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David Portnoy's $200 Pizza Party Is Something You Can Skip Next Year Too
Plus, David Brooks on drinking bourbon at a New Jersey airport, Pete Wells and Helen Rosner on Foxface, and other news
Free Food is a weekly column that tracks some of the biggest (and smallest) stories in food from across the country, with a focus on features, op-eds, and reviews.
Perhaps you’ve heard of David Portnoy, host of yesterday’s very expensive pizza festival in Coney Island. He’s a podcaster. He founded Barstool Sports. He goes by the nickname “El Pres.” And he runs a pizza review series on YouTube that’s so popular (views are in the millions) that it can cause your favorite slices to sell out early at the venues in question. A Slate column called him the country’s most influential pizza critic; it’s hard to disagree with that assessment.
But as fate would have it, media coverage around Portnoy’s pizza fest seemed to skew less toward the event itself, and more toward the digital creator’s disturbing behavior and statements. I encourage you to read that coverage — as well as Portnoy’s responses. Here’s a Washington Post piece. Here’s an Eater report. And here’s a tough op-ed on NJ.com that asked pizzerias whether they were “comfortable” associating themselves with “a person as regularly abhorrent” as Portnoy. The author of that column was subsequently “bombarded with insulting tweets and direct messages,” WaPo reported.
This was all reason enough to avoid the Portnoy Pizza Party altogether. Alas, over 35 restaurants, including Di Fara and Lucali, were set to attend the all-you-can eat event, as were scores of fans, who snatched up at least 95 percent of the available tickets. Non-refundable entry started at $150 earlier this summer, but as of last week, remaining tickets were priced at $220, $300, or $800. What does this mean? People like Portnoy a lot.
So, if you’re thinking about dropping a few hundred bucks on this event next year — if Portnoy does it again — allow me to persuade you otherwise with a different set of arguments. I’m reviving my MIT-level Bad Deal analysis skills (lol) to outline why you don’t need to waste your money here.
Why am I doing this? Because even if you’re a big big fan of something or someone, I’ve historically found that no one wants to feel like they’re getting cheated out of their money.
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Six Bad Deal Reasons to Avoid a Pricey Portnoy Pizza Party
Why would you spend so much gosh darn money — hundreds of dollars per person — to attend a festival if most of the pizza comes from places that are a quick subway ride away — or a reasonable train or car ride, if you live in the region. It’s not like you’re getting a dream team of folks jetting in from Tokyo, Los Angeles, and elsewhere. Essentially, you’re paying concert scalper ticket markups for reasonably local pizzas.
A pizza tasting isn’t like a wine tasting where you can just gather up a bunch of bottles and crack them open. Pizza is a finicky product. And while the festival stated that each restaurant was firing up the pies on site, ideally you want your first experience with a good pizzeria to be at the flagship location, where the folks working are using the same tried-and-true ovens — at the same address — they’ve been relying on for years or decades.
You don’t need unlimited pizza. Unless you’re a competitive eater, two or three slices are sufficient. This isn’t a Haribo gummy bear omakase (that would be fun, right?), and I say that because pizza fills you up pretty quickly. And while I’ll make a good faith assumption that Portnoy gives everyone a Domino’s HeatWave bag to take home their leftovers, let me offer some advice. As a professional critic, even when I’m taking just a few small bites of everyone’s food at the table, palate fatigue sets in quickly. Why try so many pizzas at once?
Most of the Tri-State area’s best pizzerias didn’t attend Portnoy’s festival and probably won’t attend future ones. Let that sink in.
Half the fun of trying a new pizzeria is checking out the surrounding neighborhood and getting a feel for the idiosyncrasies of the restaurant. Those are the things that build lifetime memories, taking the train into New Haven and waiting in line for Frank Pepe’s and seeing the old coal-fired ovens in person. What I’ve always disliked about most food festivals is how almost nothing has a sense of place. It turns unique and beloved foods into a ticketed commodity.
Why pay the highest price you’ve ever paid for pizza — $150-$300 per person — if the area’s top restaurants are feeding New Yorkers for just $3 to $6 a slice? And those Portnoy tickets don’t even get you alcohol! I hate to say this, but you’ve all been shaken down.
Luke Winkie on David Brooks
If you were on Twitter this past week — I refuse to use the social media site’s ridiculous new name — you might’ve noticed NYT columnist David Brooks getting dragged for a post that read: “This meal just cost me $78 at Newark Airport. This is why Americans think the economy is terrible.” His tweet was accompanied by a photo of a burger, an order of fries, and — this part is key — a nice pour of brown booze. Indeed, the airport restaurant (1911 Smoke House Barbeque) responded what the Twitter hordes already knew: that liquor constituted 80 percent of the bill.
You have to admire David Brooks. Somehow managed to f&ck up one of the only commonly held axioms we have left in America — that food in airports is too expensive — to the point that I'm forced to take Newark International's (of all places!) side. How does he do it?
Brooks apologized for the tweet thusly during a PBS interview, Politico reported: “An upper middle class journalist having a bourbon at an airport is a lot different than a family living paycheck to paycheck,” he said. “And when I’m getting sticker shock, it’s like an inconvenience. When they’re getting sticker shock, it’s a disaster,”
Helen Rosner and Pete Wells on Foxface Natural
Foxface Natural on Avenue A is the city’s “most original new restaurant,” read the headline on a Grub Street column by Chris Crowley earlier this summer. And in case you’re skeptical of such superlatives, here are a few of the items one might encounter at this East Village spot, brought to us by Sivan Lahat, Ori Kushnir, and chef David Santos:
Surf clam two ways with XO sauce
Berkshire pork tongue with tonnato sauce
Now, less than two months after the Grub piece, we have an electric review by the New Yorker’s Helen Rosner and a three-star missive by Pete Wells of the New York Times. What specifically did they have to say? That’s an excellent question! I only skimmed the reviews. If I’m planning on writing up a given venue, I try not to dive too deeply into someone else’s critique until I’ve made at least one or two visits — as I don’t want to absorb too many ideas from a respected peer. But I’ll of course take a closer read after I finish my initial draft, in case I want to quote or spar with one of my good colleagues across the aisle when I publish. So that’s that!
Cesar Hernandez of the SF Chronicle has observed an uptick in sandwiches whose main ingredient are tortilla chips stewed in delicious salsas. He writes about a few places to find good these tortas de chilaquiles, and he also gives a hat tip to other prominent carb-on-carb preparations, like the famed vada pav or the mac and cheese sandwich (perhaps less famed). But my favorite part is his observation on the history and evolution of the tortilla chip sandwich:
Like the chopped cheese, or any regional food import, the chilaquiles sandwich is a cultural product that morphs to the whims of its setting. In Mexico City, it is a symbol of the working class — a legendary street food that draws hours-long lines of tourists. As it spread to other metropolitan areas in Mexico, like Guadalajara, the dish moved to cafes and loncherias that use sourdough birote salado instead of the typical bolillo.
Banchan are deeply flavorful side dishes accompanying a larger Korean meal. But Perilla in Echo Park, Bill Addison writes, makes a case for these seasoned plates to command the spotlight, the elements upon which a proper meal is built — rather than the other way around. Chef Jihee Kim, who spent time working at Gary Danko and Rustic Canyon, reimagines the traditional side dishes through the lens of California farmers markets, and that fact comes through in Addison’s writing:
She currently uses blanched collards for her most pungent kimchi, fermenting roughly hacked greens in gochugaru, fish sauce, garlic and ginger. The seasonings form a spicy halo on the palate, pleasantly stinging the lips and meeting the collards’ sturdy texture.
New York’s creative Modern Korean scene gets a lot of attention from folks like me and Pete Wells, but even though New York isn’t quite Los Angeles, we also have no shortage of rustic and traditionally-minded Korean fare. So here’s Robert Sietsema with a take on Gopchang Story, a chain famous for its beef intestines.
How do the innards taste?
As the cooking began, a server sprinkled a proprietary spice mixture over the order, and the meats began to sizzle. The large intestine (daechang gui) crisped and its outer surface browned, while the interior stayed light…As for the defining flavors and textures: The large intestine is squishy and a bit crunchy; the small one spongy but yielding; the tripe, rubbery yet firm; and the heart, kind of livery tasting.
Injera is often “the weakest part of the meal” at New York Ethiopian restaurants, Tammie Teclemariam writes in her Grub Street column. Worst of all is when the springy sourdough flatbread is dry, she writes, “leading to cracks along the edges and a crumbly texture that undoes the bread’s sauce-soaking appeal.” But Teclemariam — who grew up in Washington, D.C., home to a large Ethiopian and Eritrean diaspora — finds injera that hits the sweet spot at Bersi, a vegan spot that opened in Greenpoint this summer. Here’s how she describes chef Bersabeh Ayele’s bread:
It had the deep-umber shade that speaks to a high percentage of teff; its height was slightly thick from adequate leavening, also evident in the pattern of fine (but not too fine) bubbles across the top, referred to as “eyes” in Amharic. Picking it up to unravel a roll, I noted the soft, supple elasticity — evidence it had been made that afternoon.
Alright, that’s it for now. Enjoy what’s left of your weekend! It’s so beautiful and sunny here in New York lol.
p.s. Since I’m at it, here’s my last review….of Tacombi!