Michael’s Pizzeria in Long Beach, Calif., is the best pizzeria in America.
According to the Zagat Guide.
I don’t buy it. No matter how good Michael’s is and no matter how many Michael’s customers Zagat said it contacted.
Saying, “You’ve got to taste this—it’s great!” is one thing, but saying, “This is the best!” is a claim that’s hard to back and an inane one for Zagat to make.
Tim and Nina’s Zagat Guide used to be a reliable source for restaurant recommendations—until they sold it to Google. They had every right to so—especially since they got somewhere between $100 million and $200 million for the business.
But Google is all about Google, which means its goal with every business is to drive traffic through Google and wave said business’s flag at the same time. Making claims that one pizzeria is America’s best is one way to do that.
A ham-fisted way.
Pizza preferences are more diverse, numerous and passion-based than opinions on this week’s government shutdown. (Woody Allen once said, “Sex is a lot like pizza. When it’s bad, it’s still pretty good.” You can’t say that about the U.S. government. Even when it’s pretty good, it’s still really bad!) With equal fervor, people love really good pizza and really crappy pizza, and for reasons that go far beyond a pizza maker’s flour or oven choice.
Food is emotional and, arguably, none more so than pizza since it’s communal food. Pizza is at its best when delivered straight from the oven and served immediately. That means it’s served in a particular setting that provides context which influences how we experience it. Much as we like to think so, it’s not all about the food.
Which is one reason why it’s hard to make the claim that any one pizzeria is the best. Sometimes people get all misty eyed over average pizza because they grew up eating it with their family at a particular parlor—and there’s real meaning tied to that. Their experience might have been “the best” even though the pizza might not have been, and I don’t think it’s fair or realistic to disregard that.
I’ve covered the World Pizza Championships in Salsomaggiori, Italy, and even the Italians make no claim that one is the best.
That’s because there are multiple styles cooked in multiple types of ovens, and those 300 or so entries are placed before multiple panels of judges, meaning no one team of officials tastes every pizza.
So we’re only talking about 60 judges tasting what are some of the finest pizzas in the world, and yet Zagat says it did extensive customer surveys to make the claim Michael’s is the best.
Ridiculous, because among those surveyed were fans of Michael’s will assumedly say it’s the best.
It may be truly fine, but there are arguably 10,000 other examples of “truly fine” pizza in the U.S. worth considering, pizza styles not everyone knows about, and locations in cities they’ve never visited.
So dump the hype, Zagat. Just get back to making suggestions and skip the puffy proclamations.