Because of my marks and my good behaviour, my elementary school teachers always strategically sat me at the back of the classroom among the troublemakers. They assumed I would be a good influence and/or dampen the mischief that could be caused. I loved it because said troublemakers were usually barrels of fun. Of course, I never got into trouble, but I had a good time laughing at them do so. Most years, I sat next to Grant. Even with a social group, I felt like an outsider for being labelled a Teacher’s Pet; Grant often very much was an outsider for being the most overweight in the class. He was not meek and was sometimes part of the main boy gang, but the Alpha males would often turn cruel when it suited them. In junior high, this changed. Grant didn’t physically transform, but he became good at a less-conventional sport (lacrosse), and the Alphas finally started to get his smarmy humour. He also started having blowout co-ed birthday parties. And not “party” parties with secret drinking and Spin the Bottle. But, expensive birthday parties where a group of 15 of us would spend an afternoon at
Fantasyland Galaxyland, gorge on Pizza Hut, and then watch violent R-rated movies in his basement while his mom cut the Costco cake. Although my family often ate Pizza Hut when I was a teenager, my memories of pan pizza are attached to Grant’s birthdays, especially in terms of solidifying a love for ham and pineapple pizza—I don’t know why, but I never ever refer to it as Hawaiian. I was not a big meat eater back then, so I liked how Pizza Hut cut the ham into little batons. The shape distracted me from the processed fleshiness. In the phase of my life where sweet > savoury, the more pineapple, the better.
This was the nostalgia that carried me into Emmy Squared one night for its particular kind of pizza: Detroit-style pan pizza. Before my visit, I couldn’t tell you what that meant, but having had it now, I would describe it as a thick and fluffy square pizza that is denser than the Sicilian and Grandma slices typical to New York and maybe a little taller than your typical round pan pie (e.g., Pizza Hut). The pre-opening buzz for this Williamsburg restaurant was extreme, both for the style of pizza and because the owners already run another popular Brooklyn pizzeria, Emily. So when I arrived right before opening on its third night of service, there was a queue of people waiting to get in. Thankfully, my spot allowed me to get a bar seat with no issue.
Despite my lack of a Detroit connection, this pizza was everything I would want a pan pie to be: crispy on the edges from the oiled pan and the dripping cheese; thick in the crust, with sauce, and with cheese, so that each bite feels like an accomplishment; the edge of the crust that reminds me of bread; sturdy in your hands. Party pizza. If we drank at Grant’s parties, then I would know that pan pizza is great for soaking up alcohol, but we didn’t, so I only know that it is perfect for large appetites, such as those fueled by raging hormones or the act of skipping lunch. My only gripe, which is clearly visible, is that the average was one piece of pineapple and ham per slice… which worked out to one bite per slice with topping. They appear to have made adjustments, thankfully. The server had suggested to the two girls next to me that one six-slice pie, smaller than a quarter sheet pan, would be good for two not-so-hungry people. But said neighbours, me, and everyone else around us seemed to handle one pizza per person without much trouble. I think we all knew to be hungry.
I was hungry enough that I started, as is my norm, with a salad. I could quickly describe it as a sort of Caesar with bok choy. Not-quite-Caesar salads are fairly common, even when you exclude all the ones with kale. To be truthful, the only aspect of these updates that makes me think of the original most strongly is the anchovy-based dressing, with many of them pushing the fish factor quite aggressively. I welcome that and was happy it was very much present here. The plating made it a knife and fork salad; it also hid the ample amount of dressing under the leaves. The strength of the anchovy made the bottarga indiscernible, but you can see that the amount included wouldn’t offer much up. To be critical, I would say it was added more to read well on a menu.
Lack of pineapple aside, my visit has me wanting to return and sink my teeth into more pie. I fully expected the front-of-house organization and kitchen pacing to be a hot mess on the third night, but the professionalism and smoothness of all interactions and service indicate the owners know what they are doing—and that I should visit Emily for more of the same.
I’m always insecure about this blog and why I keep it up. A decade or so ago, I was fully immersed in the blog-as-diary world, and I fully appreciated that I could share parts of myself to a community, which at that time was a private one composed of people I trusted. I now use food as a guise to be public, but ultimately I think I’m writing for and about me again. Perhaps because I want to share my solo experiences. Perhaps because it’s cheaper than therapy. Perhaps because I tell myself this is a hobby that is “good for me.” Not that I’m bored of food, but I’m wondering if the blog could get more personal at times to keep me interested—your veiled heads up. In the highly saturated landscape of food bloggers, Yelpers, and Instagrammers/Influencers, I’m not trying to stand out or compete, and there are real reviews you can read. It is all about me, but not in a way that I’m looking to use it for a career change or free dinners.
I bring this up now because of Grant. He was part of my pan pizza story, and I didn’t want to leave him out. But I feel awkward about introducing him without mentioning that he passed away under sad circumstances a few years ago; I can’t end by hoping that he might find my blog and reminisce. I can only be thankful for the laughs he gave me, the invitations to his parties, and that we were friends.