Crushed Red Pepper

My preferred pizza toppings are onions, mushrooms, and green peppers. Before eating a slice, I’ll usually sprinkle it with grated Parmesan and crushed red pepper. 

That has been my M.O., pizzawise, for some time now, though my tastes have evolved over the years. When I was a child, I liked Pizza Hut’s saltine-esque thin-crust slices topped with ground beef droppings. 

What did I know? Believe it or not, northwest Arkansas was not a center of top-notch authentic Italian cuisine in the 1980s.

We did, however, have a local chain called Eureka Pizza that had one of the most diabolically catchy advertising jingles I have ever heard. Here are the lyrics:

Is pizza!
And pizza from Eureka
Is a big . . . 
Big . . . 
(It's big!)

I am certain those words and that music will continue to rattle around in my brain long after everything else—memories of my first love, my own name—has emptied out of there.

Later I moved to Chicago, which has its own style of pizza. Mind you, out-of-towners visiting the city always seem more interested in that dish than actual Chicagoans do. The ones I have known—including the one I married—enjoy Chicago-style deep dish just fine, but it’s on a tier below, say, the chocolate cake from Portillo’s. Or Italian beef sandwiches. Or Italian beef sandwiches alongside mostaccioli, a pasta thing that everyone will yell at you over if you say, “But isn’t this just baked penne?”

For some reason, Italian beef and mostaccioli are the two indispensable catering items served from large aluminum trays at every conceivable type of Chicago get-together, from weddings to christenings to quinceañeras to sex parties to Bible studies to addiction interventions. 

And yet all the tourists make a beeline for Giordano’s and Lou Malnati’s as though those pizzerias prepare the quintessential Chicago dish. It makes me wonder if Parisians really care all that much about croissants. 

My favorite deep-dish pizza comes from Pequod’s in the city’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. Don’t ask me why the place is named after the whaling ship in Moby-Dick. I don’t know if you’ve managed to get all the way through Melville’s novel, but pizza, deep-dish or otherwise, plays no role in the story. Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure the character of Starbuck never drinks any coffee, either. Sorry for the spoilers. 

One time, I was coming back from a visit to Pequod’s with my husband, Frank (the aforementioned Chicagoan I married), when we were approached by a panhandler on the el. To my dumbstruck horror, Frank handed over our leftovers without asking me first or, in fact, even glancing in my direction.  

Worse, the stranger then sat down across from us and wolfed down the critically acclaimed slices with the famous caramelized crust right there in the train car while I looked on in a state of impotent fury. Rarely has an act of charity struck me as so cruel.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t have made a donation, but did it have to be Pequod’s? Couldn’t we have given the guy something of lesser value, such as the deed to our home?

I guarantee Frank never would have parted so casually with a soppy handful of Italian beef. 

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