Plato never ate a slice of pizza.
He did, however, propose the Theory of Forms, which holds that physical objects are less real than their unchanging essences, of which the things themselves are only imitations.
So, consider a slice of pizza. In fact, think of the perfect slice, whatever that means for you. Even this cheesy triangle can aspire to no more than imitation—imitation of the slice’s ideal form, which floats in the soupy morass of humanity’s collective unconscious. Ideals are to be strived for, asymptotically approached, never attained. But as many non-philosophers could tell you: A good imitation can still be pretty damn delicious.
Plato may not have been blessed with the opportunity to investigate the practically limitless physical forms pizza has taken, dying as he did 15 centuries before the first humble pie emerged from some Dark Age oven. But one Minneapolis man spent 2018 conducting his own thorough investigation.
Matt Gantz is a cyber risk consultant (and, full disclosure, a college acquaintance of this writer). Last year, he ate at least one slice per day, from a different pizza place each time, documenting every bite on Instagram. He’s eaten pizza in eight states, two countries—the U.S. and Norway—and Washington, D.C.
Along the way, Gantz rated each using a set of five “sub-dimensions”: crust, toppings, freshness, uniqueness, and price. Each criterion was assessed on a scale of one to five, and those ratings were aggregated into a single, definitive one-to-five rating.
We caught up with Gantz in mid-December, as he entered the home stretch of his saucy sojourn, to discuss his findings over a slice at St. Paul Italian food mecca Cossetta.
He says he’d been considering some sort of pizza-related challenge for a few years. His first thought was to try eating pizza for 365 consecutive days, but that felt too easy. “I go to Punch Pizza three or four times a week,” Gantz says. “Or I get Papa John’s delivered. Those are pretty much my staples. So just increasing that by 40 percent didn’t seem like enough of a challenge.” Since his work finds him traveling, often four or more days a week, he added the different restaurants stipulation to keep things interesting.
Gantz’s ratings, doled out in a comment beneath each photo, are a little subjective. He knows what he wants in a slice. The criteria are as follows:
Crust: “What it comes down to is a crust that’s reasonably chewy but to some extent still has a little bit of crunch in it.” The crust must be structurally sound beneath the toppings, and knife and fork should never be necessary.
Toppings: Ideally, you want a balanced cheese-to-sauce-to-everything-else ratio; meats, if present, must be lean. “I’ve had some really garbage, fatty sausage this year, and it turns me off to the rest of the pizza.”
Freshness: “Be fresh, to some extent at a low price, but you’ve got to find a balance there.”
Uniqueness: “I don’t want to see only classics, but I also don’t want to see only super crazy concoctions that nobody’s ever heard of... pepperoni pizza should still be on your list.”
Price: For by-the-slice, “It shouldn’t be a five- or six-dollar slice, it should be a three- or four-dollar slice.” For a whole pie, Gantz cited $30 as the absolute upper limit of reasonable. “It’s supposed to be something that is fairly accessible to normal populations of people. It should be reasonably filling and reasonably tasty.”
Gantz gravitates toward Neapolitan, New Haven, and New York-style pizzas, and he found L.A.’s pizza relatively unimpressive.
How does Minnesota stack up?
“It’s pretty solid,” Gantz says. “It’s better than most, I’ll say. Like Punch Pizza, obviously a staple here, is one of my favorites for sure, and then there are a number of really great what I would typify as prominent pizza players in the area.
“I always space on her name, but the woman who started Young Joni [Ann Kim], she also started Pizzeria Lola and Hello Pizza, all three of which are different styles of pizza in different price ranges, and all phenomenal in their own regards.”
Is there a slice from the year that stands out as the best? What about a perfect pie—has Gantz encountered one in his travels?
Of course he hasn’t. Were you paying attention to that rambling about Plato? But near-perfect, sure.
“I have eight different pizza places that I’ve ranked as a 4.8 out of five, so within one of those five dimensions they’re missing one point,” Gantz said. “And usually it’s on price. If they’re doing well in all of the other categories, they’re probably a little bit higher price tag.”
(Despite his views on reasonably priced pies, Gantz estimates he’ll have spent $8,500 on pizza in 2018.)
Like many food stories, Gantz’s is partially about human connections. Since he started, he’s found that not only do people ask him out for drinks, they want to help him score his next pizza. (And, if it’s a whole pie, he likes to foist the leftovers on them.) Strangers occasionally reach out for recommendations, too.
“I have people on Instagram messaging me and saying, ‘Hey, I’m gonna be in New York, what are your top five places?’”
OK, so this guy ate pizza for a year. You like pizza too. Lots of people do. Maybe this challenge doesn’t sound that... challenging? Gantz reports he never got sick of pizza as a concept, only tired of tawdry pies. The challenge came not from the slices themselves, but from life getting in the way of the daily hunt for the next one.
One particular work function nearly derailed his endurance test. The challenge stipulated that Gantz had to eat his slice during the calendar day—before midnight—and the 5 p.m. event ran deep into the evening. He couldn’t escape. He’d set two alarms: 10:30 and 11:30. The first went off, then the second.
Luckily, the event took place in his hotel, and a desperate Gantz excused himself to use the restroom, stopping at the front desk first.
“I just told the lady, ‘Hey, my room is 1508,’ or whatever it was. ‘This is going to be a really weird request, but I need you to deliver a pizza to my room. Just room service a pizza there, and I need it as soon as possible.’”
He returned to the event, then excused himself again at 11:50. He went back to his room. The pizza followed three minutes later.
“I got my slice at 11:55 p.m.,” Gantz says. “And I ate it at 11:57.”