There’s a pizza shop not far from my house called Post Office Pies. It’s tremendously good. If pressed I’d wedge it into that nebulous but prestigious category: artisanal. It’s got a great origin story to boot.
Supposedly the chef and co-owner cut his chops at Gramercy Tavern in New York City working as a line cook. In his off hours he ran an undocumented pizza delivery service out of his apartment. It was a one-man show. He’d personally take the orders, make the pies, and show up at your door with a hot and fresh late-night meal. Eventually he answered the urge to come back home to Birmingham, where he partnered with the owners of a local brewery and repurposed a former post office in the suddenly chic Avondale area. Accolades followed.
Sadly, however, I can’t take my family there anymore. I made the mistake of sharing a pizza with my son. His half was pepperoni. My half was anchovy. The astute reader has already leapt to the obvious: there is no such thing as a half anchovy pizza. The pepperoni “tasted of the sea” every bit as much as its better half. I can’t blame the boy for exercising his ten-year-old’s veto. “I don’t want to go to the place that tastes like fish,” he says. I ruined the whole restaurant for him.
The Life and Times of Tiny Fish
It’s a pungent little creature, the anchovy, punching well above its weight in what my wife likes to call smellicules. Its odor and flavor imbue—or infest, depending on your point of view—everything it touches. There is nothing subtle about it. Frankly, I’m surprised a pizza with anchovies doesn’t affect bystander pies that have committed only the sin of sharing a deck oven.
Anchovies are wonderfully salty and doused in that garish foodie hipster word “umami,” which subs for what was in a more enlightened time called “savory.” Personally, I can understand why someone might not care for such a powerful ingredient, but I can’t grasp that fact historically.
Ancient Roman cuisine called for a fermented fish sauce called garum, often made with anchovies and liberally used in practically everything. Per the adaption of “Apicius” on my kitchen shelf, this fish sauce “is fundamental to Roman food.” Asian cuisine has a similar sauce that predates or was derived from garum.
It doesn’t matter which came first or if they were developed independently like Leibniz and Newton with calculus. What matters is that anchovy sauce was an early and important part of both Mediterranean and Asian cuisine. That’s a big swath of the ancient world. Anchovies’ influence in shaping the modern palate should be felt more. But it’s not.
Divorced from flatbread, sauce, and cheese, anchovies pop up every now and then without much fuss from the general public. Puttanesca is still widely eaten. Unknown to most diners, chefs regularly add a filet of the fish to red wine meat, particularly lamb braises, where it adds a depth of flavor on par with bone marrow.
In fact, anchovies flavor meats quite often. If you don’t believe me, go take a look at the ingredients printed on that bottle of Worcestershire sauce in the door of your fridge. But for whatever reason, it’s a deal-killer on a pie, so much so that many pizza places have an “EBA” special, meaning “Everything But Anchovies.”
That’s Why We Need an App
There’s probably not much money to be made on this, but it would be nice if someone built an app in the mold of Tinder for anchovy pizza lovers. You could walk into your neighborhood joint, pull out your phone and check to see if there’s a kindred spirit, exchange messages, then share a pie.
The key phrase is “share a pie.” Ordering a whole pizza for yourself is wasteful. Of course we can order a slice with anchovies, but pizza by the slice is notoriously, and usually poorly, par-cooked. It’s a lesser product. Once you find an anchovy friend they become a cherished commodity; a relationship to stoke and nurture. Having tasted a fishy pizza made especially and freshly for you, there’s no going back to the old reheated by-the-slice garbage. That’s for the lonely.
To keep an anchovy friend, conversations over your precious meals should remain as anodyne as possible in the incunabular weeks. Check religion and politics at the door. Limit yourself to two glasses of beer or wine. Do nothing to offend or alienate. Focus on what’s important here.
Of course, it’s entirely possible that you already know and have a fantastic relationship with someone who secretly loves fish on pizza but shows no outward signs. A great many of us don’t order our favorite topping out of fear. We wonder if we are the only one who ever orders anchovies. That tin the cook is going to reach into has been sitting in the walk-in, untouched since the last time someone placed a similar order. How long ago was that? Months? How many of us are there?
If you do find out that someone whose company you already enjoy is anchovy-friendly, or even anchovy-curious, marry her. I did, and it’s been nothing but salty, savory bliss.