If you grew up in or around Greater Boston between the late 1960s and the present—and you're neither gluten-free nor dairy intolerant—the odds are that you've eaten Greek pizza. If you've eaten Greek pizza, the odds are that you ate it at a place called Nick's Pizza, Village Pizza, Olympic Pizza, Pizza Factory, or "Insert Town Name" House of Pizza. And if you've eaten at least one slice of Greek pizza, the odds are that you've eaten at least one slice of very mediocre to very bad pizza.
I grew up in Greater Boston, which means I have personally eaten about 3,000 very mediocre to very bad slices of pizza. Since then, I've eaten the best pies in New York City (John's of Bleecker Street, in my opinion) and New Haven (Frank Pepe's), and even in its ancestral home (Lombardi a Santa Chiara in Naples). But Greek pizza was my gateway pizza. Greek pizza is the taste that got me hooked.
To be clear, Greek pizza isn't pizza that's topped with Greek ingredients like feta and olives (although it could be), but rather pizza made in restaurants opened by Greek immigrants who settled in Greater Boston. It's defined by elements that good pizza should not be defined by: thick, wettish dough; greasy cheese of unspecified type or origin; and dusty tomato sauce made by someone whose hand is heavy on the dried oregano.
At its worst, Greek pizza is a barely edible doorstop. At its best—and, with the proper tinkering, it can be great—Greek pizza is a comforting pillow of grease, cheese, dough and sauce, perfect for laying your head on after a night of moderate to heavy boozing. I also eat it for lunch a few times a month, so it passes muster as food for sober people, too.
Despite eating it for nearly three decades, I've never come across a truly great slice of Greek pizza, but the best versions of the stuff exhibit two key elements: a lacy, crisp edge of slightly burned cheese in place of the more traditional cornicione, and an almost-fried bottom crust.
RECIPE: Greek Pizza
These hallmarks of Greek pizza are due to the manner by which the 'za is cooked: in a circular pan (usually steel or aluminum) with straight, approximately one-inch deep sides, almost always blackened from years of use. The pans are usually greased with olive oil—this accounts for the fried bottom that results—and the dough is stretched to the shape of the pan and left to rise.
Once the yeast and gluten are done doing their thing, the dough is topped with tomato sauce, cheese (ideally, a mix of mozzarella and provolone, but often cut with cheddar), and whatever else you'd like. The pans are then fed through a slow-moving conveyor belt-style pizza oven, where a broiler-like heating element bakes the pies to as close to perfection as they'll ever hope to get.
The result, if you're lucky, is a pizza topped with cheese that's blistered a bit. And if you asked for pepperoni, the outer edges of the slices will be somewhat brittle and curl upward, forming tiny little meat bowls filled with meat grease. Whatever you do, do not dab the excess oil off the top of your pie with napkins. You're not eating very mediocre to very bad pizza for your goddamn health, and you're definitely not looking to incite the ire of a shitty Bostonian local.
The Greek pizza joint I grew up eating at was called Amesbury House of Pizza. It was attached to an outpost of Cumberland Farms, a regional convenience store chain based in Massachusetts, and I can think of precious few things that qualify as more iconically Greater Boston than a combination Cumberland Farms/Greek pizza shop.
Amesbury House of Pizza is no longer there—it was razed to make way for a bigger, sexier Cumberland Farms—so when I go home and I'm craving a doughy, greasy slice, I go to a place called The Pizza Factory. While Amesbury House of Pizza's pies exhibited those two Greek pizza touchstones—the lacy, crisp edge and the fried bottom crust—The Pizza Factory's pies are comparatively stodgy and one-note. Or maybe I'm mythologizing Amesbury House's pies because I can no longer get them.
And yet, despite slinging an inferior 'za, I still dig The Pizza Factory. A lot.
I haven't lived in Amesbury for many years, but The Pizza Factory's telephone number is, along with the landline from my childhood home, on the shortlist of telephone numbers I'll never forget.
After having a few beers one night during a recent trip back, I called up The Pizza Factory drunk-hungry and ordered myself a small pepperoni. What ensued was about eight minutes of blissful mediocrity—the most that anyone could ever ask of Greek pizza.