Pizza As Religion: Slice Out Hunger

For me, as for many people, pizza is my religion. Pizza inspires a passion in me for which I will walk, drive, or fly many thousands of miles to make a pizza pilgrimage in search of a great pizzeria in which to worship. And though I consider myself to be a true disciple of pizza, the "Saint Peter of Pizza" if you will, Scott Wiener is the "Pizza Pope."

Wiener is the owner/operator of Scott's Pizza Tours, which shepherds tourists from all over the world around New York City's five boroughs to sample the greatest pizza in the world from its holiest pizza temples. He is a walking and talking pizza bible preaching the Pizza gospel to those less fortunate who have never experienced pizza puritanism. Wiener is the holder of the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest pizza box collection, though I have never questioned my pizza faith by daring to ask how many others actually collect pizza boxes?

On October 7, at around 6 p.m., more people lined up to get into little St. Anthony's church on Sullivan Street just south of Houston Street than a few weeks ago to get into St. Patrick's to see the other Pope perform evening mass. Pizza parishioners circled the entire block to attend Scott Wiener's Slice Out Hunger, rightly billed as the biggest pizza party in New York City history.

Like with most religions, Wiener urges his pizza congregation to consider the plight of others. Slice Out Hunger is the pizza charity that he conceived to provide meals to those truly less fortunate than the pizza fanatics like me waiting for our dollar slices. All of the proceeds of Slice Out Hunger are in support of that good cause.

So once a year "Scott the Pizza Pontiff" summons 50 of his pizza cardinals from all five boroughs and as far as New Jersey, including Di Fara's, Lucali, Roberta's, John's of Bleecker, Arturo's, Joe's, Artichoke, Rubirosa, Lombardi's, and too many others to name to donate upwards of 20  pizza pies to sell for a mere $1 per slice to provide meals to those in need.

The only rules to Slice Out Hunger is one slice of pizza per pizzeria per person to insure that everyone can taste as many examples before the dough runs out. Being a worthy cause (and in order to be the first on line) I donated $100 to get a VIP Pass and 10 slices of pizza (to start).

Upon entering St. Anthony's I was so overwhelmed by pizza fervor that I immediately forgot all of the rules, ignored Wiener 's offer of an empty pizza box to gather my slices in, and ran immediately to Di Fara's station knowing that would be the first pizzeria to sell out. My faith was going to be tested as Di Fara's had not yet arrived.

Like being in the dugout at the All-Star game, I couldn't decide whether to grab my favorite pizza players or to try new ones that I had heard of but had somehow never tasted. Being first in line, I had my choice of all the dozens of pizzerias which had already set up their table. I started with Patrizia's, a mini-chain started in Brooklyn and a new name for me. Unlike everyone else, I just grabbed a paper plate and ate slices as I ran the tables. Those pizzerias most familiar to me and near and dear to my heart and stomach won out. I scarfed down Patsy's of Harlem, Roberta's of Bushwick, Lombardi's (the first Pizzeria in the city), Michael White's thick pepperoni and sausage St. Louis-style pizza from Nicoletta, and a jalapeño flavored slice from Brooklyn's Emily – a relative new-comer to New York City's holy houses if pizza. After a slice from Arturo's, which was still warm as it only traveled across Houston Street to arrive at the church, I knew I was running out of pizza tickets and stomach space. I had to make my ninth and tenth slices count.

Just then I saw Marc Iacono, the owner of Lucali's Pizza, arrive. I had just recently lost my Lucali's virginity when I visited Lucali's in Cobble Hill and became an immediate convert. Sticking to the rules, Marc refused to serve me more than one slice. I took a lap around the church hall and returned with my last pizza ticket. I think even Wiener would grant me absolution for lying in church when I told Marc that I had a twin brother. Marc winked and laughed and gave me what I thought to be my tenth and last slice.

Then a miracle happened. DiFara's had arrived. The crowd was growing now and immediately swarmed the DiFara's table. I had no more Pizza tickets. This was my punishment for lying to Lucali's. But then I committed another sin. I ran back to the entrance of the church, paid $6 for six more pizza tickets (please forgive me, Wiener) and ran against the line back to DiFara's which had already gone through several pies and was about to finish another with just two slices left. Wild eyed with Pizza passion, I threw all six tickets on the table and pleaded for those two slices. My Pizza prayers were answered.

12 Pizza slices in 30 minutes from the greatest Pizzerias in New York City. But I had broken the rules. Would Wiener take out his famous thermometer gun and banish me to the fiery hell of a coal burning pizza oven? No. I kissed his hand as I thanked him and left the church. Thankfully, in the pizza religion, gluttony is not considered a cardinal sin.