Anyone who grew up in the 80s watching “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” will recall a very specific phrase that kicks in whenever the characters decide to order a pizza. I feel like you hear this phrase in “E.T.” when Eliot’s brother has friends over for poker and maybe in an episode of “Facts of Life” where Blaire learns the perils of superficiality. Either way, the phrase is emblematic of its time, not something you often hear today. The phrase is: “Hold the anchovies.”
It’s funny, because it’s a phrase that was so standard, so much about the call-and-response between pizza-orderer and toppings-choosers that I don’t think it ever occurred to me that anchovies were a thing anyone could possibly want on a pizza. That is, until I moved to Brooklyn.
Now that I live in Park Slope I have two excellent pizza options out my door. The first, Franny’s is a Park Slope pizza treasure. It has two stars from the New York times and an eclectic, attractive fan base that usually crowds around the door waiting for a chance to crack through the crust of the superlative pizzas coming out of the wood-burning oven. The other option is one we recently discovered:
That’s Peperoncino, a place right here on 5th Ave. that we’ve walked past a million times but never entered until the blurbs taped to the door (from The Village Voice, New York Magazine, Time Out New York) convinced us to give it a chance. And though not as polished as Franny’s, the pizzas are excellent, also from a wood-burning oven, and slightly less expensive. At both places, though, the standout pizza has that dreaded ingredient, that slimy, hairy, fishy curl of gray that strikes fear into the hearts of 80s movie characters. That’s right, the best pizzas here have anchovies.
What makes anchovies so great on a Park Slope pizza? (The picture you see at the top is the anchovy pizza at Peperoncino). For starters, I think it has to do with the quality of anchovy: these aren’t the mealy, greasy kinds you get from a jar. My hunch is that these anchovies are salt-packed, a process that retains the structural integrity as well-as the flavor profile of a fresh anchovy. Secondly, the pizza isn’t slathered in a sea of them; I count four anchovies on the pizza at the top of this post. A restrained amount of anchovies allows the anchovy to work their potent magic without overwhelming the pie. Finally, as you can also see in that picture, the anchovy is matched with other powerful flavoring components: lots of slivered garlic, capers and, of course, peperoncino. The bombast of its back-up singers makes the anchovy that much more powerful, sort of like Beyonce when she was with Destiny’s Child. Or Diana Ross with The Supremes.
In conclusion, I know many of you will write comments like “sick” or “I hate anchovies” or “dude, where’s my car?” but think about it: why would people in 80s movies need to say “hold the anchovies” unless there was a time when people were actually ordering lots of anchovies on their pizza. Thought of that way, anchovies harken back to a simpler time, a happier time, a time when people weren’t afraid of bad breath and hairy fish on their pizza. Maybe it’s time to go back to that time, a time before Ninja Turtles and time-traveling phone booths. Maybe it’s time for people to respond, when someone picks up the phone to order a pizza, not “hold the anchovies” but, instead: “Four anchovies, please. And make them salt-packed.”
To quote a Ninja Turtle, that’d be “righteous.”