Living in New York, I’m lousy with excellent pizza. A well-blistered, mozzarella-blanketed slice is never more than a 10-minute stroll away, and even a bottom-of-the-oven NYC pizza still trumps the trio of dismal options available to me while growing up in the Midwest: greasy deep-dish Pizza Hut, puffy Papa John’s or Little Caesar’s, a pizza so subpar you received a free one with every order.
My youth was a sad time to be a pizza eater, especially given my parents’ lineage. As expatriate New Yorkers, they constantly bemoaned the lack of quality Chinese food, everything bagels and, above all, pizza. “What I wouldn’t give for a thin New York slice,” my mom would say, staring at a puffy Pizza Hut slice with the disgust of a teen noticing a pimple the night before prom.
But every once in a while, oven-baked salvation awaited a half hour away in Yellow Springs, Ohio. If you once had inklings about a liberal-arts education, you’ve likely heard of Yellow Springs. It’s home to Antioch College (recently reopened), a bastion of progressive, counterculture thinking that jibed with my parents’ lefty leanings—as common as pigeons in NYC, as rare as a spotted leopard in southwestern Ohio. Yet for me, the town’s true treat was Ha Ha Pizza.
Like much of Yellow Springs, Ha Ha had a distinctly hippie vibe, owing to a staff that favored long, wispy facial hair and patchouli-scented patchwork clothes. At my young age, they seemed as exotic as the Thai curries my parents loved cooking, as were Ha Ha’s whole-wheat crusts. Look, I know that to purists a whole-wheat pizza crust seems like a heresy, like spreading foie gras on Wonder Bread.
However, the hippie staff worked magic with that dough. The pies issued forth from the oven crisp, crisper than anything delivered to our doorstep by a surly teenager. And while the toppings skewed to the needlessly esoteric—water chestnuts, falafel, tempeh…bananas?—but the time-tested cheese with the zippy tomato sauce always tickled my taste buds as I grabbed one piece after another, the sauce staining my lips crimson. I let the herbaceous flavor linger in my mouth, savoring it on the 30-minute ride back to the land of 30-minutes-or-less pizza.
More Pizzas of the Week from Food Republic: