A recipe for pizza toast in Atlanta starts out as cold comfort, then provides a path forward
By: Julia Bainbridge/Salon.com
I checked the weather app on my iPhone as soon as my plane touched the ground in Georgia. It registered 89 degrees. Hours before, I finished a cup of coffee in a drizzly Manhattan and hugged my friend goodbye, and when I discovered the app’s findings, I texted her a screenshot. “Jealous!” she responded. I abhor the heat.
Rummaging through the refrigerator in the apartment I’ve lived in for just over a year, I found sliced sourdough bread, tomato sauce, and mozzarella cheese that I had shredded and stored in a plastic container. I toasted the bread and then layered on the tomato sauce, which I mixed with a tablespoon of an Indian-style tomato condiment that another friend makes (and sells through her company Brooklyn Delhi) and then the mozzarella, which I melted under my oven’s broiler. It was a kind of pizza, I guess; pizza toast, let’s call it. It was fine. It was dinner that night.
Four nights earlier, I had ordered a New York pizza. It was a New York pizza in style — generous in diameter, with a thin, crisp but pliable crust — but also in fact. I was in New York and I ordered a pizza. It was a New York pizza because it was baked, sliced, delivered and, ultimately, devoured in New York. Hundreds of pizzas were simultaneously being delivered within a couple miles of me, and they were all New York pizzas.
This particular one arrived in a 20-inch cardboard box via a slender man named Weiqun. The time was 10:30 p.m. on Wednesday, and as I stood on the sidewalk in my silk pajama set waiting for Weiqun to unzip his insulated carrying case, I noticed a handsome brown leather briefcase to my left. Following the navy pant leg of its owner up to his face, I saw a late twenty-something man leaning against the brick facade of my friend’s apartment building, wrapping up a phone call about some business deal or another. Whether or not he does so ironically, I was charmed to discover that at least one millennial carries a briefcase to work.
For 30 seconds, Weiqun, the millennial financier and I were subjected (happily, in my case) to the synthesizers in Rihanna’s ragamuffin-style “Rude Boy” trilling out of the speakers of the boombox affixed to the back of Weiqun’s bicycle seat and onto Thompson Street. Once the pizza box reached my hand, off I went to the fifth floor.
As for the aforementioned devouring, it was done properly, by New York standards: My right-hand thumb and pinkie finger pushed together the two vertices on either side of the crust edge of each cheese-topped triangle, folding it in half lengthwise. I ate three slices, standing at my friend’s kitchen counter while streaming a Netflix documentary about early 90s-era club kid (and criminal) Michael Alig on my laptop.
I thought of that pizza as I plodded around my kitchen in Atlanta and ate my pizza toast in silence, watching the sluggish sway of dogwood trees billowing with flowers through my living room window. Visions of Weiqun came to me, as did flickers of Rihanna’s steel drums. My pizza toast tasted better after the first three bites, as I remembered my New York pizza and the scenario involved in acquiring it. Sometimes pleasure can be had in eating something so unlike the other that, in comparing the two, they’re both with you. The tomato achaar’s black mustard seeds revealed themselves, then the fenugreek. Tamarind! Gosh, I haven’t cooked with tamarind for a while, I thought as I reached the center of the slice. By the time I finished it, I was searching for tamarind recipes on my laptop. The next night I used the fruit’s pulp in a warming and garlicky chickpea curry, something I’d never made before.
New York City, where I lived for ten years, is a dirty, difficult place with endless potential for magic. About once a quarter, most New Yorkers wonder aloud where else they might move. I could have a yard in Nashville. I could afford a second bedroom in Portland. I could own a bed and breakfast in Maine. I could run an heirloom squash farm upstate. In the end, they usually stay. A piece of the reason why is that they feel a part of a phenomenal and phenomenally twisted club. Loving New York for the energy it provides and the willingness to sacrifice so much else for that energy is a very specific taste. Are you wacked enough to immerse yourself in it? So am I. Let’s play.
I left, and I’ll probably return. I say “probably” because, in this year away, a year that forced me into saying I’m in my mid and not early thirties, I’ve grown used to the ease of being able to seat eight guests comfortably at a table in my dining room. I’ve enjoyed the company of less rapacious men, men actually seeking committed relationships. And I’ve had the room to, instead of hustling to pay rent, try new things, like making chickpea curry from scratch. Twenty percent of me still isn’t sure I want to return to carrying my laundry two blocks once a week or engaging in months of flirtatious texts that lead nowhere over and over again. Another thirty percent of me is curious to see what else I might get up to with the time I have now, time that used to be taken up scraping New York’s dirt off of me at the end of each day.
I’ll spend the summer touring Minneapolis, Chicago, Austin, San Francisco and most places in between as I research for a book. Pizza toast will appear here and there to fuel me, I’m sure. Maybe in Philadelphia, I’ll make it on a hoagie roll. Maybe in Los Angeles, I’ll get my hands on some of that tomato achaar and make a version that’s close to my Atlanta original. I’ll think of my kitchen in Georgia and all of other the things I cooked there. And I bet when I order New York pizza, those flavors will be with me.
1 slice sourdough bread
1 tablespoon tomato sauce (or whatever your desired amount for spreading)
Shredded mozzarella cheese (usually about 1/4 cup, depending on your mood)
Optional toppings: flaky sea salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes or dried oregano
Place bread on a sheet pan. Broil on both sides until golden.
Spread one side with tomato sauce and top with cheese. Broil once more until the cheese is melted.