Pie-eating contest

Two pizzerias--one new, one ancient--are legitimate contenders for Dallas' best

A tale of two pizzas: I said it was the best of pizzas, and though no one said it was the worst, there were a lot of people who claimed the superlative for their favorite pizza place, not mine.

In the weeks following the Observer's September 28 "Best of Dallas" issue--in which I proclaimed Arcodoro purveyor of the city's best pizza--I received several anonymous phone calls ("Al's has-a the best-a pizza in Dallas!" growled one anonymous caller, then hung up). One reader even passed me a note when I was browsing in a CD store: "Go eat at Lovers Pizza!" (See--all you gotta do is step out on a limb and somebody saws it off. That's the hazard when your job description is "airing your opinion.") So this week I decided to investigate a couple of Dallas' supposedly premier pizza joints.

I have to admit, I get really sick of eating pizza. These days, you can hardly find a restaurant that doesn't offer pizza on its menu, and I should know. I go out for Mexican food and end up eating pizza. I go out for Thai food and end up eating pizza. Any flat bread with a topping could be called a pizza on the evidently sound theory that Americans will eat anything on dough. (This must go right along with the "anything fried" rule.)

Of course, there are plenty of places where pizza is the menu--the only possible dish for a person of reasonable taste to order, unless you count baked ziti as a dinner option. But I said people of reasonable taste. There is always at least one corrugated pizza box in my fridge, with a leathery leftover wedge or two rattling around inside. (If you're going to try to eat leftover pizza, sprinkle it with water as if you were going to iron it, and heat it at 400 till the cheese barely bubbles.) We eat pizza more than any other food. (There are little-known side effects. Did you know pizza causes you to dream more than other foods?)

But when my family orders pizza for pizza's sake, we don't usually get it at the neighborhood pizza joint, because most of those are gone--swallowed whole by the chains. No, our pizza normally comes in a speeding vehicle, to our door, from a place that accepts checks. It is the dinner of last resort.

But these pizza places that were brought to my particular attention are both individually owned, un-linked, neighborhood pizza parlors--they do deliver, but not in my neighborhood, which means they're too far away for me to do anything but eat it there. Well-traveled pizza is inedible pizza. Both places were recommended as the best pizza in Dallas, and both were touted as serving true, "New York-style" pizza.

Of course, New York versus Chicago style is not the debate it once was, not now that there are so many other options to discuss, like, is the crust stuffed with cheese, is it buffalo or cow's milk mozzarella, or is it gorgonzola or maybe goat cheese? Leaving the Thai and the Tex-Mex versions of pizza behind (where I hope they'll stay) for a minute, and getting back to basics, you may remember that tradition says Chicago-style is deep-dish pizza, and New York is "Neapolitan"--thin-crust pizza. (So-called "Sicilian" pizza is cut into rectangles. But it's never been part of the debate, anyway.)

The main difference between the two is that you eat your Chicago pizza with a fork, and your New York pizza is a hand pie (unless you're a fork fanatic like me and prefer to break out the prongs for any and everything topped with stringy cheese, including nachos). This general rule makes sense, because in New York, pizza is street food--there are lots of places that sell pizza by the slice for pedestrians, obviously a useless sales pitch in Dallas where delivered pizza is more to the point.

In the case of Lovers Pizza (officially titled "and Pasta"), I would prefer to be in the delivery area; there's not much of a point in going inside the place to eat, unless you just want to feel depressed and for some bizarre reason can't induce the feeling with daily life in Dallas or a movie.

There are only a couple of discouraging tables and a couple of booths inside Lovers Pizza. The plate glass windows look out on the crummy asphalt parking lot. There are frightening photo enlargements of the pasta dishes allegedly served decorating the walls, though you can't see them too well because the room is so dim. You order at the counter, where a couple of kinds of pizzas for sale by the slice are kept hot under pitiless lamps. You get your drinks yourself--Snapple from the cooler. The dark dining room is lit slightly by the blue glow of one TV.

The bright kitchen behind the counter, where the pizza guys are talking on the phone, joking and rolling pizza dough, looks like a much cozier, more inviting place than your lonely laminated table. You wish they'd ask you to come back there and wait while they make your pizza. But they won't.

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