“Sign says it’s closed. Re-opens next month.” The Maestro’s voice was flat as he told me this on the phone. I was, at the moment, navigating the circuitous route Google Maps was SURE was the fastest way to our latest Pizza Project destination, the pseudo-famous, pseudo-historical Freddy’s Pizza in Cicero. Having at that point made several crazy loops through the absolute best neighborhoods in Chicago in response to Google Maps’s cheerfully homicidal turn by turn voice (I believe it’s the same voice that told Michael Scott to drive his car “into an f’ing lake” on that one episode of “The Office”), my brain just about exploded when I got the Maestro’s call informing me that our intended destination was indeed not open that night, despite Google’s insistence that it was.
So. We improvised.
See, the thing about Cuzzo’s is that it wasn’t intended to be a sit-down, let’s-mindfully-enjoy-our-pizza-a-bite-at-a-time-while-soaking-in-the-atmosphere kind of pizza experience. It’s the epitome of a neighborhood pizza joint. Not a neighborhood pizza restaurant, mind you. If any place is a corner pizza joint, it’s Cuzzo’s.
One of the reactions to last week’s Spacca Napoli adventure came from an acquaintance of mine who opined that “if it doesn’t fold, it’s not pizza.” Whereas Spacca Napoli kind of couldn’t make up its mind about whether it wanted to be the kind of pizza that crunched or the kind of pizza that folded, Cuzzo’s has no such conflict: it’s emphatically pizza that folds. Hell, with the deep creases you’re able to make with these slices, combined with the shiny slick of grease coating the damn things, you could probably make some variant of a water slide (grease slide?). (If any readers choose to do this, please send pics so we can post to the blog.)
Now, now, you all think I’m being snarky, or at the very least being back-handed in any compliments I’m affording Cuzzo’s, but that’s not my intent. The fact is, whereas the Maestro decided to wait until a fresh slice of his dead-animal laden pizza of choice was available, I took the plunge and said that the veggie and cheese pizza slices they already had made up would be fine. Should I have waited for slices fresh out of the oven? Maybe. But, really, in the kind of neighborhood pizza joint where they’re not making your pizza to order, but rather giving you the opportunity to have a slice of what they have available, I feel it’s kind of antithetical to the vibe of the joint to wait for a fresh slice. I want the real, heat-lamp-warmed deal. I don’t want special treatment.
And it’s a good thing, too.
The slices? Are huge. Huge, and floppy, and gooey, and greasy. (Sure, I know it’s kind of cliche’ to complain about greasy pizza, but understand that in this context, I’m acknowledging the grease of the pizza as a feature, not a glitch. Cuzzo’s pizza without that shiny, thick coat of grease wouldn’t be Cuzzo’s pizza.) And, hell, it was tasty. I’d have no problem folding piece after piece of Cuzzo’s pizza and stuffing it into my maw. At 3 AM, that is.
It all kind of depends on what you want your pizza experience to be, understand. For example, if you want the flavors and textures of the veggies on your veggie pizza to be distinct and sharp, you’re not headed to Cuzzo’s. To be honest, the veggies on the veggie pizza may as well have been made of cheese, because everything tasted like cheese. Which makes it a good thing that I like cheese, really. The sauce was present and accounted for, surely, but the thing about it is that it was only distinguishable from the cheese by the fact that it tasted a little less like cheese than the cheese.
“It’s 3 AM pizza, is what it is,” the Maestro declared as we sat in the stifling heat of the place, taking big bites of our floppy slices, marveling that we’d essentially purchased pizza slices that covered the same area, square inches wise, as some of our entire previous pizzas, for, like, a fraction of the cost. “Hangover pizza,” another member of our dining party opined. “Mmmrf,” I responded to these assessments, my jaws temporary immobilized by cheese, before spilling my Diet Coke all over the table as a result of a grease-related slippage issue.
(Here I’d like to give a shoutout to the good folks at Lifeproof, whose case for my iPhone 6 has not only held up to rain and mud on long runs and races, but has now effortlessly warded off the Noah’s Flood of Diet Coke inflicted upon my hapless phone the other night at Cuzzo’s. After mopping up the spilled beverage with napkins, I asked Siri if she was okay. She responded– no joke– “Yes, there are several laundromats nearby.” Siri is the Mario Incandenza of digital assistants.)
I don’t mind 3AM pizza, myself. While it’s true that all members of our dining party reported variable levels of gastrointestional distress in the 24 hours following our visit to Cuzzo’s, I’m of the opinion that you know what you’re getting into with a neighborhood pizza joint. And one of the beautiful things about pizza generally is that, whether you go highbrow or lowbrow, if you’re eating pizza, you’re probably enjoying it. Cuzzo’s isn’t everyone’s slippery cup of Diet Coke, but it’ll do. It’ll do.