The Styles 2.0
All reviewed pizzas in 16 dedicated categories
1. Neapolitan style
Admittedly, this is one of my favorite pizza styles (sometimes also called “Neo-Neapolitan”). What actually defines a pizza style? The most distinct factor is the dough/crust. Neapolitan style pizza crust has a puffed-up edge that is soft and fluffy on the inside, but has a burned crisp on the outside. In the center area however, the dough is very thin. This style can only be achieved by cooking the pizza at VERY high temperatures, ideally above 400C, for a very short time, ideally below 90 seconds. If done properly, the crust will get a nice charred leopard patter on its surface. It is important to note that “Neapolitan STYLE” pizza does not equal to the original “Neapolitan” pizza which needs to follow very strict rules in order to be real Neapolitan. “Neapolitan STYLE” pizza has more flexibility with regard to preparation and toppings selection. Among all the pizza styles out there this is the one that honors the true origin of pizza the most. I would say that the Neapolitan style is universally the most refined and most-difficult-to-achieve pizza style.
2. Pala Romana style
In Italy, the pizza adoption got so heavily engraved into the regional cultures that some very distinct, typical styles have developed over time. In the region around Rome, Italy’s capital city, a style called “alla pala” came up. It is often also referred to as “al taglio” (“by the cut”), because you would usually not buy the entire pie, but only a cut of it. Some experts list “al taglio” (usually baked in sheet pans) and “alla pala” (baked directly on the stone) as two different styles, but they are very related and similar, so I won’t distinguish them here. When you order this pizza at an Italian bakery, bouy would usually be presented with a large selection of cuts, which looks very colorful in the display window. The advantage is that you can try different toppings and choose cut by cut, so it gives you more options to explore. It is common to bake pizza “al taglio” in an electric oven, with lower temperatures and longer cooking times than the Neapolitan style. The crust across the whole pie is usually thicker (up to 1 inch) and airy. The most typical characteristic however is the shape: it’s rectangular/oval instead of round. The original (Neapolitan) forerunner of this style is “pizza al metro” (“pizza by the meter”), called like this because it can be up to one meter long before it gets cut into square portions. By the way, “pala” means “peel”, which is the long shovel that pizzaiolos use to push the pizza into the oven and take it out again.
3. Sicilian style
For this style, we need to go back in history to around the middle of the 19th century when different regions of Sicily made the dish popular across this beautiful island (especially in the West around Palermo). The actual origins however go even further back, all the way to the 17th or even 16th century. Yes you got it right, this dish was potentially invented by cloistered nuns in the medieval era! The Sicilian style is also called “sfincione” (I wonder how to translate this… something like “thick sponge”) and it is actually a focaccia with toppings. As you can imagine now, the dough is relatively thick and “bready”. It is traditionally topped with tomatoes, onions and anchovies – eventually with some Casciocavallo cheese. Nowadays you can see it topped with all kinds of toppings. The portions are rectangular. These beautiful slices are usually sold by street vendors or at Italian bakeries. Now that I think back of my childhood, this Sicilian style was undoubtedly the first type of pizza that I have ever tried in my life: baked at home by my mamma. It is the type of style that you will get if you have nothing more than a baking tray and a regular electric oven. Could be that “sfincione” is the reason why I fell in love with pizza in the first place!
Unfortunately, I am not aware of any currently available Sicilian style pizzas in Hong Kong.
4. New York style
In the early 1900s a big wave of Italians emigrated to the US. Two of these dudes were Gennaro Lombardi and his employee Antonio Totonno Pero who started selling pizza in a small grocery store in New York’s “Little Italy”. Today, more than one century later, Lombardi’s shop still exists: 1905 truly marked the start of an incredible development in NYC as more and more pizza joints started to open across the city, which eventually resulted in a very distinct pizza style: the “New York style” pizza. It became so popular that it is served now all around the world. The most obvious characteristic of this pizza style is that it often comes as a very large pie (18-inch), which then gets cut into 8 slices. Although in the very early stages the pizzaiolos in NY used coal ovens (“Neapolitan-American” version of NY-style pizza), this eventually changed more and more to gas ovens. Typically, much more cheese is used than on Neapolitan or Neapolitan-American style pies. It’s also more common to use low moisture Mozzarella rather than fresh Mozzarella. The cheese often gets grated across the entire pie as a layer, not selectively in chunks. Keep in mind that gas ovens cook at lower temperatures than woodfire or coal ovens, which results in longer cooking times. This usually leads to the typical, slightly burned cheese surface. The crust does not have a fluffy, puffed-up edge, but it is flatter and crunchier.
5. Chicago style
Now this style is highly debatable. Can Chicago style pizza really count as pizza? Well, let’s first take a look at what it actually is before you make up your mind. First, I need to make clear that “Chicago style” can refer to various styles that came up in Chicago. However, I am focusing here on the most popular and well-known one: the deep-dish pizza. It has not been 100% determined who exactly invented this style, but it was quickly adapted by various pizzerias in the city. The main characteristic is the very “deep” crust. And this is where the questioning already begins… from the outlook it seems to be an actual pie, not a pizza. This style (along with the Detroit style pizza) is part of the wider category of “Pan style” pizzas. It is cooked in an iron skillet that is well oiled and therefore creates a fried effect on the crust. But now comes the most interesting part: the toppings need to be layered step by step into this very deep crust. First all the crust is covered with cheese, followed by pepperoni or sausage, followed by other toppings like onions or mushrooms. At the very end (reversely to a typical pizza) the pie is covered with tomato sauce on the top. After baking and cutting it, you get the typical “cheese pull” which I admit looks quite satisfying.
6. Detroit style
Throughout history Detroit (aka “Motor City”) has been recognized as THE capital of the American car industry – thanks to Henry Ford and his incredibly innovating mind to use assembly lines to mass-produce cars. But not only has Detroit been breeding cars, but also their very own pizza style. In fact, the Detroit style pizza has its origins in the Sicilian style pizza. In 1946, there was a guy called Gus Guerra, who owned a small bar in Detroit and was married to a girl called Anna. Gus asked Anna to help him to improve the menu of his bar. This is when Anna asked her Sicilian mom for a dough recipe… and so a new style started to shape! There are 2 key characteristics for Detroit style pizza: it’s square and it’s baked in a pan (pans originally used to hold automotive parts or dripping oil in factories, believe it or not). The result is a quite soft & airy dough with a crunchy surface and crispy, caramelized, upward-looking cheese edges. Note that the tomato sauce in this style usually goes on TOP of the cheese – usually a “no no” for me, but with Detroit style it’s the way it should be. In fact, the sauce layer, often spread out in stripes, adds to the typical looks of this style. Often it is even added after the pizza came out of the oven, as the very final layer. This pizza style is therefore sometimes also called “red top”.
7. Pan / Bar style
What comes first to your mind when you think about Pan pizza? Well, for most people it’s undoubtedly Pizza Hut – the American chain that made this style popular back in the 1960s and has kept it popular until today. However, let’s make it clear that Pizza Hut is NOT the inventor of Pan style pizza. In fact, Detroit style pizza is also one special form of Pan style pizza. All pizzas (thin or thick) that are cooked in a deep-dish pan can generally fall into this category. The typical outcome of this cooking style is that the bottom and the side end up being very crispy, due to the oil layer on which the pie is being fried. With regard to toppings, there are really no limits and I have seen all type of believable and unbelievable loads. Americans like to be creative and push the limits when it comes to pizza toppings, and this shows particularly well in Pan style pies. By the way, sometimes you will also hear the term “Bar pizza”, which is a very thin version of a Pan pizza, often served at bars, especially in the US.
8. Authentic Crunch style
This “unestablished” pizza category is very widely adopted here in Hong Kong. I use it in a broad sense to describe all type of pizzas that share some common dough features, but are not easily distinguishable into established pizza styles. The dough is (as the name says) crunchy. Unlike the Neapolitan pizza, you can easily pick up a slice without making it flop over. The dough also has less fluff than the Neapolitan style pizza. It’s not comparable to New York style pizza, because the “Crunch” style crust comes in a rustical, nicely burned texture and consistency, while the NY-style crust is smoother, flatter and more even. It’s really a style on its own, and it can come in many different twists. The “Authentic Crunch” style (as opposed to the “International Crunch”) style has an Italian twist, with very authentic toppings, high quality ingredients and nicely arranged looks. In this case it’s a 100% Italian pizza, just not Neapolitan, Sicilian, Roman or one of the other most common styles which I covered before. The “Crunch” style seems to work very well here in Hong Kong, because the dough is lighter, while you still get the full variety and authenticity in regard to the toppings.
9. International Crunch style
The dough characteristics are similar to the “Authentic Crunch” style, but I find it important to distinguish it in regards to general approach and toppings. While the “Authentic Crunch” style predominantly uses classic Italian ingredients and combinations, the “International Crunch” style pays less attention to the authenticity, but more to creative freedom and exploration: Mexican shrimp, Thai red curry, Hawaii, Cajun chicken… everything goes! Note that also pizzas that cover themselves as classic Italian (Margherita, Diavola, Quattro Formaggi etc.), but do not use authentic ingredients would also fall into this style. The style is not determined by the name of the pizza, but by its execution.
10. Bready style
This is the broadest category in “The Styles 2.0” framework as it lies at the intersection of the Neapolitan and Crunch styles, without clearly falling into any of them. What all these three styles have in common is that they are made with a “proper” pizza dough, i.e. containing a decent proportion of water, flower, yeast and salt. In comparison with the Neapolitan style, the Bready style focuses a bit more on the crunch than the fluff though, with the top layer of the crust being firmer. The differentiation to the Crunch styles is more subtle: the major difference is that the Bready style has a more dominant crust, typically broader and thicker, while the pizza edge of a typical Crunch style pizza is kept relatively narrow, putting more focus on the middle part. The Bready style usually produces very authentic and high-quality pizzas.
11. Standard-Flat style
This style always reminds me of my time back in Europe. It is usually served by restaurants (mostly decent ones) that do not specialize in pizza, but still feel confident enough to serve pizza. It’s those type of restaurants where you can find pretty much everything on their menu: steak with french fries, pasta with seafood, burger, pizza… it’s very common to have these all across Europe – I often encountered them in the Balkans (Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia etc.). The pizza style is characterized by a flat dough without much of a lifted, puffy edge. The crust is not super thin though, it still has a certain degree of breadiness and relatively little crisp (it’s more on the “soft” side). What I’ve often observed with this type of pizza is that the Mozzarella is often not broken into chunks (like with the Neapolitan style for example), but it is shredded, which results in some sort of a cheese layer. This is clearly not an Italian style, but also not American. It’s simply something that has arisen from non-pizzerias making pizza – and I appreciate it.
12. Fluff style
In the original “The Styles” series, I called this category “Crisp-Fluff style” – but after further elaboration, I concluded that the “crisp” characterization is not fully justified in relation to the other styles. Dough-wise, this one is swinging into the direction of a Neapolitan style pizza, because the crust is puffy, fluffy, has a high edge. It is typically made with a proper sourdough, so it’s nice and fresh. There is a certain degree of crisp on the outer part of the crust, but it is too subtle to call it “crispy” or “cruchy”. The rest of the appearance has a very strong American twist, and this is why it deserves its own style. The most striking observation is the grated & slightly burned cheese load, which is typically found on a New York style pizza. One could summarize that the Fluff style is the modern child of a Neapolitan dad and a New Yorker mom.
13. Ultra-Thin style
I have to be honest: before I came to Hong Kong, I wasn’t really aware of this “Ultra-Thin style” pizza. I could imagine that it exists somehow and somewhere, but back in Europe I simply haven’t discovered it that often. However, I am not surprised that here in this city it gets a little bit more traction, which can be explained by the general food preferences of Hong Kong people: they usually don’t like their meals “too heavy” and hardly anybody would finish a classic Neapolitan pizza just by themselves alone. People usually eat only a few slices, because they find the dough “too bready”. The “Ultra-Thin” style addresses these preferences to the extreme with an “ultra-thin” dough. It’s quite a stretch to even call it a dough, because what remains at the bottom is a paper-thin base which has the sole purpose to hold the toppings with a bare minimum. The full focus is on the toppings here, because the crust does neither contribute much to any texture nor taste. This style should NOT be mistaken with the “Cracker” style, which I criticize so often in my reviews. The “Ultra-Thin” style usually results in a tasty pizza as long as the toppings quality is held up and focus is put on taste.
14. Cracker style
A style that I find particularly irritating during all my pizza explorations in Hong Kong (but also elsewhere in the world). It is one of the two styles that I actually seriously struggle to call “pizza”. Please do not mix this one up with the previously mentioned ”Crunch” and “Ultra-Thin” styles. Those are actual pizza doughs, made from the right ingredients and crafted into a certain thickness and texture. However, the “Cracker” style has nothing to do with a pizza dough in my opinion. The main characteristic of this “dough” is that it is completely brittle and falls into pieces when trying to break it. It’s basically like a big chip, covered with toppings. I never really understand why restaurants are serving this and still call it a “pizza”. All the styles I’ve previously reviewed can achieve decent scores if executed well, however, the “Cracker” style usually does not deserve anything higher than 3/10. It can be saved to some extend by high quality toppings, but this type of base is generally unacceptable in my opinion.
15. Fabricated style
In the original “The Styles” series, I used to call it “Fastfood” style. I usually get this type of pie at Turkish, Middle-Eastern, Indian or Pakistani takeaway shops, which make great food from their original cuisine, but make terrible pizza. I really don’t know why they are even putting it on their menu. The sad thing is that there are also other shops that focus completely on pizza, but still can’t come up with a proper pie. The characteristics of this style are a very dry and tasteless dough, low quality toppings and a cardboard type of chew. The overall experience can only be saved by some creative artificial sauce that boosts the flavor, but other than that these are mostly quite hopeless cases.
16. Uncategorized style
As pizza is a dish that leaves room for a lot of “creative freedom”, it is sometimes impossible to put a specific pizza into a dedicated category, regardless of how broad and flexible the categorization system is. This category (or non-category) is therefore a mixed bag of all the creations that have a combination of characteristics that is in a way unusual or unique. These can either be derivatives of a pizza (e.g. Indian “Naanizza”), augmented pizzas (e.g. Korean cheese-stuffed pizza), or simply pizzas with combinations of factors that are rare (e.g. “California style” pizza). Sometimes I cannot really rate products from this category, because they are not advertised as “pizza” (e.g. “flatbread”), but I still find them interesting and related enough to have them featured. Otherwise, this category often gets decent scores, because the creativity has to be appreciated and it’s a type of art calling something a “pizza” and then taking it to the next level while keeping the basics right.