The mysterious case of the delicious Stein pizza

December 6, 2019

It probably doesn’t need to be said, but Brandeis dining has a quality control problem. Sometimes SubConnection gives you a nicely portioned buffalo chicken sandwich, and sometimes it gives you a puddle of sauce with enough lettuce to suffocate a cow. But sometimes the violent chaos that governs the Sodexo overbeing sees fit to grant something truly sublime, a mouthful of transient perfection. Something irreproducible. On one magical October evening, I was fated to experience one of these moments of dining bliss. Listen to my tale and weep at my fortune:

It was a night of cool mist and drizzles, the 11th of October. I was in somebody’s Village single trying to convince a group to accompany me to The Stein. I was very hungry, but I would not content myself with C-Store frivolities. I wanted something hot. A miscellaneous group of friends and myself eventually trudged through the rain and made it to the Sherman building a little before midnight. To my surprise, the cashier consented to making me a pizza, and it was the greatest thing Sodexo has ever given me.

Now when it comes to sheer quantity of hot calories, The Stein pizza is probably the best deal on campus. For just 10 or so points you will be served your own freshly baked full-sized pie complete with paper plates and napkins. This value comes with a tradeoff, of course. The pizza is cardstock with pasta sauce hiding beneath a continental mass of plastic cheese. Unless you order early in the evening and snag one of the pre-prepared pizzas, you can expect to wait anywhere from 40 minutes to an hour to receive your food. In my experience, the cooks usually burn the first pizza they attempt to make.

That night, however, everything was different. We could tell this pizza was something special the moment we laid eyes on it—it exuded a kind of aura. The cheese was bright and thick with no burning whatsoever beyond the speckles of brown that leopard-spotted the surface of the cheese. And there was a lot of cheese, so much that the crust was nearly invisible beneath it. You could see the hot grease pooling on every fuzed slice. You’d expect a pizza like this to be a soggy mess, but the crust was crispy and fluffy at the same time. The sauce, which I suspect is the same gritty marinara served alongside the pasta in Sherman, seemed nonexistent. Either it was only lightly applied, or the proper toasting of the crust and the overabundance of cheese masked its flavor. Either way, the cheese did not slide around or completely peel off the slice when I attempted to take a bite. On the contrary, the surface of the pie was not unlike a sea of molten mozzarella with its cheese trailing off in gooey strands with every tentative bite. In that sense, this pizza was also the best mozzarella stick I have ever had on campus.

If my descriptions sound a bit disgusting, that is because good pizza is inherently disgusting. It’s toasted bread heaped with congealed Italian cow milk. The milk is mixed with cheese and oil and heated to a lava consistency, and sometimes people put pink cubes of ham and chunks of beef on it. This particular Stein pizza actually reminded me of Chuck E. Cheese birthday party pizza. It’s cheap and addictive, and it gives you the energy you need to jump right back into that sweaty ball pit. Is Chuck E. Cheese the bar Sodexo should be aiming for? No, but at least it is better than the middle school cafeteria grade food we are currently being served.

The impression this pizza left upon my skull filled me with such promise that I returned to The Stein the following night and ordered another one. Alas, good things do not last. I thought that perhaps a new recipe had been put into place, but the next pizza I got was nothing like the majesty I had received the night before. I have ordered a few pizzas since but no dice. In my desperation I have even asked the server to go light on the sauce and add a little extra cheese, but my request was denied—the premade pizzas were being served. I fear the legendary pizza I received was the chaotic result of an inexperienced late-night employee throwing together whatever they could with the random materials on hand. It will never be recreated.

While my dreams of having easy/free access to delicious pizza on campus may never be satisfied, not all is terrible. While Sherman pizza is nigh unpalatable, Lower has been doing some neat things. The crust isn’t so doughy anymore and I particularly enjoy the crisping of the pepperonis. The pizza is very greasy, but I will take a greasy slice over a dry, undercooked slice any day. 

Still, I catch myself walking beneath the lights of The Rose late at night, my thoughts tortured by longing and despair. I contemplate the fleeting realities of desire and happiness. Was that pizza actually any good, or did the unpredictable tides of mood and circumstance create something unreal? A mirage? Will I ever experience such elation again?

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