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Some find comfort in certitudes: Pizza is round, the slices triangular, the box square. No surprises, no challenges to the status quo. Enter the square-cut pizza (a.k.a. party-cut, tavern-style), which is popular throughout the American Midwest and, depending on your point of view, represents either blasphemy or benevolence.
Riffing on a tweet that prompted the New York subway seat debate , a social media post with a pic of the square cut went viral earlier this week — “all my chicagoans… which piece are you picking up first,” Twitter user Valentina asked, alongside a photo of a pizza grid with plenty of cheesy centre squares and a smattering of cute, crust-heavy triangles. It elicited a similar reaction to the vertically sliced “St. Louis”-style bagel of March 2019. That is, incredulity and mockery.
But is square-cut pizza really so unthinkable? NJ.com writer Amy Kuperinsky thought so, calling it an “affront to pizza tradition in New Jersey — and New York, and a whole lot of other reasonable places.” Aimee Levitt of The Takeout responded, taking issue with the fact that Kuperinsky based her argument on the belief that New Jersey and New York pizza practices are the be-all and end-all.
“Plenty of other places have their own pizza traditions — including places in the Midwest,” writes Levitt. “And this is how some pizzerias — though by no means all — cut thin-crust pizza in Chicago, and also St. Louis, and many other reasonable places. This is how we’ve been eating our pizza for decades.”
Nobody knows how the square cut got its start, but as the Chicago Tribune reported in 2009 (yes, this particular argument has been raging for quite a while), Penny Pollack, co-author of Everybody Loves Pizza , said of its origins: “That’s like asking who built Stonehenge. Maybe some malcontent diner said, ‘I thought this pizza would have more slices,’ and voilà! A frustrated server brandished the pizza cutter to create more pieces.”
Midwestern party-cut pizza is by no means the only example of a non-triangular slicing technique. Pizza al taglio (‘by the cut’) — rectangular or square-shaped pieces sold by weight — originated in Rome and spread around the world. Thick-crust Sicilian slices can also be rectangular. Granted, both of these examples start out as slabs, not rounds. But we can look to a viral cake-cutting technique as evidence supporting the square-cut pizza’s right to exist.
Australian baker Katherine Sabbath garnered more than 1.5 million Instagram views in 2017 for her equitable and modest method of portioning a slice of round cake into 10 rectangular servings. As she told TODAY at the time, the technique has a long history, especially when it comes to cutting wedding cakes. “The best thing about this is, you can always go back for seconds or thirds,” Sabbath wrote.
As with square-cut pizza, smaller pieces mean you’re getting more from less. Sliced on a grid, the primary purpose of the party cut is to feed a crowd: You get far more servings than you would with wedges. Admirable, sociable and generous rather than an aggressive affront to all we hold dear, it’s also more conducive to gatherings where you’re standing, eating, drinking and talking.
Unconcerned with uniformity, there’s a piece to suit all pizza proclivities. Crust haters can knock themselves out with the loaded borderless pieces. (It bears stating, however, that the logical progression is from the outside in, or at least wait until the centre is free before diving in. Gnawing away at the interior before the edge pieces are gone is as wrong as hollowing out a wheel of brie, leaving the rind behind.) People who prefer a respectable crust-to-centre textural contrast can choose pieces from the circumference. Everyone’s happy. And if you’re not, stick with the pie cut, and be content that we live in a world where there’s more than one way to do just about everything.
Whether for or against the square-cut pizza, there’s one thing opposing camps should be able to agree on: Eating either option with your hands is far superior to using a knife and fork.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020