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You’ll excuse me if I can’t muster the necessary enthusiasm for the Jumbo Slice episode of the Travel Channel’s Food Wars, which is scheduled to air next Tuesday at 10 p.m.
At one point, a friendly official with the Adams Morgan Partnership BID suggested I consider being a judge on the episode. I talked to my editor about it and came to a simple conclusion: This is not the kind of food I want to encourage or promote, no matter how unique it is to D.C. (And I’m sorry, but a large slab of undistinguished pizza, its cheese oozing oil all over the place, is not necessarily unique to this little patch of earth.)
Consider a few quotes from former City Paper reporter Dave Jamieson‘s excellent November 2004 cover story on the Jumbo Slice, “The Big Cheese”:
After all, owner Chris Chishti’s crew isn’t serving up just any kind of slice. His renowned “jumbo slice,” a greasy slab that requires two paper plates to handle, runs nearly a foot-and-a-half long, and weighs in just shy of a pound. Novices at the counter often have to ask how to go about eating such a beast. As any jumbo-slice veteran will tell them, you just fold it like the morning newspaper and go to work.
Then consider the Jumbo Slice’s ignoble creation story:
But they weren’t always so monstrous. In fact, when the Pakistan native opened his modest carryout in 1997, he had no intention of stretching his pies far beyond their initial 18-inch diameter. That is, until one of his neophyte cooks left behind a mangled dough ball after a busy night in 1999.
When Chishti strolled into his shop the next morning, he figured the misshapen mound was unusable. But then he took a fresh dough ball from another tray. “What I did, I took that dough ball and put it with the other dough ball,” says the mustachioed Chishti, clapping together his cupped hands to illustrate the epiphany. He kneaded the oversized ball, dropped it on a baking screen, and sent it through his conveyer oven dressed with cheese and sauce.
What came out the other end was jumbo indeed, and its creator saw no reason to stop there: “I said, ‘Let’s go bigger.’”
Then consider a former Jumbo Slice competitor who thought quality could trump size:
In spite of Chishti’s talk of a secret recipe for his jumbo slice, the customer demands only that his belly be full in the end. The gluttony imperative was lost on Bill Thomas, owner of the Blue Room club on 18th Street, and proprietor of the now-defunct Kung Fu Pizza, which once occupied a portion of the same building. When he opened his kitschy, martial-arts-themed pizzeria in 2000, Thomas and his team had spent months working on recipes for gourmet pies, even experimenting with spring water in their dough.
“We actually thought quality would sell, and we were stupid,” says Thomas. Kung Fu Pizza shut its doors after a four-month run. The eatery stayed open late and attracted a small following from the wait staffs of surrounding bars, but the Adams Morgan party crowd never took to the Asian finger food and modestly sized pizza. “At the end of the day, it was all about the big slice,” he says.
Finally, consider the nutritional content of a Jumbo Slice:
The Washington City Paper sent three cheese jumbo slices, one from each of the jumbo-pizza makers, to the ABC Research Corp., a food-testing laboratory in Gainesville, Fla. Calculated on the basis of the lab’s calories-per-gram analysis, the single slices from both Pizza Mart and Pizza Boli’s soared over the 1,000-calorie threshold.
Pizza Boli’s trounced the field with a whopping 1,309 calories, and Pizza Mart settled for silver with a respectable 1,117. That’s roughly equivalent to two Big Macs, or, for active women and most men, about half the calories the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends for an entire day’s intake, let alone as a Friday-evening nightcap. By comparison, Pizza Napoli’s slice made for light fare at a modest 917 calories, but it weighed significantly less than the competitors’.
None of the slices necessarily jibe with today’s low-carbohydrate diet fad, either. Each sample stored more than 115 grams of carbs alone, including the comparably dainty slice from Pizza Napoli, which had a disproportionately high carb rate. The slice from Pizza Boli’s again led the pack in fat content; its roughly 53 grams just edges out Pizza Mart’s 47.
I’m sorry but playing up this Jumbo Slice war — hell, is this even a war anymore? — strikes me as playing up the District’s old image as a town full of wonks who know nothing about food, pizza or otherwise. We’ve progressed too far as a restaurant town to revert back to this old cliche. Can we move on already?