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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!”

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.