I’ve always been intrigued by the pizza-in-a-bag phenomenon. While this rarely occurs outside of old-school pizzerias I have to wonder the intent:
Is it to cut costs?
Nostalgia the old-timers cling to?
Perhaps a Mythbusters worthy scientific explanation involving the pizza staying fresher?
Either way, pizza in bags does NOT seem very practical. One wrong move and your pizza could incur some serious damage. When picking up you’ll need as many helping hands as the pizzas you’ve ordered and delivery seems awfully dangerous.
Last weekend I was fully prepared for some of the best pizza in Milwaukee, but I didn’t anticipate a bag.
I don’t get to Milwaukee as much as I’d like, so when I’m in town I like to spend time checking off infamous pizza joints. A friend of mine has been hounding me for the last several years to try Balistreri’s Italian-American Ristorante on 68th Street (it’s got to be the one on 68th! he’d insist). Now was my time.
Balistreri’s is a cozy sit-down Italian restaurant that opened in 1968, it’s got classic Sinatra playing in the background and nice white tablecloths—its a place I’d like to sit down and savor a historic pizza eating experience, but with a finite amount of babysitter time that wasn’t going to happen.
My plan was to eat the pizzas on the way home—it’s not that hard to open a box and grab a slice in the car. So, Tess and I ordered for pick-up and after a 15-minute wait, I was handed two piping hot oval shaped paper bags?
How in the heck am I going to eat this in the car?
As I walked to the car with the scorching hot pizzas searing my fingers, it was obvious I’d have to reassess my plan.
I knew there was no way I could enjoy this delicacy on the interstate—to taste it in its prime I’d have to get down to business on the streets of Milwaukee. Hilarity ensued as I struggled to unwrap and balance the bagged pizzas next to a snowbank on the side of the road.
Neighbors gawked and cars slowed down to catch a glimpse of the weirdo blowing on seething hot pieces of pizza, meanwhile, his accomplice snapping pictures of him fumbling around to get stretchy cheese shots.
It was worth every sloppy minute.
We ordered two mediums: a classic cheese to provide a baseline and a pepperoni & sausage combo to assess toppings and they were both superb. The pizzas were rectangular and from observing the dining room may have been cooked on baking sheets—they looked more like larges than mediums.
The cheese was stretchy, glistening with grease and speckled with a dusting of flavorful spices that baked in. The crust was delicate and had a flaky crisp to it. The sauce was oregano forward and was spread in a thin layer that provided a bright contrast to the meaty hand-pinched sausage and crispy pepperonis.
Bagged Balistreri’s is how it’s supposed to be.
Outside of Balistreri’s, on the slushy street, eating my pizza out of the backseat of Tess’s car I had the choice to feel disgruntled or to embrace the goofiness. I realized there is no point in denying Balistreri’s operations, after 50 years they know what they are doing—the pizza belongs in a bag and I shouldn’t wish it any other way.
Amor fati is an ancient Latin phrase that translates to “a love of fate” and is often linked to Stoic Philosophy and the German Philosopher Freidrech Nietzsche who said:
“My formula for greatness in a human being is Amor Fati: That one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary…but love it.”
Stoic revivalist and author Ryan Holiday echoes him as he describes Amor fati as “the Stoic mindset that you take on for making the best out of anything that happens: Treating each and every moment—no matter how challenging—as something to be embraced, not avoided.”
What pizza taught me:
Remembering Amor fati can provide a mental cushion when life throws our plans sideways —a reminder that the difference between highs and lows is all in our perception. There’s beauty in every pizza we are dealt, even if it comes in a bag.
What I’m eating: Balistreri’s on 68th Street; cheese pizza and pepperoni & sausage pizza.
What I’m reading: The Inner Game of Tennis-Timothy Gallwey