Adam Kuban is the editor and publisher of Slice, “America’s Favorite Pizza Weblog.” By day, Kuban, a 30-year-old resident of Park Slope, is a copy editor at Martha Stewart Living magazine, where, among other things, he’s learned how to knit and make a tasty homemade mac and cheese. When he’s not at work, he’s usually getting his fingers greasy at a pizzeria somewhere in the five boroughs and reporting the results on his website, which delivers original and digested pizza news and reviews. His site is on the eve of its one year anniversary, which will be celebrated with a pizza club trip to Patsy's in East Harlem. We expected no less from Adam.
Not that we're one to question obsessions (see pandas), but the pizza—what gives?
It’s the perfect food: Depending on what you order in terms of toppings, one slice can embody the entire food pyramid: fats, oils, sweets; milk, yogurt, cheese; meat, poultry, fish, eggs, beans, nuts; vegetables; fruits; bread, cereal, rice, pasta. If you live in New York City, you’re never more than a block or two away from it. If you live outside the Big Apple, it’s no more than 30 minutes away (unless the driver’s stoned and/or gets lost).
On that note, pizza is often considered a food of convenience, similar to the hot dog, yet perfect. It's got vegetables, dairy, and grain, like you mentioned—what more do you need?
McDonald’s is convenient, too, but you saw what happened to that Supersize Me guy. Let Slice eat pizza for you, then go where we recommend.
How did your fascination with pizza start? Are you passionate about any other foods? Surely, you cannot subsist on pizza alone.
I’ve been eating loads of pizza for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid, my dad’s dream was to open a pizzeria that served the kind of Midwestern-style thin-crust pies he grew up with in Milwaukee. After being transferred from state to state for years, family in tow, he finally quit his cemetery-plot sales job and had a go at the pizza business in Olathe, Kansas, which was the last place his company sent him. That meant night after night of recipe refinement and taste-testing at home before he opened the doors of Mamma Mia’s. I was too young to do much more than sweep up in the kitchen (in exchange for tokens to play the shop’s video games), but I caught the pizza bug anyway (and fell prey to an opportunistic infection known as Pac Man Fever). Mamma Mia’s was in one of those classic doomed locations; two other pizzerias had failed there previously. Ours did well at first, but once the novelty wore off, it got tough. The Pizza Hut that went in across the street was the final nail in the coffin, and Dad went back to selling graves in the KC metro area.
Pizza’s it as far as food obsessions go. When I find something I like, I stick with it. But it’s not like I eat the stuff for every meal, or even every day. Other foods I really like, for instance, are tiny hamburgers (à la White Castle), sushi and sashimi, Japanese curry rice, tonkatsu, well-executed sandwiches of any kind, and mashed potatoes. None of this sits well with my doctor, and, understandably, he’s on my case about my cholesterol.
Do you ever think of opening up your own pizza place? If so, whose pizza would you like to emulate with your pizzeria?
I’ve thought about it, but there are two big kinks in the plan. 1. Lack of actual pizzeria experience. 2. Cash money. Although I guess I could try to moonlight at a pizzeria whose pies I admire and then put that experience and loot toward a shop of my own. If I had a coal oven in that pizzeria, I’d shoot for Patsy’s (East Harlem) or Totonno’s (Coney Island) quality. With a gas-fired, brick-lined oven, Nick’s in Forest Hills (the quality of which is almost indistinguishable from coal-fired pies).
So with your refined pizza taste buds, can you even grab a quick slice any more? Is the pizza from the corner pizzeria even palatable to you anymore, or can you only eat pizza at places that exclusively sell by the pie (not including Patsy's in East Harlem)?
I’t’s hard to say. You always want to be open to finding something mind-blowing, so you can't turn your nose up at grabbing a quick slice for fear of missing out on some hidden Di Faratype place. Unfortunately, for all the pizzerias in the five boroughs (around 3,000 or so), there's a shamefully small number making anything to write home about.
The only reason I usually ever grab a run-of-the-mill quick slice is to ward off hunger when I only have a couple bucks in my pocket and don't want to hit an ATM. In day-to-day life, I’ve found most of the really good Gotham pies and slices are in outlying areas, or at least in neighborhoods I don't visit on a regular basis. There's really no good pizza near my office, which is in Midtown. Closer to home, I live near Franny’s, which has been hyped as having some of the best pizza in New York. It really is great stuff, but when I’m at Slice HQ, I usually just make my own pies.
If you had to choose between eating chain pizza or dying...which would you choose? And assuming you choose the pizza, which chain would you choose?
Obviously I'd rather eat chain pizza than die. All pizza is good, it's just that some pizza is better than others (unless you're talking Chicago-style, which just blows harder than the wind off Lake Michigan). I think I'd go with the lesser of all evils—Papa John's.
You recently acquired a motorcycle, what is that like? Is seeing the city via motorcycle drastically different than walking or via the back of a cab? Do the ladies love it?
Ugh. Don’t even get me started. Since buying that thing, it seems like I’ve spent more time in the DMV waiting room and in the street in front of my apartment gettting it to run right than I’ve spent riding it. Yeah: Of couse it’s a lot different than walking or cabbing it. Mostly because you don’t have the luxury of observing in detail what you’re riding past. You’re too busy trying not to get hit by some asshole in a car. That cute girl on the sidewalk walking her dog? If you stare too long, some dingbat in a Daewoo might open up and door you.
In response to the second part of your question, I think any “coolness” that the motorbike might confer is more than mitigated by the fact that its owner publishes a pizza weblog.
We hear you're from Kansas. Gothamist has traveled around much of the country and a few places outside of the United States, but we've never been to Kansas. Can you compare/contrast that with NYC?
Not really. I’m from the Kansas City suburbsa world apart from, say, central or western Kansas, which are probably the areas of the Sunflower State that folks picture when they think Kansas. Where I’m from is probably not much different from Long Island or suburban New Jersey, except that your junior high classmate is more likely to be a 4-H member with an award-winning rooster or piglet. Heck, Overland Park, one of the biggest outlying cities in the metro area, is home to Applebee’s and Sprint, for better or worse. For that reason, I’d hate to speak for central or western Kansans.
Gothamist is fond of Kansas City BBQ, which we understand is from the Missouri side of Kansas City. Why is Kansas so strange?
KC barbecue is the best, that goes without saying. Arthur Bryant’s, LC’s, you just can’t beat it. Those two places are in Missouri, sure, but there are plenty of barbecue joints just across the border in Kansas that are good, too—Hayward’s Pit Bar-B-Q and Fiorella’s Jack Stack (great BBQ beans) come to mind. I’m not quite sure how the second part of your question follows from the first, but as for Kansas being strange, well, sure, there are some strange things there, and we’re unapologetic about it. If you ever get the chance to travel through the state, check out S.P. Dinsmoor’s Garden of Eden in Lucas, Kansas, or the world’s largest prairie dog. And, closer to home here in the Big Apple, let’s not forget that Walter P. Chrysler, whose eponymous building is an integral part of the city’s skyline, made his bones as a machinist in Ellis, Kansas.
Favorite subway line?
The D. Most of my commute to and from work is on the D and when I board that train, I cant help thinking of the Beastie Boys on Paul’s Boutique: “D Train ride to Coney Island vacation”; I love Coney. I don’t like the numbered lines. I rarely go to the west side, and the Lexington line is always so crowded. Apart from that, I like the F/G line. The Smith/9th Street station is my favorite station on that line; the view is greatthe Gowanus just below and lower Manhhattan in the distance.
Better headlines: NY Post or NY Daily News?
Are you kidding? The Post in a landslide. I worked for a while as a copy editor at a daily paper in Oregon, so I pay particular attention to heds. I don’t think a lot of people know this, but copy editorsnot reportersare the folks who write a paper’s headlines. It’s a real craft, too. You have to entice the reader with a catchy summarization of the story, all within the limited space doled out by a seemingly stingy page designer. (The headline spec “1-48-3”* still gives me agita.) Anyway, the Post takes a no-holds-barred approach to its headline writing whereas the Daily News seems like it’s caught somewhere between sensationalist tabloid and newspaper of record, and its heds are middle of the road for it. Plus, the Post’s only a quarter. (The Times, however, has them both beat on the crossword.)
Favorite NYC politician
Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz. He likes food. And Brooklyn’s the best borough.
Best/worst Brooklyn gentrification trend
Worst: the trendy restaurants going in like mad on Fifth Avenue in Park Slope. Sometimes I just want something that’s cheap and open late. Best: I know the Brooklyn Nets thing has a lot of people upset, but it’s going to have an ice-skating rink on the roof! I love ice skating. Ice skating in the sky!
Best arthouse movie theater
It’s really about the movie and not the theater. But I like any showhouse that doesn’t have the self-service butter pumps for the popcorn. I like when they fill the bucket up halfway, then douse the butter-flavored topping on there, then fill it the rest of the way and then top it with more butter-flavored topping. Anything else is just a disservice to the popcorn-loving patron.
Dogs, cats or babies
Cats show you no love, and babies all look the same. Dogs are always happy to see you.
Best post-pizza activity/best post-pizza neighborhood
Let’s kill two birds with one stone: A ride on Dino’s Wonder Wheel and then the Cylone, out at Coney, after a great pie at Totonno’s.
Best pizza and best pizza topping (if any)
A plain pie should always serve as a benchmark at any pizzeria. If the plain passes muster, then my favorite topping combo is sausage and onion.
* 1-48-3 = 1 column, 48 pt. text, 3 lines.