PAPERBOY: Slow-Jamming The Alt-Weeklies

paperboyartthumbnail.jpgBY DAVE ALLEN Like time, news waits for no man. Keeping up with the funny papers has always been an all-day job, even in the pre-Internets era. These days, however, it’s a two-man job. That’s right, these days you need someone to do your reading for you, or risk falling hopelessly behind and, as a result, increasing your chances of dying lonely and somewhat bitter. That’s why every week PAPERBOY does your alt-weekly reading for you. We pore over those time-consuming cover stories and give you the takeaway, suss out the cover art, warn you off the ink-wasters and steer you towards the gooey center. Why? Because we love you!


CP: It started with a pun. “Waiting for Good Dough”? It took a second to sink in, but once it did, I was prepared to love Drew Lazor’s cover on cheese, sauce and crust in all manner of combinations, though there were no further Beckett references.

Pizza-makers — or “pizzaioli,” the Italian term that’s found footing in authenticity-fixated circles — don’t agree on much, if anything. They can be opinionated, cp_2010-07-22.jpgdisorienting and downright temperamental. But the one thing they pore over in equal stead is the details. Pizza, perhaps the most straightforward-on-paper food this side of peanut butter and jelly, is infinitely complicated in its execution; a microscopic recipe augmentation can translate into a huge difference in final product. A passing query can expand into an hourlong discussion about Italian flour, oven placement, “leoparding” (a term for the char marks on the underside of a pie) or wood versus coal versus gas faster than you can say “extra cheese.”

Marc Vetri, who provides much-buzzed-about pies at his three-year-old Osteria, is intimately familiar with the challenge. “There’s more humidity in the air,” he says. “Less humidity in the air. Water temperature. Add a little water sometimes. Add a little sugar. A little brandy. All these little nuances. Should we cook it at a higher heat right now? Store [the dough] at room temperature right now? Store it in the cold? Millions of little different things.”

“Like anything simple, if you have just a few main ingredients, you have to pay attention,” says Steve Gonzalez, chef and partner at Zavino at 13th and Sansom. When working with three equally vital variables — dough, cheese, sauce — if just one is askew, “you diminish your product by 33 percent off the bat.”

“When you really get into the nitty-gritty,” LaBan says, “it is the little things that take something that everybody thinks they know and transform it into something really special.” (LaBan is a former pizzaiolo himself, sort of — his first job as a kid in his native Detroit was at Little Caesar’s.)

This little taste boasts what the rest of the piece has in spades: A strong sense of voice, a wide sampling of the city’s offerings and, as advertised, utter demolition of the “Philly has crappy pizza” myth. Even better is how Lazor slips in bits of insider-y terminology under the guise of what “pizza nerds” would call them. You’re not fooling anyone, Drew — you’re one of THEM!

PW: Lots of short pieces with lots of different names, many of which you’ve never seen before — looks like someone said, “Hey, why don’t we give the interns something to do?” That’s a guess, though, and however the idea for this week’s Faces and Places compiled feature came about, the writers uncovered some gems. For starters, I dig the color and lived-in feel of Jessica Goldstein’s piece on Cliff’s Shoe Repair.

072110pwcover.jpgA shoeshine is an underrated delight. You feel as if you’ve bought something brand new without really paying for it. When your heels and soles hit the street it seems like the pavement propels you forward. You walk with Fred Astaire care, sidestepping puddles and sidewalk cracks. Once you start having your shoes shined, you realize that while this service is one you used to live without, you aren’t quite sure how.

There is a striking dignity about Cliff’s. This is not the myth of the shoeshine, the little boy in “Get Rhythm” that Johnny Cash sings about on that windy corner of a dirty street. This is a four-generations-old establishment with the original benches and seats that grandpa Cliff Burrell built in the ’30s. The phone number—215.222.9312—hasn’t changed since 1934. The shop’s current owners, Cliff and his two brothers Jerry, 50, and Eric, 49, speak of their father, and of his father, with fierce reverence. They will tell you they are not the men their father or grandfather was, but they are trying to be.

Cliff was 11 when he called his grandfather to ask for a new coat. The elder Cliff’s reply: “Why don’t you come on down here and start working at the shop?” He’s been working here ever since. “He was a serious man,” Cliff says of his grandfather. “A strict man.”

The rhythm of the shop is exactly as it was last year and, presumably, the same as it was 78 years ago, on opening day: a handful of people sitting on benches, leaning in chairs, instantly congenial. The room feels like something out of another time, probably because no one is texting or talking on the phone, or has the thin white wire of iPod headphones snaking out of their ears down their chest. Here, you enjoy the art of casual communication, the musicality of “How’s your weekend?” and “Let me show you something.” There’s amble chatter and laughter that erupts from the gut.

I expected to see the location of Cliff’s higher up, but by the time Goldstein got around to it — it’s at 40th and Market — I was hooked. Bill Moriarty might be a little high-profile, in a producer-y kind of way, but the profile of him is solid. Urban Shamans? Seen ‘em, heard ‘em, didn’t know their name. That’s something, but the major get would have been an interview with that little kid who plays violin near Rittenhouse. That kid’s going places.


CP: In search of sub-Maryland fare. Smokin’ quack: Recklessness from Ride the Ducks. The 76ers: When good is not good enough. RIP, Photon Band: The physics-related concept album may never album.

PW: If the prospect of Gov. Tom Corbett already terrifies you, don’t read this article. Adios to the only food critic who ever wrote about me. I’ll also cosign his Tria recommendation, but not his “sleep with a bartender” one. This Q&A is totally bats: “Boy, they sure don’t sing a lot.”

WINNER: I’m giving this week’s award on the criteria of sheer nerve. Top honors go to CP for scooping up the competition’s food critic. Forged resume or not, that takes balls.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *