There’s a quote that has always swirled around in the back of my mind. It’s not by some ancient philosopher with a Greek name, like Aristotle, or a famous literary author. Instead, it seems originless, a four word-phrase, no doubt, concocted by internet culture. Yet, it is as relevant today as it was yesterday. I’m referring to the phrase: “Pizza can fix everything.”
When I was 20 years old and hilariously broke, living in New York City, I could always count on my trusty 99-cent pizza-by-the-slice joint to sustain me until my next paycheck. I’ll admit, it’s not healthy to have pizza all the time, but pizza was the most affordable takeaway option when I wanted something other than canned tuna.
I would sit on the curb with my slice, resting on a paper plate, bending to the weight of the cheese. Now, I realise it wouldn’t exactly fix my financial problems, but everything seemed okay in those two minutes it took to eat my slice.
It seems silly to think a slice of pizza can fix everything, but on the surface, it really can. Pizza is the world’s comfort food. It’s warm, cheesy, and easily accessible in cities around the world. I was in Japan a few weeks ago, and the last place I expected to find a slice was Tokyo, but I will eat my words because, as I witnessed, the city has a thriving pizza culture.
In fact, Chef David Chang proclaimed, “The best pizza in the world is in Tokyo,” a phrase Italians everywhere turn their eyes upward at, but many agree. Although, if you were to ask me, every city thinks they have the best pizza.
In Sydney, pizza reigns supreme. You can walk down any major street and find a pizza place sandwiched between a kebab shop and a pharmacy. There are also fancy places with tables and the by-the-slice hole in the walls. Every which way you look at it, there’s a pizza place to suit every budget and taste.
Recently you might have noticed a new wave of pizza joints opening in Sydney. You have no doubt heard or even felt the effects of inflation. Its already infiltrated our daily caffeine fix and has come for our favourite fast foods, but the question is will pizza be our saving grace from bland canned tuna dinners, all in the name of saving money?
Restaurateur and Chef Orazio D’Elia is Sydney’s pizza pioneer, the father of all things Neapolitan slices. He says pizza has been booming for a few years now thanks to Australia’s love and embrace of Italian culture. But its reputation for being a favourite for any age and its affordability have primed it for success in the trying times we find ourselves in today.
“I grew up in Napoli, where pizza is the king of fast food. Pizza by the slice is something we ate on a regular basis, if not every day, when I was going to school. It makes me happy to see the Italian culture and influence taking place in our beautiful Sydney.,” he said.
D’Elia also attributes the rise and accessibility of portable home pizza ovens to pizza’s current adoration. “It’s made pizza more accessible; now everyone is a pizzaiolo,” he said.
This couldn’t ring more true for lifelong friends Michael Sgourdas and Mick Abboud, the co-owners of the newly opened, Bsp’eria in Penshurst. It just came down to finding the right venue.
“Michael and I have pretty much been obsessed with pizza most of our lives,” said Abboud. “Food, in general,” he added. “We’ve been looking for a place for several years, and one day on a grocery run, we saw a for sale sign up and grabbed it.”
Abboud said they fell in love with its rugged look and quickly envisioned a hole-in-the-wall pizza bar with milk crates for seating and an “old school style fit out.” However, neither of these friends had any experience making pizza. Sgourdas has a background in hospitality and owns, Fifteen Coffee in Mascot, while Abboud comes from the finance industry, but their love of pizza was enough to build the foundation.
“We brought in a consultant, Stefano De Caro, chef and owner of Cicerone Cucina Romana in Surry Hills, to help us develop a small menu of six pizzas,” said Abboud.
The pizzas revolve around a simplistic approach to ingredients, with high-impact flavours flung from a hole in the wall, protected by a retro red awning reminiscent of a 99cent Brooklyn joint. “Our dough is hand stretched, Neapolitan style, so very authentic,” he said.
According to Abboud, the Uncle Charlie is proving to be quite popular. It’s made with a white base covered in spicy ‘nduja, sprinkled with mozzarella, ricotta, and honey. “Every mouthful is a different sensation. You’ve got the sweetness of the honey and the spicy nduja, but you don’t get all those flavours in every bite. It’s almost like having multiple pizzas at once.”
There are already a handful of pizza joints in Penshurst, including a Domino’s, but according to Abboud, a local himself, most residents venture to Newtown for a pizza fix. Now, they don’t have to travel too far to get quality pizza.
“We’ve had a lot of people coming from the city and out west, comparing the pizza to their staples, but overall the feedback has been humbling,” he said. “People have told us, the flavours are authentic, it’s not overdone, and it’s affordable, which is everything we wanted it to be. A casual community hotspot where families can pick up a pizza for dinner without spending too much or a city worker looking for a bite after work.”
If you need more confirmation that Sydney is craving pizza, take the opening of Merivale’s new pizza and sandwich-by-the-slice shop, Oti, helmed by group executive chef Mike Eggert. Tucked in the laneway of the Ivy Precinct, Oti attracted a line of hungry and eager workers looking to get the first taste.
Videos of the line snaking around Totti’s and up to the Wynyard tram stop went viral on social media, attracting even more pizza lovers from all over Sydney, from West to South and East. Despite opening in May, if you were to venture down to the blue and white shop any day during lunchtime, there would still be a line.
For context, Oti serves sandwiches and pizza slices. But according to Eggert, the dough shines here. ”
We really nerd over the dough,” he said.
The dough he is referring to is hand-stretched schiacatta bread, the foundation for the shop’s Italianate sandwiches, packed with everything from mortadella, ricotta, and a generous helping of mozzarella. The pizzas by the slice channel the iconic square Roman-style pies, topped with capricciosa, artichokes, mushrooms, and more.
The menu changes daily, yet, every day, people line up in anticipation of the day’s choices, observable through a glass display. The best part, slices and sandwiches range from $12-$16, making it an affordable choice.
“It’s not small either, exclaimed Eggert. “Our pizza slices and sandwiches are big; it’s a big meal for some.”
If that’s not an indication that Sydney is craving pizza, then we’re at a loss.
So why do we love pizza so much? Scientifically speaking, pizza toppings are packed with glutamate, and when that compound hits our tongues, it tells our brains to get excited—to crave more of it.
Although, I believe it’s the memories of chewing on garlic cheese pizza as a kid that we crave. The rush of endorphins when the words “let’s get pizza” are uttered. It’s the comfort of a cheesy, greasy slice. The relief of being able to treat the family while not breaking the budget.
All of these examples point indicate that loving pizza’s a universal experience.
No matter where we are on the Earth, Norway or New Zealand, you can always trust pizza to deliver a satisfying, affordable meal.