Thursday, August 31, 2017



 I grew up in the pizza capital of America.  New York City.  OK - "arguably" the pizza capital of America, since Newark, Hoboken and Chicago make some fine pies.  But none of those cities had Rocky Lee Chu-Cho Bianca on Second Avenue near 52nd Street, the originator of thin crust pizzas with a special olive oil that made their slices a gift from God/dess.  Then we had Ray's Original Pizza parlor.  Well, parlors, plural, since there were a zillion Ray's around Manhattan - east side, west side, all sides.  My favorite was on First Avenue around 58th Street, just a few blocks from my apartment where I could walk over and get a pizza "fix" even in a blizzard.  But go to any pizza joint in NYC or NJ and you'll understand our devotion to these pies.  Maybe it's the water.

My first taste of this heavenly food was in Bayside, Queens, Long Island, New York, where I grew up.  Sal's was our local Italian restaurant and served hot, bubbly cheesey, traditional NY pizza.  I fell in love at first bite.  I think I was seven.  Is there a more perfect combination of flavors?  I don't think so.  But, full disclosure:  My name is ilona saari, and I'm a cheeseaholic.

I've had pizza in Boston when in college.  Not bad, but no NY slice.  Devoured deep dish in Chicago when I lived there for a year.  Very good, but not real "pizza" for a New Yorker.  Though, I did find the semi-deep dish pies from Goldberg's truly memorable.  Hey, Chicagoans, does Goldberg's still exist?  I've eaten pizza in Las Vegas, Miami, Hartford, and in San Francisco and Sacramento.  All good, but...  

Then there's Los Angeles where I lived for years and where the Wolfgang Puck gourmet pizza revolution that swept the nation began.  Sitting in Spago and biting into my first BBQ chicken pizza or the wild mushrooms olives, sun dried tomatoes w/ Pecorino Romano cheese pizza was a food revelation.  But was it "pizza?"  I love the Margherita pizza, the smoked salmon pizza... even the veggie varieties... the list of tasty gourmet pies is endless.  BUT, as delicious as these all are, they are not NY pies... the classic cheese, at times topped with mushrooms or pepperoni or sausage... sometimes all of the above.  They just aren't!!! 

But my days of eating pizza whenever I want are waning as the nation has become more conscious of making healthier food choices.  Lots of us are eating less carbs - ie: less bread!  Many people are going gluten free.  The burger, yes - the roll, no.  We're designing more and more salads with protein and veggies, and we're exercising more.  Baby boomers are fighting the bulge, cholesterol, and encroaching old age with a vengeance.  But, we lapse.  If I was back in Manhattan I would not be able to resist having a slice (often), so I'm thankful that my Ojai pizza joint, though good, doesn't make me fall to temptation.

Which brings me to cauliflower.

When I must have - absolutely MUST have some semblance of pizza, Richard will make me one (what would I do without him?).  No, not thin crust.  Not deep dish crust.  Not doughy crust.  BUT, healthy, often maligned cauliflower crust.  Yup, cauliflower crust!  Is it NY pizza?  Not even close.  Is it a Wolfgang Puck-style gourmet pizza?  Closer. Put your favorite toppings on it.  I like the
Margherita tomato, cheese and basil toppings. Though we've done others.  What it has going for it is the hot, bubbly cheese, olive oil, tomato, even tomato sauce if you desire.  And it pleasantly stifles the craving.

Here's how you, too, can sate that pizza craving with a healthful substitution.  It ain't real pizza, but then only NYC has real pizza.  

Cauliflower Pizza Crust


Florets from one cauliflower head
3/4 cup ground almonds
1 Tablespoon dried oregano
Salt and pepper
3 eggs beaten


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees
Line a baking sheet w/ parchment paper
Coarsely chop the cauliflower and blend in a food processor to a nice texture
Put in mixing bowl w/ almonds, oregano and seasoning - mix w/ your hands

Make a well in the center and add the eggs
Shape into a ball
Put on baking sheet and roll/spread out, edges high

Bake 25 minutes
Take out of the oven and cover with toppings

 and bake again for 5-10 minutes.



kdmask said...

I love NYC pizza -- but the thin kind you get in the train stations!! lol there's one under Grand Central - $2 a huge slice and I lovvvveeee it ! Just cheese. No defiling my NYC pie!

Sandra Lewin said...

Memories of special home town pizza is so very special! But the new innovative healthier pizza deserves a special thought and taste!

Anonymous said...

Very, very good write-up. Sadly I can't say I've had the almost heavenly experiences you so well described but I may enjoy pizzas almost as much as you.

Thanks so much for the story and hearing your memories.

Robert (and Jennifer)

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Thanks for some good memories , I never lived in Manhattan but did eat some heavenly pizza when I was in the city The first "pizza Parlor" opening in Bayside was Rex's which was about 1957/58, it quickly became our Being in place to gather on Friday nights with friends ( one or two doors down from the famous McElroy's). Being in Florida for more than 20 years it was always on our must have list when we went back to NYC each year to visit but tastes change, the craving for pizza evolved from plain cheese to pepperoni and although I still enjoy that my favorite down here is now something I hadn't had in NY probably because it isn't authentic , a white pizza with lots of garlic and spinach, thin crust a little charred on the bottom. so the search continues for the best in town knowing that a few are good, but only one is the best. When I move to Georgia, where they probably never heard of it, and one granddaughter has her pizza with ham and pineapple (ugh) I might have to forego pizza except when I travel as all I have come across near my new home is a Dominoe's which I would never even try. Thankfully I love all other foods and so far have located a really good Mexican restaurant. I might just try my hand at making my own pizza in those longer, colder Georgia mountain nights. Susan Leroux

bobsaari said...

I miss my "slices" when I worked in Manhattan.....Just grab one anywhere to get you through the next hour...... Gotta watch the Pizza show on the VICE channel....

Jean | said...

Ilona, my favorite pizza is my own homemade pizza. I don't like to toot my own horn, but my crust is wonderful! But I have several gluten-free friends, and I'd love to try this cauliflower crust out on them. I don't think eating 1/4 of a 13-inch pizza (organic, of course) once in a while is going to hurt me. Especially eaten within my 8-hour eating window (I do 16/8 Intermittent Fasting).