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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.

cedarlane quesadillas

CedarLane frozen foods and I got history. In college, I nearly subsisted on Cedarlane Quesadillas and Nantucket Nectar Half-and-Halfs. Mr. Max and I would pick them up from the 24-hour Stop & Shop, then return to my dorm room with rented VHS tapes of David Attenborough nature documents.

We were wild, I tell you.

So when I saw that CedarLane redesigned their packaging, my immediate reaction was, ‘Sacrilege!”

(I kind of dislike change.)

On further inspection, the redesign is actually kind of nice. It’s pretty in a minimalist way and it stands out next to the other frozen foods in the “natural” section. Overall, it’s not a huge departure from the original box, except when it comes to the tagline on the side of the box:

“Take home a sexy Italian.”

Get it? Because it’s an Italian dish. Mr. Max and I call dark chocolate cookies “sexy cookies” because it makes sense for a dessert to be sexy. But eggplant? Eggplant is not sexy.

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.