Saturday, 5 January 2013

Pizza with Personality: Mikey's Late Night Slice

Mikey's Late Night Slice on Urbanspoon 

After my second round of handing out samples of Snowville products, this time here in Granville, I made my way to Columbus, just before the monthly Gallery Hop began. Usually, I take the time to restaurant hop and I take in the energy of the Short North when the lights are lit up and the shops and restaurants look packed. This time around, I had a different set of goals: to meet Mikey Sorboro, CEO of Mikey's Late Night Slice, and to try some LNS pizza. However, given recent local and national attention at Mikey's, I wasn't quite sure how crowded the place would get (and especially if it got crowded what the likelihood would be that I could meet Mikey). Not only was I able to try the pizza that was, in part, at the root of the recent attention given to LNS, but I was also able to interview Mikey and get some questions answered that I hadn't been able to find in reading others' articles about LNS and the attention to which I've been alluding.

Being a local Columbus area resident for now going on my third year, but more so as a supporter of all things diversity-related, I've been particularly moved by an article recently written by Chief Development Officer of AIDS Resource Center Ohio Joel Diaz. The article, posted this past Wednesday, recounts an incredible story involving Joel, his friend Ethan and the many faces of Columbus's Short North community. It's a story of (in)tolerance and support, just as much as it's an example of a check on reality and progress. It's a story that may first make one ask "Really, this is still going on today?" and then may (hopefully) end with a silent cheer that faith can be restored in humanity. If you haven't already read the article, I encourage you to do so as it provides important context to the rest of this post; otherwise, I invite you to check out the above clip to hear Joel and Ethan tell their story. (Then continue reading on.)

As I approached Mikey's Late Night Slice, something about the location seemed like it simply belonged, a Short North staple of sorts, and in talking with Mikey it became apparent to me that LNS seems to have been born out of Columbus and raised by the community. From its humble beginnings, LNS filled an uncertain void: "why doesn't anyone sell pizza by the slice?" This upcoming July will mark the company's fourth year in the city, and while they do sell whole pizzas, pizza by the slice continues to be sold from one of seven possible locations (five permanent locations and two food trucks); it's amazing to think that this venture began in the shack of the old car lot situated below the apartment where Mikey lives. Today, Mikey's remains a humble entrepreneurial endeavour, rooted firmly in central Ohio and serving what Mikey thinks is a "decent" product. When asked then what makes LNS pizza different from others', Mikey cites two unique differences: the company sauce which is thin but chunky with a touch of spice, and the company's personality. Indeed, where you find a negative dining experience you'll tend to taste bad food, whereas a positive atmosphere tends to make anything taste even better than it already does. In considering LNS's personality, and oh what a personality it has--did you read the sassy, tongue in cheek, arguably borderline blasphemous yet wittingly clever menu posted above? (online menu here)--it's worth noting how much it seems Columbus has embraced it and how much it gets infused into its pizza.

As another example, take a look above at the names given to their different sauces. The first, their signature "Slut Sauce," has an undoubtedly questionable air to it, and yet it's a cheeky reflection and accepted part of the local, casual nature and personality of LNS. Just like much of the simple menu (which you would think makes it much easier to order), the sauce works. In seeking further clarity of this dipping sauce, Mikey explained that he and his buddies got the recipe to this mad scientist-type experiment right the first time around. Juxtaposing this to the fact it took a while to perfect the dough stretching process and the pizza sauce, getting a dipping sauce right the first time around is a remarkable feat. In addition to having tried the sauce this evening, I mention this particular one here as it is prominently featured in the tagline on the back of a new t-shirt design that is currently being sold, a portion of the proceeds of which will be donated to Equality Ohio. In this context, it's truly unfortunate when you're not welcome to the sauce; it's definitely something worth tasting.

Mikey, of Mikey's Late Night Slice
Back then to the incident that happened last weekend, Mikey shared that he had never been part of anything that has gone viral. And to be in the passenger's seat watching all of the attention that LNS has been receiving because of what happened to Joel and Ethan, the response from complete strangers and what company employee Levi said in standing up to hate, has been "cool." In particular, this news, in contrast to most of what's shared and deemed as newsworthy, is "better news" (and coming from Metro Detroit, I definitely understand). Moreover, this is news that perhaps just isn't reported enough, and as Mikey sees it, what Levi did was second nature. As Mikey elaborated, they've kicked people out of line in the past, e.g., for being drunk and/or disrespectful. At the end of the day, "everyone gets served, whomever they are, as long as they're cool and respectful of everyone else." Taking this scenario out of the Short North, and removing the direct LGBTQ/Allies context associated with what happened last weekend, I wonder then what others' reactions would be given a change in location and/or a different identity/form of hate speech. How second nature is such a thought process for us all? In addition to everything I've already written, this is also a story about bystander intervention. And one which I am excited to incorporate into the second semester kickoff of our Food and Culture Colloquium. Believe me, this story doesn't end with Joel's article; it's only just beginning.

In reading through the articles that have surfaced around Joel's experience, one thing that I noted to be missing was any indication of what the food of LNS is really like. I could only assume it's good if Joel was a frequent late night visitor as he mentioned in his article, and the fact that LNS won People's Choice 2nd place at the 23rd Annual Slice of Columbus last year should be some indication. (Concurrently previous reviews didn't seem to include much in terms of the relationship between LNS and its place in and with the community.) As per Mikey's suggestion, and as a newcomer to LNS, I ordered then a slice of the Plain-Ass Pepperoni (pepperoni pizza of which Mikey claims is the litmus test of any pizza place) and a slice of the Mushroom and Roasted Garlic to go, as well as a can of Black Cherry Faygo (Faygo of which, ironically, is based in Detroit).

Escaping the cold, I returned to the adjoining building Mikey and I had been talking and which I earlier found out will soon be turned into a bar, and sat on what I only recognised as a church pew. My first taste was that of the Slut Sauce which rang out to me as a crossroads of flavours. When Mikey mentioned that it seemed like they took random ingredients and somehow made them work the first time around, he wasn't joking. In one taste, the cacophony of Americana flavours melded in some inexplicable way that shouldn't be possible: the creaminess and consistency I expect from a New England clam chowder, the remoulade I'd pair with New Orleans crawfish, the lingering heat I associate with the American southwest.

When LNS first began, they'd sell pizzas by the slice that they bought in Clintonville. As mentioned above, the dough's hand stretched (kudos to John, an employee at the Short North location) and the pizza baked on site (whole pizzas are baked fresh to order; no, they don't deliver), and you can certainly taste the time put into each slice. Were it not for the pizza sauce, as Mikey mentioned earlier, this certainly would be a decent product but as someone who doesn't like a high sauce to pizza ratio, this sauce made it so much more than "decent." And speaking of sauces, regardless of what kind of pizza you ordered, I implore you to dip into the Slut Sauce; I'm going to claim it impossible to find any kind of pizza that can replicate that combination. And again, even if you could replicate the combo, the missing ingredient you'd run up against, the je ne sais quoi that makes Mikey's better than any other, is LNS's personality. As an aside, each pizza slice looks to be the equivalent of two regular slices and thin like a New York style slice, so go ahead and fold it up for a heartier, almost Chicago-style bite.

As I told John on my way out, I had intended on taking the second slice home with me, but the first was just too good. The mushrooms of this second slice had a fresh, meaty quality to them and dare I say I could swap out pepperoni for mushroom if prepared like this, especially when also covered with roasted garlic. Before I did leave and head out into the cold again, and as fate would have it, I met OSU instructor Krista (who has quite a bit of experience in bystander intervention) and Communications Manager of Equality Ohio Grant. Talk about a small world given everything I've shared here to this point!

Admittedly, I expected this experience at LNS to be a good one, but in the end, this was infinitely more to take in than I anticipated, especially it is one that continues to fuel my experience with intercultural and cross-cultural work. Sure, I also expected (while also crossing my fingers against) long lines and the cold weather is usually something that can keep me away, but at the root of the experience was also expecting to literally taste progress. And in this way, I sign off in full acknowledgement that here I'm aiming to offer a more progressive and socially conscious lens in this review of Mikey's, a lens that is in a sense biased (and already prewritten even before I ever tasted the pizza) in that a new flavour profile -- that of progress and community -- have been demonstrated recently over the past few days. None of this is to say that I necessarily prefer one establishment's menu based solely on their beliefs (the food still needs to be good, and the customer service friendly and attentive) but I hope that Mikey's continues to serve up even more inspiration for what many Columbus foodies and businesses alike are already serving: equality for all. Equality, or really just doing the right thing, never tasted so good. To order the "No Slut Sauce for You Mr. Homophobe" shirt, click here. To check out the Short North LNS menu, click here. And to check out these and other photos from my first visit to LNS, click here.

1 comment:

  1. So was it called the “Slut Sauce” because a lot of ingredients kinda had a hand on it? And the irony of dipping things in slut sauce while sitting in a church pew... Haha!

    I have to agree with Mikey. You know how well a pizza place does its work when you’ve tasted their pepperoni pizza. It’s like the benchmark of pizzas.

    Carlene @ Incredible Pizza