Pizza. We think we know what it’s about.
Circular pastry of dough and a lubricant of tomato puree, sliced and radiating from the centre, filled with a whole selection of condiments from olives and rocquettes, to ham and meats all trapped in a coagulating magma of rich, aromatic cheese. Best garnished with a generous sprinkle of dried red pepper flakes and finely diced cheese. Just like the Asian favorite, chicken rice, which has been adapted from culture to culture to present something that’s familiar but unique to its variant, pizza too, has gone through a similar metamorphosis. In fact, there are at the very least, on record, fifteen versions of pizza. Not flavors, but versions! And it’s important to know that none of these versions are technically inferior to the other. There might be some variants in technique and the treatment of the cooking method, ingredients and condiments, but they’re all unique styles in their own right.
Why? It’s my observation that Singapore diners are viewing food (and brands) with an unwarranted trepidation – blindly following trends and casting judgements that in my opinion, isn’t fair. What isn’t always known is that they’re already different schools of pizza available here, in Singapore. Skinny Pizza for example, is a California-style pizza – single serving, takes the paper-thin crust of the New York and Italian styles, and is topped with ingredients associated with Californian cuisine, a.k.a. healthy, gourmet, with just a tad of spice. Da Paolo (the restaurant, not the stand) and PastaMania subscribe to the very classic Neapolitan (Italian) pizza – basic ingredients of tomatoes and Mozzarella cheese – crisp but never crispy, and thin and soft but never soggy. Da Paolo’s stand (at Paragon, for example) sells Lazio style pizza, which is defined by its rectangular shape and its thin, crisp base (although it’s not exactly paper-thin). So, are any of these brands inferior to the other? Maybe PastaMania uses more communal ingredients whereas Da Paolo is more selective, but the style is undeniably Neapolitan.
Owing to the distances of the two cities, and the perception of the use of ingredients, New York-style pizza has struggled to establish a stronghold in Singapore despite multiple attempts by different parties. In the mid-2000s, the eponymous named New York Pizza chain made its debut and only managed a limited cult following. The masses rejected the “simplistic” ingredients, and the inability of the chain to maintain consistency doomed it to closure. An Italian American chef moved to Singapore in hopes of introducing New York-style pizzas to a new generation of Asians, but its unfortunate location in the caverns of Orchard Central muted the potential splash it should’ve made. It seemed like New York pizza just couldn’t catch a break in Singapore. But just like the people who inhabit one of the greatest cities on Earth, the New York spirit refuses to be beaten down. And this year, it comes in the form of Tony’s Pizza – which is not affiliated to the well-known brand of the same name in America but is likely named to evoke the perception that it is – a joint venture with Tony Varvara, who hails from Elegante Pizza in Brooklyn.
To be expected, Tony’s sells by the slice, half pizza and whole. They have two flavors, namely Meat Lovers and Hawaiian, which are part of the “ready-to-eat” collection. Beyond that, you’ve the orangey canvas of that is the cheese pie (which is what they call “pizzas”) to unleash your creative juices upon. Yes, a little pepperoni and cheese reminiscent of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, or how about what I call the “Vegan’s Hypocrite”, a.k.a., bell peppers, onions, spinach and pineapple…whatever your heart fancies. As for myself, I went with pepperoni and mushrooms.
In all honesty, the pizza’s fine. Is it something worth travelling all the way to River Valley for? Well, if you’re already in Orchard Road, then sure, why not? But the biggest stinker’s probably the pricing. The plain canvas starts at SGD 6.50, with toppings at SGD 1 each. And while I try to take things objectively, bearing in mind the natural sparseness of a classic New York-style pizza, I can’t help but feel like it’s ultimately not worth the differentiation. Perhaps one day, I might move to New York, become accustomed to the flavors of the local dishes there, then return to Singapore for a visit, and really enjoy a taste of (my new) home. But yeah, the high price of the pizza is really pushing it. If you’re a little financial conscious, haven’t been to New York and haven’t eaten an actual New York-style pizza, then…I’d say Pezzo Pizza will more than satisfy your taste buds, really. Pezzo’s surprisingly good, for the price.