I'm a pizza snob.
I won't deny it.
But that's what happens when you are:
a) Italian (...okay, Sicilian, but close enough);
b) from Chicago; and
c) of two generations of Italian restaurant employees.
So that said, I have to say I am sorely disappointed in my non-Chicago pizza experiences. Four years in Iowa left me with two pizza options (well, three at one point): the royally-inspired Pizza Palace and the neighboring town's place, Paul Reveres. Much to your confusion, I'm sure, I am here to tell you that the Englishman actually knew a heck of a lot more about a quality pizza than the local Palace, but that's not saying too much. Englishmen should not take up causes in the Italian's specialties. A trip to other parts of eastern Iowa broadened the choices to Bob's Your Uncle, Zoe's, or Naso's. Still nothing to write home about (especially since home was Chicago, where all I got was laughed at when I mentioned a dinner courtesy of Mr. Revere).
Moving on to Texas, I've got a couple more options -- we've got the Pizza Hut, the Dominos, and the other chains dotting Austin's landscape. As much as this city thrives on its independent businesses and eateries, pizza is one place they don't have much of in the way of non-chain choices. There is, of course, Gatti's pizza (with its own Playland!) and Austin's Pizza, the only place that can even moderately come close to good pizza.
A perfect pizza can come in many, many forms. It comes down to a simple equation, really:
1. A good crust, be it paper thin, average, or thickthickthick
2. A memorable sauce
3. The right ratio of cheese to sauce to toppings
4. Fresh, ripe toppings.
Some of those I associate with would also include in that list an appropriate grease to cheese ratio, but in my (not so) humble opinion, the pizza should have as little grease as possible.
If you're Chicago bred or have had the experience of eating in any of the many wonderful pizzerias, you can place bets on places like Enrico's, Gino's, Girodano's, Aurelio's, and others to fit the bill each and every time. In Iowa, you just hoped the garlic bread or cheese sticks would fill you up enough before you judged the quality of the pizza. And in Austin, it's always hit or miss. Tonight, for example, our wheat-crust-pepperoni-and-sausage-with-ranch-sauce-on-the-side pizza from Austin's Pizza was spot on. The Gatti's from a year ago was such a miss that the one and only time I ordered from it will be remembered not for the pizza but for the fact the woman I ordered the pizza from told me about how she wished she were in Chicago (she must've been disappointed, too). Not that it was bad, and it certainly outdid the chains, but, it was also just that: not bad.
All of this is to say that I've uncovered the real secret to the perfect, fat-kid satisfying pizza: Giving your restaurant an Italian name.