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Anthology of Pizza Box Graphic Design

I literally have no idea where to start with this one:

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The word ARTISANS emblazoned under the instantly-recognizable Domino’s logo was powerful enough to halt my brisk walk to the train station and deglove my hands in 1°C weather to take a picture. Upon closer inspection I saw the “not,” and the combination of delight and confusion hit me so hard I thought I was going to puke. I started to read the text but “we don’t wear black berets…” was instantly too much, and tears of silent, body-shaking laughter started to freeze on my cheeks.

This pizza box essentially triggered a bout of full-blown mania, and I feel like God is speaking directly to me through it. My life makes sense. The world is a beautiful place. My thoughts are so rollicksome that I will have to make a simple list to point out everything that is going on here in this nugget of perfect, perfect awfulness:

1. Why all the pride in sucking?

The care taken in embellishing the word “NOT” is sad and confusing. The first sentence implies that “this pizza is going to be 100 times worse than any other pizza you have ever had.” I mean, you can make a pizza with all the passion you want (and how do you apply integrity to pizza-making, anyway?), but if you’re cooking it in a microwave or whatever the hell Domino’s uses, it’s still going to suck.

There’s also a bit of a hipster dive bar vs. craft cocktail establishment going on here. Like, “not sucking is so mainstream; we sucked before it was cool and we’re going to keep on sucking.”

2. Pizza chefs DO NOT wear “black berets”

Does this guy look like he’s about to start tossing some dough in the air?

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No, it looks like he’s going to war.

3. And in the end they call their pizza artisanal!

PICK AN ANGLE, GUYS. Are you or aren’t you?

4. That blank signature field says it all

Bitch, please. Nobody wants their name attached to that shit, Domino’s. And what the FUCK is the tiny “oh yes we did!” referring to? We totally lied to you and now you’re eating something that an excess of twelve rats scampered across since yesterday when we made it and heated it up in microwave for you just now?

Today’s edition of The Anthology of Pizza Box Graphic Design brings us to Picnic Pizza in Kingston, NY. Like so many excellent New York area pizza holes, Picnic is located in a cement building minutes away from the highway.

Don’t be alarmed by the aforementioned cement and the casual use of neon — this place is gourmet at its best. During our last visit, Mr. Max, Lena and I shared 4 slices: white with broccoli, eggplant parm, tangy roasted tomato and mushroom, and classic tomato basil (natch). All were exceptional — bold flavor, crisp crust, and the perfect amount of sauce. Massachusetts has NOTHING on this.

Before we left, we made sure to snap a pic of their collection of pizza box designs (assisted by the ever-obliging counter staff).

Box #1:

A somber take on the city scene genre. In addition to the tiled streets and brick buildings, this abandoned square features a stone fountain flanked by adorable decorative plants. Interestingly, there doesn’t appear to be any water in the fountain. And where are the people? Is this a post-apocalyptic city? Is that a drone in the sky? Should I stop watching so many war documentaries?

Box #2:

Another quaint city scene. I’ve reached the point with TAOPBGD where i have to search my own archives to find out whether or not I’ve reviewed something. It turns out I’ve seen this one before, albeit in a color scheme I termed “autumn vomit.” It looks much better in traditional pizza box red and black ink, and I definitely appreciate the classic script font. Look at those swirls and loops! God I just love tacky fonts. (Take that, Helvetica.)

In my continuing mission to document America’s greatest design treasure, I’ve traveled near and far to collect four new entries for the Anthology of Pizza Box Graphic Design.

Adorable Vegetables: Part 1

Design Assessment: They’ve packed more cuteness into this line art than a bathtub full of baby sloths. I love the bulbous garlic and jaunty, plump mushrooms.

Generic Product Claim: They pull us in with “Fresh oven baked…” and seal the deal with “It’s the greatest!”

Adorable Vegetables: Part 2

Design Assessment: This design puts a pie front and center, with mushrooms, olives, a tomato, and a wheat sprig (which I’m guessing is meant to be a symbol, not a topping) peeking out from behind.

Generic Product Claim: A slight rearrangement of the prior box: “Baked oven fresh.”

Little City

Design Assessment: Let’s be honest: this looks like a photocopy of an office memo. There’s no generic product claims (Hot! Fresh!) or cute renderings of cartoon toppings. I can’t even figure out if the drippy ink is a “style” or the result of inexpensive screen printing. However, none of this really matters. Why? Because the margherita pie it contained was one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had in my life. It would have been delicious served out of a black hefty bag.

Fake Classicism: Sbarro

Design Assessment: Sbarro is the official fake pizza joint of American malls, and this box design is authentic in its inauthenticity. While the red ink, tacky uppercase font, and unnecessary exclamation mark are all elements common to classic boxes, something just feels wrong about the combination here. The text isn’t where it should be, there’s a weird white box around the logo, and the 50th anniversary banner just confuses me.

Generic Product Claim: A slightly wordy take on an old standard: “Hot and delicious pizza!”

Behold the WikiPizza:

SNOOOOZE

Visual Assessment: With all honesty, I didn’t read a single word on this box until right now and am currently struggling to make it through a sentence. I’m getting tired. This pizza box is wearisome. In order to stay awake, I’m going to insert some more media because there’s certainly nothing fun to see on that tedious, tedious box unless you find a Wingdings crown at all stimulating.

A spot-on comparison by Attempted Blogger and, like Dr. B’s labels, this pizza box lid requires some parsing.

They start out by quoting themselves welcoming you to their/your pizza. Weird. Here you’ll also find the only exclamation point; the rest of the box drones on using oddly-placed ellipses about family pride, fresh ingredients and ends up sounding like a eulogy for St. Anthony Polcari: the hardest working man ever.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to hear about how great the pizza they used to make was. We spend an awful lot of time in the past on this pizza box, and even though they try to twist it around to say everything has been delicious and wonderful for 85 years, they can’t completely hide their wistfulness with the almost-morbid “Since those early days, the faces have changed.” The follow-up of “But the Polcari family still keeps a watchful eye over all” is weird and menacing and WHY ARE WE TALKING ABOUT THIS IT IS A PIZZA BOX NOT A NOVELLA. Oh, but it is.

Generic product claims: Despite this pizza box already being a big old windbag, they still slide in a few things that everyone already knows about pizza. Namely, that pride and hard work make the best pizzas, as does using the freshest, finest ingredients. Yawn city.

Overall:  Way too much lore, and it’s poorly-written and weird. Comic Sans, a QR code, and a shitty crown are the only visual jazz, and the actual name of the pizzeria is jammed down in the lower corner.  All visual content critiques aside, the pizza itself was very delicious and highly recommended. As the Polcari’s “special pride” warrants, I was “happily satisfied” indeed.

We’ve got two piping hot entries for this installment of TAOPBGD. And, unlike the pizzas contained within, these boxes won’t give you heartburn for four straight days.

City Scenes, Again

Visual Assessment: I never noticed the abundance of street scene-themed boxes until I started documenting the trend here on The Lower Crust. I’m guessing boxes like these are supposed to invoke a romanticized vision of Little Italy (primarily drawn from that spaghetti scene from Lady and the Tramp). Like generic product claims (“Fresh dough daily!”), this is pure fiction; modern pizza joints aren’t found down quaint cobblestone streets — they’re sandwiched between a nail place and a Dollar General in a dilapidated strip mall. Because that’s America. 

Italian Stereotype(s): There’s a pair of them standing right between the bored-looking couple and the guy on the bike who looks like he was drawn by The Oatmeal. Two for one!

Pizza: Not a Symbol

Visual Assessment: Red and green printing and a script font put this box squarely in the “classic” design category. I’m a little confused by the regal imagery, though. It makes me think I’m looking at a Medieval Times takeout box.

Generic Product Claim: This one’s a little weird. Instead of being “Hot” or “Fresh,” we’re told that “pizza” is a “symbol of quality.” Uh…I don’t think pizza is a recognized symbol of anything. Also, “symbol of quality” is one of those expressions that makes less and less sense the more you think about it.

Presumptuous Thank You: “Thank you from your favorite pizza shop.” How do you know it’s my favorite pizza shop? Maybe it sucks — you don’t know. (Actually, this pizza was pretty tasty. But don’t tell me what to think, dude.)

Box #1 was collected on the trek home from our family vacation in Cape Cod.

Visual Assessment There’s the presence of pizza box red ink, and the promise of “Italian Family Dining,” but the place is called “The Chateau”? I’m a little confused.

Generic Product Claim: The old stand-by: “Fresh Hot Pizza.”

Rating: Weird but memorable.

Box #2 was found abandoned in a community fridge. I usually stick with boxes from pizza that I personally purchased, but in this case the box was too good to resist.

Visual Assessment: Classicism on steroids. Classic red ink, an Italian Stereotype with a healthy ‘stache and eyebrows, and a nicely rendered slice complete with bubbly cheese.

Generic Product Claim: “Fresh, Hot And Delicious” (with punctuation). Also, PIZZA.

Rating: Probably one of my favorite chef-focused design. Love that neckerchief!

Every six months or so this flyer arrives from Holyoke’s oldest pizzeria, Italian Friendly.

Did you know they are Italian? I mean, they’re called Italian Friendly but just in case it wasn’t clear the following phrases appear on the front page:

“Ay, Forgettaboutit” (I always wondered how to spell that)

“Now you know what I’m talkin’ about”

“Bada bing!”

Need more evidence? The inside menu lists such items as:

“Al Pacino”

“Italian Delight”

and (once again) “Bada Bing”

I’m surprised they didn’t put a cartoon Italian Stereotype chef on the front. To each their own, I guess.

Don’t let the absence of pizza box graphic design posts fool you; I’ve been eating/photographing just as much pizza as ever. Get ready for some rapid-fire box critique:

Neighborhood Pizza


I get these street scene boxes so often (here and here) that I might have to come up with a name for the subgenre. Quaint city boxes? Cobblestonia? I’ll have to think on it.

l dig that the cuteness of the setting is married with traditional pizza box elements (“Hot & Delicious”, “Pizza”, a script font, and “Made just for you…”). The one downside is the color scheme, which feels a little too “autumn vomit.” Overall, though, it’s a pretty posh box.


This example came from Pizza Star, a solidly traditional slice place right off the New York State Thruway. Thin and greasy — just the thing for the long haul back home.

The MAX Box


I don’t know where I got this one but it looks like it came off the set of Saved By The Bell. I love 1980s-era design (really, I kind of do) so this box gets a thumbs-up. (Additional points for the missing apostrophe on “Its.” Who doesn’t love a good typo?)

Old Times


Back in the day, Luna Pizza had a great little cafe in Northampton MA that served up the best thin-crust pies in the valley. Predictably, they didn’t last. Just recently, we happened upon Luna’s other restaurant during a drive through Connecticut. The slices didn’t disappoint, and neither did this Dante-inspired box. Doesn’t it look like you’re peering into the mouth of hell? I guess it could just be a brick oven.

New Old Style

This is a new box design, but I love it anyway. The checkerboard print, the silhouette slices, the vintage styling…even the lowercase i in PiZZA is quirky and appealing.

I especially appreciate the extraneous wordiness of “Custom Made to Your Order.” Because Custom Made To Order would have been FAR TOO GENERAL.

And finally, Your Moment of Zen: A choice margherita pie from Hungry Ghost Bakery. Like a lot of nontraditional pizza places, they don’t do printed boxes. But when you’ve got this kind of crust bubble, you can get away with anything.

The Dunkin’ Donuts empire. The assumption of white clam chowder. The word “Hamburg.” As a former New York Stater now living in Massachusetts, there are some things I have just had to accept. Chief among them? Massachusetts pizza.

Growing up, I took good pizza, in all its thin crust and bubbly cheese glory, for granted. Bad pizza came from Pizza Hut, convenience stores, and mall cafeterias. Everywhere else the pizza was, reliably, pretty solid. Case in point: one of my favorite pizza joints was in a strip mall next to (my mother’s) weight watchers class.

In Massachusetts, you can make no such assumption. Most New Englanders, it seems, are content to create a doughy, pizza-inspired product, skipping that mysterious element that converts modest ingredients into capital-P Pizza.

Characteristics of the dreaded Massachusetts Bread and Cheese Pizza (MBCP) include a thick and slightly soggy crust, a generous helping of lumpy marinara sauce, and a topping of melted (not bubbly/burned) cheese. Adding insult to injury, many pizza joints serving MBCP don’t even offer slices. A pizza joint without slices? What’s up with that?

After MBCP, the most common type of pizza to encounter is the novelty slice. Think: endless varieties of unlikely toppings and “themed” slices. Taco Pizza. Cheeseburger Pizza. Turkey Club Pizza. As you may have guessed, novelty pizza establishments are typically found adjacent to bars in college towns. And they’re not all bad — Antonio’s in Amherst, MA, makes a pretty nifty Salad Pizza, which trades both sauce and cheese for a deft combination of fresh spinach, tomato, artichokes, roasted red peppers, kalamata olives, and a balsamic vinegar and oil infusion. It’s pretty tasty, but a far cry from the slices of my youth.

Traditionalists on a quest for an old school slice will find the task hard but not impossible.

Some general advice:
1) Under no circumstances rely on Yelp reviews. They are written by people who have no problem marrying the phrase “New York Style” with “3 inch crust.”
2) Be suspicious if the pizza joint in question serves coffee or has an extensive sandwich menu. Delis are not pizza joints.
3) Ask yourself: do I want traditional greasy slices or a something fancier? Many trendy restaurants can provide a high-end, if not traditional, interpretation of pizza. Baba Louie’s is at the top of the list for quality wood-fired Massachusetts pizza with fancy ingredients. If you do go the chichi route, watch out for “fake gourmet pizza,” which is usually just flatbread with a handful of arugula on top.

Real deal gourmet pie from Baba Louie’s. Famazing.

4) Look around. Are there old, possibly broken, arcade games? Fluorescent lighting? Vinyl booths from the 70s? These are all good signs, as the best, most classic, slices come from what I would term “Dirty Pizza Caves.” Get past the ambiance (or lack thereof) and you’re usually rewarded with thin and crisp slices (with no need for novelty toppings).

An example of a “dirty pizza cave.” Note the faded sign made with a stencil. There’s probably an old cigarette machine inside.

Follow this advice and you’ll be well on your way to finding the perfect Bay State slice. And, god willing, there might even be a table-top Pacman game in your future.


Vacations are all about shaking up the day-to-day routine, and pizza is no exception. This year’s family vacation brought us (once again) to the hills and valleys of rural New York, and the many gritty pizza joints along the Susquehanna River. If you avoid the gas station pizza (see image above) and college student pizza (large, usually cut into square pieces, thick, doughy, etc.), it’s easy to find a classic dirty slice. As for box designs, it was a mixed bag of old and new. Let’s begin.

America’s Favorite Design: Creepy Genre Scene with Threatening Chef

In documenting pizza box graphic design between MA and NY, this box is a clear standout. I’ve found it everywhere — from family restaurants to gritty pizza joints next to bars. Why is it so popular? It’s got all the elements — an Italian Stereotype, a brick pattern, a generic product claim, and the classic pizza box red — but that doesn’t really account for its ubiquity. Are restaurateurs drawn in by the center chef and his menacing eyes? Maybe the graphic is in the public domain? Internet research yielded no explanation, but it did turn up a Flickr Group dedicated to Pizza Chef Caricatures: http://www.flickr.com/groups/1420109@N22. Maybe those peeps will have a theory.

Chubby Chefs Do It Better

Oh, yes. This delightful slice came from a counter-only pizza joint right off the highway. We braved a detour for several miles to get there, and it was definitely worth it. As a bonus, I snagged a nice new box design, too:

Overall Design Assessment: The opaque red is bold and eye-catching, especially against the large expanse of white. However, the uppercase (shouting?) fonts make me feel like I’m being cat-called (“HOT”).

Generic Product Claims: A threefer: “Oven Fresh,” “Hot,” and “Delicious.” Four if you count “Pizza.”

Italian Stereotype: Definitely a favorite. Key details include the bulbous belly, snappy apron, and twirly mustache. Usually pizza box chefs are throwing dough in the air, but this classy example is revealing the pie on a silver platter. Don’t I feel special!

Mwah!

Lastly, we have a non-box entry for the anthology. I’m a sucker for phonetically spelled Italian-American accents (“Da Best Meal-A Deal-A in Town”) and classic finger-and-thumb pizza chef gesturing. Therefore, I did my best imitation of a bossy tourist and cleared the sidewalk to get this shot. It worked.