One Brick Short of a Load

Critics in publications try to write as little as they can about the food they eat, because of how unoriginal they have to be when they must – more about this as we go on. Also, people do not read like they used to – the need to skim and scroll is a disease that afflicts the best of us. To stay relevant writers dip into controversy, deliberately press emotional buttons that invite ridicule and vitriol because at the end of the day it is about filling the post bag. Those that tell you differently are lying to you because it is in their best interest for you to believe that they are narcissists that you love to hate.

Today, everyone is a critic and everyone thinks their opinion matters because theirs can be heard louder than ever before. It used to be that certain opinions were valued more than others because of the reputation of their platform, the respect given to those who praised their work and the credibility and charm of their ideas. Now it is a free for all, and you need not look further than food writing and criticism for examples of utterly hackneyed and trite garbage being replicated and reproduced as commonly accepted examples of food writing. Large photographs, small paragraphs, nothing of substance. Facts, boring adjectives and nothing else. We are in the age of the influencer, that new breed of content creator that values quality of written content less than its ability to be snappy, click-baity and a formula easily reproduced.

To write about food can be challenging, especially when you want to do it well and talk about things that have persisted, that are not new, that everyone knows about but are newly introduced. People write anyway, either because they do not care about style and originality, do not know what it means to strive for the two or, indeed, because there is joy in the struggle and sweet catharsis when a work is finished. There is deep satisfaction even in an attempt that comes close to transcribing a sublime gastronomic experience.

I think about all these things as I look through the large glass window of Brick. These thoughts weigh heavy and I think about them often. I have a slice of pizza in my hand, tempting and seductive, hovering by my mouth as I say a short prayer of gratitude and I am brought back to what is most important.

I reminisce about living in London for over a year, eating in hundreds of places because of an insatiable desire for gastronomic adventure. My palatal library became vast, each dish and style compared against each other in a continuum that made the mediocre experiences fade to obscurity. The best and worst foods rose to prominence, but eventually, even those became just empty relics on pedestals of idealism. I’d forget what their food tasted like, and only maintained that every other place had to match up to them in a near impossible endeavour which inevitably ended in disappointment. For a long time, I forgot what it was like to experience food for its own sake.

I was hyperventilating in that city, and Norwich yanked me out of the endless maelstrom and forced me to take a long, deep breath. London was rewarding but it was also exhausting. I felt compelled to try someplace new every week, but there were just too many restaurants for one lifetime and my bank account.  It was a self-imposed delusion that materialised from a desire to make the most of my time there.

There is a part of me that always knew that it was not the correct way to experience good food. A snapshot would never be good enough, an ongoing relationship with cooking forms stronger ties and reaches deeper places, a closeness that develops over time. One needs time to ruminate, to delve into consistency and appreciate the skill that persists beyond a single meal. Eating at a supreme culinary establishment once and then never going back is engaging in a sort of malicious and torturous masochism. I was not ready for all of that.

But the city of Norwich imposes a different kind of culture. I stopped looking for the next best thing and started to relish what was right in front of me. No pressure here, no competition, no races to the finish. I began to understand what it was like to have a local favourite, to go there often, be content and not want for anything more.

Brick is my place, a cosy pizzeria that offers up their take on the classic Neapolitan style pizza with audacious toppings that would give the Verace Pizza Napoletana Association a collective heart attack. The base is firm enough not to warrant a fork and knife. Crisp grains of flour powder the edges, the crust is soft yet pock marked and subtly blistered, delightful to tear and even better to chew.

The slices are thin, slender enough to droop but not enough to fall apart, the cheese holds well like a trapeze duet. The pizzas are moderately sauced depending on your choice of pizza, but at the end of the day, the holy trifecta: Dough, sauce and cheese are aptly and reverently celebrated. There are pizzas with strips of glistening crisp guanciale with sliced chilli and parmesan, others with porcini, rocket and sweetly acidic tomatoes, ones with gooey nduja or meaty sausage, with the classic margheritas and marinaras still around for the traditionalists.

I’ve eaten at their sharing table, their wooden window bar, the white tables for four, and hunched under the market shades in the driving rain when the place got too busy. I have tried everything on the menu, truly acquainted myself with every part of Brick’s being, and though there a few misses, I have come to realise I have found my sanctuary.  

For me, the pizza experience does not get much better than at Brick. The hush and crackle of their wood fired oven melds seamlessly with their groovy music playlist, filling the place with an infectiously smooth and relaxing ambience. They’ve got trippy artwork on pizza boxes along the brick walls, of pizza pugs and astronauts, kitsch surrealisms and bright abstractions. The patrons are as eclectic as the pizzeria: students, suited professionals, couples on dates, and larger families – no reservations and everyone is welcome

I feel like there is a Brick out there for every critic. A place that speaks directly to their sensitivities and goes beyond review and criticism. Oftentimes these places are kept a secret because most would not be considered glamorous or respectable. They are too real, too revealing, they make critics vulnerable because they possess parts of them in their food that reminds of simpler times and uncomplicated ecstasies.

I shall be going back to Brick this weekend for the umpteenth time, to stand in-line, order at the counter and wait in eager anticipation for my dose of this uncomplicated ecstasy. And then I’ll go away again, try some new food, dive into the culinary wilderness only to come back, return home, for the flavours and textures I can always rely on.

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