The Home Pie

Last week, I traveled to East Lansing, Michigan, to attend the HuMetrics Workshop at Michigan State University. The workshop brought together a wide range of academics to discuss the values of the humanities and how we might work collectively towards ensuring that our institutions evaluate our work in accordance with those values.

As an opening ice-breaker activity, the workshop organizers asked the attendees, who were seated around round tables, to reflect upon and discuss the scholarly activities we had participated in during our careers that had most effectively demonstrated the values we found important in the academy. We wrote down our answers, shared them, and then returned to the larger group, introducing one of our tablemates to the rest of the attendees by describing the experiences and values they found meaningful.

At my table, I thought about the experiences that had meant the most to me and named two moments: my work as a co-editor of Debates in the Digital Humanities and my role in creating and directing the CUNY Academic Commons. About the latter, I noted that the Commons demonstrated the values of community and collaboration, especially in a system as large and diverse as the City University of New York.

In speaking about the Commons, I had in mind not just our many academic groups, but also CUNY Pie. For me and many others, this group — which brings together pizza-lovers across the CUNY system to sample slices across the city — has always evoked the powerful potential of a project like the Commons. On the Commons, we don’t just share conference CFPs and discuss academic topics — we also get together, IRL, to chow down on some of the best pizza in the world. And in doing so, we instantiate a community that is tied together by more than a shared commitment to values like openness, collaboration, and access; we come together because we live in a city with amazing pizza, and we want to eat it. Together.

So it was that I found myself thinking about CUNY Pie and the Commons while in Lansing, the home city of Luke Waltzer, a good friend who has been part of CUNY Pie from the beginning. I had asked Luke for some restaurant tips, and he reminded me not only that DeLuca’s Pizza was his beloved and revered home pie, but also that I had once cast aspersions on it:

On the week following Yom Kippur, he suggested, I could do worse than atone for the pizza shade I had so insensitively thrown.

Meanwhile, it turned out that my brother-in-law’s niece from France, Noemi, was spending a semester at Michigan State as an exchange student and wanted to get together to catch up. I had one free hour for lunch in the midst of a busy conference schedule. And so it was that I found myself in a cab, heading over to DeLuca’s Pizza in Lansing in early October for a midday lunch. And so it is that I introduce my friend Luke Waltzer to you by way of his home pie.

Matt visits DeLucas

Matt visits DeLucas

I was struck by the unpretentiousness and solidity of the place: it had the feel of a longstanding, no-frills family restaurant that had served deeply satisfying food for a long time. At lunch, the clientele included some businesspeople out for a quick bite, but it was dominated by groups of elderly people out for a neighborhood meal. The place was clearly an institution; even the tablemat evoked decades of enjoyment.

DeLuca's tablemat

DeLuca’s tablemat

I wish I had had more time to try a range of pizzas, but the conference schedule called and so Noemi and I ordered a single 12″ round pie with sausage. The order went into the kitchen, giving Noemi and I time to discuss her experience as an MSU student — she was having a great time — and her trips around the U.S. I remembered that I had first met her when she was six and I was a graduate student visiting France for the first time. She had gone biking with my brother-in-law around the Normandy countryside; she fell and skinned her knee, and I remembered her tears and her anger at my brother-in-law, who had ridden on ahead of her. I wasn’t at DeLuca’s with Luke, but somehow it felt right that I was there with someone I remembered as a child.

And then the pizza came. I will let the visual evidence speak for itself:

the DeLuca's sausage pie

the DeLuca’s sausage pie

I told Noemi all about the fact that this was my friend’s home pie, the pie he had grown up on. She understood immediately, comparing the experience to Proust’s madeleine. And that was it exactly, though this was someone else’s memory, someone else’s childhood, someone else’s home pie.

It was a damn good pie. The pizza was delicious and — to my palate — eminently midwestern, supported by a strong stable crust and a topped with generous helpings of cheese. The sausage was nicely spiced and the pie was gone quickly, save one slice that Noemi brought back for her housemates. She instagrammed the slices for her friends back in France, while I took photos in anticipation of this blog post. I would go back, were I in Lansing again, and I could easily imagine it being my own home pie had I grown up there.

This is DeLuca’s Pizza, the home pie of my friend Luke Waltzer.

1 comment to The Home Pie

  • Lisa Hirschfield

    Great post-Yom Kippur post, Matt! But shame on me for my ignorance of CUNY Pie! I suppose I can blame my genetic predisposition to lactose intolerance, which, like my genetic predisposition to guilt, has lately reined in my comprehension of all that is possible in this world.