by J.M. Murdoch

There are some food items that will be eternally popular in America—burgers, hot dogs, steak, tacos…and pizza.

I feel like pizza was doomed to the “Has-Been” label when it became synonymous with words like “Domino’s” and “delivery” and “DiGiorno.”  But pizza seems to be making a comeback after over 60 years of being processed and modified and stuffed into corrugated boxes to feed the insatiable fast food industry. Restaurants are starting to offer high quality pies, made with fresh ingredients and cooked to perfection in wood-fired ovens—and pizza lovers everywhere are starting to take notice.

The tasty trend is vamping up some hearty competition in the Salem area, with the newest contender taking up residence in the old Lefty’s/Roxxy venue on State Street: Shotski’s opened in December of last year, expanding upon their Pyro Pizza food cart success (formerly called Le’Go My Bagel). Thus far, they are receiving mixed reviews across the board, to which I added my own average review. My experience was not terrible, but it also was not something to write home about. While there is a cushion period for businesses to get up and going and smooth out their operations in the first few months, I truly hope they step up their game to properly contend with the already-established, gourmet competition.

Case in point—I had the absolute pleasure of dining at The Blue Goat in Amity last weekend, and I can say without hesitation that their menu is top-dog amongst all the wood-fired kitchens in the area. Their ingredients are positively fresh, their service is friendly and efficient, and their atmosphere is welcoming and cozy.

“The power goes out? No problem—we go right on cooking for you,” my waiter assured me as the lights flickered during the rainstorm that afternoon.

What really sets them apart is that they continue to source and support local. Its menu rotates based on seasonal produce and they make it a point to collaborate with other local artisans, artists, and farmers. Not to mention that this high quality experience comes at a remarkably fair price point. And that level of attention to detail makes all the difference in this niche market.

On-the-go pizza venues like MOD Pizza out south and Salem’s two mobile pizza trucks (Cacioppo’s and Pyro Pizza), work well for that higher-quality fast-food style service, but the race to make gourmet pie is fierce. I, personally, find this encouraging. Salem needs its restaurants to recognize that peoples’ palates are beginning to expect more than the stereotypical, mundane meal.

The pie scene is changing, and restaurants are returning to that classic, wood-fired pizza experience. It makes it less rushed, less fake, and it just tastes all the more meaningful. Yes—meals should be meaningful. Food is nourishment, and nourishment is important, which is why it should be exceptional and never sub-par. Snobby? Perhaps. But Salem’s food scene is in desperate need of quality over quantity.

Anyone can open a pizza joint…but not everyone can survive and grow and succeed in the long run. The location for Shotski’s is proof of that, having changed its name and focus five times since 2003. Pizza seems simple enough, but it’s exciting to see local entrepreneurs take on the challenge to redefine something so simple, so traditional, so basic, and create a completely new spin on it to boost the promise of dining out in the Salem area. I anticipate some exciting changes to the culinary scene this year; to bring back the glory days for such a timeless meal would be quite an accomplishment.