like pineapple) and whether the best pizza is thin, New York style or deep-dish Chicago style. But here is what I know for sure, it’s hard to make a great pizza from scratch at home. The home oven is just not the best vessel for creating a melt-in-your-mouth, delicious legendary pizza. There, I said it. So whether you prefer plain cheese or pepperoni, thick or thin crust, Chicago Style or New York style, here’s some stats to assuage your pie curiosity:

  • Pepperoni pizza is the most popular pizza type in the world.
  • More than 3 billion pizzas are ordered every year in the United States.
  • More than 1 billion frozen pizzas are purchased every year in the United States.
  • The first pizzeria to open in the United States was Gennaro Lombardi in 1895 in New York City.

The National Today data science team surveyed 1,000 people about their pizza-eating habits and here’s what they found. The 10 most popular pizza toppings are cheese, pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, bacon, onions, green peppers, black olives, Canadian bacon, and yes—pineapple.

There’s no better feeling in the world than a warm pizza box on your lap.

                                                                                                                 —Kevin James

And while my beloved Dino’s pizzeria is long gone, as are most mom and pop restaurants, pizza chains are flourishing. In the five-year period ending in March 2018, the pizza restaurant industry grew by 2.5 percent, reaching a revenue high of $47 billion in 2018. The industry also saw a 1.7 percent growth in the number of businesses and a 2.5 percent growth in the number of employees. And which pizza chains ranked highest? According to gross sales earned by pizza chains, the top five American pizzerias are:

1. Pizza Hut, gross sales of $13.4 billion
2. Domino’s, gross sales of $8.9 billion
3. Little Caesars, gross sales of $3.4 billion
4. Papa John’s, gross sales of $3.3 billion
5. Papa Murphy’s, gross sales of $7.85 million

Not only are pizza stats hitting the numbers in the billions, Domino’s says it plans to open nearly 10,000 new stores in the next six years. The only thing missing from the convenience of pizza delivery is the experience of actually going to a pizzeria, specifically one that is dimly lit with kitschy red and white cafe curtains on a Friday night with a date or a group of friends.

As young as 13, my friends and I would pool our babysitting or grass-cutting money and walk, actually walk, to Bambino’s, a small family-owned business in a strip mall almost literally outside the gates of Andrews Air Force base, now Joint Base Andrews. At 13, we felt grownup eating on our own without parents, Coca-Colas in hand as we eyed the Air Force men in their uniforms eating pizza with their coworkers on break. In the hey day of big suburban malls, I always skipped the Orange Julius and gravitated to the pizzeria with the Italian flags hanging on the walls and the muscular young Italians behind the counter tossing their dough in the air with skill and showmanship.

The real money shot of “Saturday Night Fever.” Travolta was without a doubt eating classic New York Pizza. In an earlier frame from the movie, “Tony” is shown holding the large triangle pizza slice before folding it in half.

There is no doubt in my mind that people need to turn off their phones while dining out and pay attention to one another. I can only imagine a group of twenty-somethings actually sitting in a pizzeria today, necks bent as they fixate on their phones. Going out with your friends used to mean actually talking to them and enjoying the atmosphere, no matter how kitschy.

Don’t get me wrong, so many things are better today than they used to be, but I do get nostalgic that a group of teenage girls could actually walk a few miles in safety to a small Italian hole in the wall to enjoy an afternoon of pizza and practicing our flirting. I also appreciate how the millennials thought wood-fired pizza was going to serve up the best pizza culinary experience we’d ever had and how putting all sorts of exotic cheeses and toppings on our pizza was giving us an authentic experience. But they’d be wrong. Nothing beats that beautiful grease-sauce ratio, an Italian flag and a Coca-Cola with friends. If you don’t care to celebrate Valentine’s Day this month, akuma matata. There’s always National Pizza Day to celebrate. #Reignwell