ABOVE: A Rico’s pepperoni and black olive pizza in the Hearst Connecticut Media Group’s tasting lab.
To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, now we are engaged in a great pizza war, testing whether this city, or any city, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.
By now you are all well aware of the running feud between Colony Grill, a Stamford institution, and newcomer Rico’s Pizza and their very good (and nearly identical) offerings.
I assure you, aside from the nocturnal heartburn that hits me after consuming a hot-oil pie from either establishment, they are not quite the same.
The rumors of a Colony “imitator” spread quickly, but I didn’t think much of it until Colony took out an ad in The Advocate and reporter Jeff Morganteen began to investigate. The schism produced a backlash against Colony and clear sense that a segment of Stamford feels the restaurant has been dealt a well-deserved comeuppance. And so began my quest to get to the bottom of this.
The first day I tried to obtain a pie from Rico’s only to find that an extremely large takeout order has been placed (reportedly by Steven A. Cohen’s hedge fund).
Patrons, including the entirety of Stamford Fire and Rescue’s Engine Company 3, waited impatiently for lunch as employees scrambled around trying to churn out pies.
Subsequent reports from varied sources suggest that Rico’s has made the Colony-esque move of taking the phone off the hook during busy flurries of pizza ordering. Obviously, I don’t fault Rico’s for being busy and I have, indeed, successfully ordered pies on three occasions, herein lies the issue.
From the numerous conversations I’ve had with people on both sides of this debate, the chief concerns Stamford’s pizza-eating public have with Colony are service, the lack of delivery and their inability to process credit cards.
For me, these are non-issues.
Don’t get me wrong, I eat a lot of pizza — too much really — but I can’t remember the last time I had one delivered to my house. I was probably in high school. This may make me an anomaly but it brings into focus the deeper issue: the role of the bar pizza in contemporary American society.
Let’s get this straight: Colony, while a unique Stamford treasure, serves a bar pizza.
Debate the definition if you will, but the generally accepted parameters of such a pie relate to the thinness of the crust, the copious presence of grease and the use of not-necessarily fresh ingredients. More importantly, however, the bar pizza is characteristically served in a bar.
This is where I see the inherent fallacy of the delivery argument, and it is two-fold.
My experience with Colony pies has taught me this: they don’t travel well.
The implications of the second law of thermodynamics would suggest that a pizza and its surrounding environment will reach an equilibrate temperature at a rate relative to the thinness of the pie. A Colony-style pie stands no chance against Fairfield County traffic.
Admittedly, my experiences with Rico’s have involved takeout which on all occasions has resulted in a somewhat limp crust, more so than with a takeout Colony pie. This can be attributed to the relative lack of oil in Rico’s crust.
While not ideal, it is the way the vast majority of Rico’s customers will consume their product. Trust me, you wouldn’t want to eat-in at Rico’s — not that it’s not new and clean and well-lit, but it would be akin to eating in a strip mall Dominoes. And this is Rico’s intent as their business is clearly focused on takeout and delivery.
But one must consider the external variables of pizza enjoyment; proximity to low-quality kegged beer, multiple high-def television screens and decades-old Formica slick with grease. My apartment has none of these things.
Getting to the crux of the issue, this environment begets service issues that some are mischaracterizing as rude.
If you have no expectations of being treated like a pampered Fairfield County diner, things go swimmingly at Colony: you order your pizza, you laugh when your friend inquires about salad options, you eat and then you pay your bill when you can finally wave down a bartender.
And you pay with cash.
If a piece of currency that can facilitate a transfer of pizza and/or pizza-related services was held to be so fundamental to our way of life it was written into our constitution before the inalienability of our rights to express personal and religious freedoms, it’s good enough to buy a sausage and hot-oil pie with.
Aside from the legally tenuous allegations of intellectual property theft, Rico’s is doing an excellent job with their pies. But not the same pie, as many are claiming.
While eerily similar, Rico’s tastes like Colony on an slightly-off day. With a crust that is less crisp, having near identical toppings and even perhaps a better sauce, it is not the same experience.
To Lincoln, “a house divided against itself cannot stand,” but in this case I welcome it — if only for a shorter wait at Colony.