It would have been a fair question in 1929, long before the Neapolitan dish became as commonplace as french fries and Swiss cheese. Today you can buy a hot slice of halfway decent pie at certain gas stations, Target stores and Costco. The very first pizzeria opened in Naples Italy, not Florida in 1830. The first American pizza joint opened in New York 75 years later. Since then, it has become the culinary equivalent of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and has taken over the universe.
Well, my universe anyway. As a baby boomer, I came of age with frozen pizza, Chef Boyardee pizza mix, corporate-owned pizzeria chains, pizza rolls, pizza bagels and pizza-flavored Pringles. That wasn't always the story, though, and I have to remind myself that until the 1950s, pizza was still kind of a novelty in parts of the Midwest. Back in '56, my Indiana-born mother had never seen pizza until she started dating my father, an Italian-American from New York. Yes, Chicago had been famous for deep-dish pizza since 1943, but former tile installer Ed Imo didn't introduce his thin-crust pie to St. Louis until 1964.
Kansas City's pizza revolution came earlier, in the form of corporate-owned pies. In 1957, a young Kansas entrepreneur named Frank Camey started selling the quintessential Italian-American version of the dish at the very first Pizza Hut in Wichita; it's now the dominant pizza chain in the country, controlling 17 percent of a $30-billion-a-year industry. Americans love their pizza; we supposedly eat 350 slices a second.
OK, so no one is going to ask "what is pizza?" in the 21st century. But where the hell is good pizza? I'm not a fan of the indulgently cheesy big-chain product, and all frozen pizzas taste like cardboard to me. That's what led me to take my friends Bill and Bob to Spin Neapolitan Pizza. It's gourmet pizza, according to Bill, who loves the place.
I have lots of friends who love Spin and nearly as many who hate the fast-casual suburban venue. Not because of the food (which lives up to the reputation of the award-winning chefs and minority owners, Michael Smith and Debbie Gold) but because the ordering process is occasionally chaotic and disorganized. I've eaten at the joint three times, and only once did I have a glitch-free dining experience.
As at several recent "concept" dining operations, customers at Spin order at a counter. Later, servers bring the food to the table. It seems relatively simple in theory. Somehow, though, things can and do go awry between the person sitting at the computer and the server hauling out the plates. The wrong salad was brought out at one meal, no salad at another. Glasses were never refilled at one meal, and, at another, the zombie passing himself off as a waiter barely gave our group a second glance after dropping off the food.
"But it's just a pizza joint," said Bill, who thought I was being too hard on the place, "not a real restaurant."
He was right. It is a pizza joint ... with delusions of sophistication. On the surface, the delusion is more than a mirage. There are stylish qualities to the place: the stark, industrial-chic décor; the heavy, rustic-pottery pizza platters; the matte-black serving plates. By the standards of most pizza parlors, Spin isn't just upscale it's downright glamorous. It certainly outclasses the less snobby California Pizza Kitchen, but the latter still has the ace in the deck: a well-trained staff. Because the servers at Spin bring out the food and when they are attentive enough perform traditional waiter duties (and also expect, naturally, to be tipped), why not do away with the cashier at the front desk and have the dining room staff just take the order from the beginning?