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In My Neverending Quest for Good New York Style Pizza

in the D.C. area, my wife and I decided to try "Johnny's New York Style Pizzeria and Restaurant," which we spotted in a strip mall with an Alexandria maddress, but that's geographically "Springfield," not far from the Springfield Mall. Needless to say, we weren't expecting much, but were at least heartened that the restaurant sells pizza by the slice.

We were pleasantly surprised, by both the regular slices and the sicilian. My verdict: pretty good. My wife's verdict: very good. Joint verdict: The best pizza we've had in the D.C. area.

Bonus: The owner is from Queens.

Extra bonus: The strip mall in question has an interesting used book store, and a supply store for preschoolers and young gradeschoolers that has many unique items.

New York pizzaphiles in D.C. exile will definitely want to check it out.

UPDATE: A reader informs me via email: "Although it operates under a different name, it's owned by the same folks who run Valentino's Pizza in Alexandria, on Beauregard Street, just north of Little River Turnpike/Duke Street. Both places serve the same pizza, but for some reason the "large" pizzas are larger at Valentino's.

If you didn't try the "Bianca" (white) pizza (no tomato sauce, but with ricotta, basil, and garlic), I heartily recommend it to you."

Unfortunately, I hate ricotta cheese.

Jerome Cole (mail) (www):
Consume mass quantities!
3.3.2009 7:24pm
dave:
Try Luigi's on 19th and M ... best pizza in the district
3.3.2009 7:43pm
neurodoc:
wohjr: David- Would it be NY-style-pizza-hating to ask WTF does this have to do with law and libertarianism? Why don't you get your own blog?
Hopefully, that will pre-empt wohjr and others of his ilk.
3.3.2009 8:06pm
Bob Goodman (mail) (www):
I found it funny and vexing in the latter half of the 1970s in Chicagoland that, for all their pride in pizza, they weren't very good at it. Yes, they had a great variety of pizza toppings or fillings (though not rustic style dough fillings), and they had their deep dish or stuffed pizza. However, even their thick crust pizza wasn't as thick as Sicilian (which they didn't have), their thin crust pizza was too thin (except for the way they served &ate it), and except for one place on Lincoln Ave., which was NY-NJ style (appreciated by long haul truckers, it was said), nobody had pizza by the slice. What you could get in bars was small individual pies, usually just Tombstone pizza from frozen (which they thought was a BFD), which they cut for you into little squares. So you needed a knife &fork. I asked at a bar in Cicero why they couldn't cut it like a normal pie into wedge-shaped slices, and the lady, to whom such a concept was new, said, "Nah, it'd never work." And maybe with their crusts that thin, it wouldn't!

The irony was that there was a place in Evanston (or maybe the north side) called New York Pizza: World's Worst Pizza. How'd Chicago have such a great pizza reputation? They seemed to think you could make up in variety of toppings for what lacked in chewiness. And then Pizzeria Uno had to go &branch out from there nationally; other chain pizzerias also seem to be on the Chi. model, which explains their low quality compared to what you could get at even the worst little local NY-NJ pizzerias.
3.3.2009 8:06pm
AJK:
There are a couple of places in Chicago that can make a passable slice(there's one in Lincoln Park, one in Armenian Village, and a couple in Wicker Park) but for a city this size the offering are frankly shameful.
3.3.2009 8:13pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
When I lived right next to Fairfax, I used to go to Tony's New York Pizza, which was a fair approximation to real New York pizza. Here is a street level photo.

Here in the Bay Area good pizza is harder to get, but not impossible. The situation is much improved from when I first came arrived. Then the pizza was awful.
3.3.2009 8:14pm
Bob Goodman (mail) (www):
Just to elaborate, "deep dish" was basically a shallow casserole, and "stuffed" was pretty much a pot pie. No white pizza AFAIK in Chicagoland at that time.

And what was the big deal about "Italian beef"? A boiled beef sandwich, whoopee. But sliced too thin to be a brisket. "Italian lemonade" -- lemon ices -- were OK, but most vendors in NY would have at least 2 add'l flavors.

I've no idea what Chi. cuisine is like today, or even whether they still use that Tribune-promoted term, "Chicagoland", for the city + vicinity. However, a few years ago I stayed a week and a half in Detroit and near Hillsdale, and found the food out in the country of SE Mich. to be overly salty, with expensive yet low quality produce in the supermarket.
3.3.2009 8:15pm
Jerrod Ankenman:
Unfortunately, I hate ricotta cheese

Well, now I will finally have to start using that /exclude=davidb thing.
3.3.2009 8:15pm
Steve:
Once upon a time I was at some bar in Anchorage, Alaska, and there was a guy selling pizza out of a little booth in the back labeled "AUTHENTIC NY PIZZA." We walked over and there's this scruffy-looking guy in a New York Rangers jersey. Who does he think he's kidding, we wondered.

"What can I get on my pizza?" one of my friends (tall black guy) asked. The pizza guy sized him up, and said with a shrug, "Hey, bro, you can get whatever the fuck you want!" So it was NY authentic after all.
3.3.2009 8:19pm
Bob Goodman (mail) (www):
Oh yeah, to continue re Chicago fast &street food of 30 yrs. ago, there were places you could get hot dogs &"Polish sausage" -- but the so-called Polish sausage was indistinguishable from the frank except for being bigger, mostly in circumference.
3.3.2009 8:19pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
When I was in Chicago in circa 1996, I was directed to what was supposed to be the best Chicago-style pizza in town. Sorry but I can't remember the name. But I do remember it had a block long line in front. I was extremely disappointed. Perhaps this wasn't the best place or Chicago pizza is not good by New York standards. I did like the restaurants in Chicago a lot, and the whole city in general.
3.3.2009 8:21pm
Dave N (mail):
Want to bet David Bernstein's review of Johnny's is framed and hanging on the wall by sometime next week?
3.3.2009 8:27pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
The Trenton Tomato Pie served at this place (one of Justice Alito's old stomping grounds) is better than any kind of "New York" style Pizza.

The place is so popular that it can get away with an almost Soup Nazi like attitude towards the customers (they aren't that bad, but you want to be there more than they want you to be there).
3.3.2009 8:31pm
Bob Goodman (mail) (www):
So Chi.'s still backward in pizza, huh? Just to be clear, I'm not saying their food or restaurants overall were bad (as opposed to SE Mich.), just a few over-hyped local specialties. I think it was part of the inferiority complex I observed; they never let you forget they were 2nd City.

Oh, and not too long after that, NY-NJ had caught up in variety of pizza toppings.
3.3.2009 8:33pm
Bob Goodman (mail) (www):
They do call it tomato pie in the Trenton vicinity, but I've never noticed any difference in style of it from the usual NY-NJ style. However, I never had it from that particular place.
3.3.2009 8:43pm
11B40 (mail):
Greetings:

1) New York ain't a Style.

2) Everything west of the Hudson is Dayton.
3.3.2009 8:48pm
Italian 1L (mail):
*gasp* You hate ricotta?

But...what goes in your lasagna? Or your manicotti?
3.3.2009 8:56pm
hawkins:
Maybe not New York style, but what do you think of 2 Amy's, Pizza Pardiso, or Comet? I've also heard good things about Cafe Pizzaiolo in Arlington and Moroni &Brothers.
3.3.2009 9:24pm
Aultimer:
New Yorkers deserve NY style pizza. Ledo's and 3 Brothers are DC pizza worth eating.
3.3.2009 9:33pm
Putting Two and Two...:

But...what goes in your lasagna?


Classic lasagne recipes use mozzarella and parmigiano. Some even leave out the mozzarella.
3.3.2009 10:03pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
I haven't yet gotten to 2 Amy's, though I've heard good things about it. Pizza Paradiso is hugely overrated, IMHO. Cafe Piazzaoli is okay, and the owners are very nice, as I found out when my daughter fell in front of it. Haven't heard of Moroni.
3.3.2009 10:03pm
Anon in DC:
I know it isn't New York style pizza, but Pete's Apizza up in Columbia Heights serves a very good New Haven slice. And you can buy it by the slice, which is nice, especially in this city where the only slices are sold jumbo sized.
3.3.2009 10:24pm
John McE (mail):
I'm sure at least some of the co-conspirators here hail from Yale and know that pizza quality declines quadratically with distance from New Haven. By the time you reach Boston there is scarcely anything worthy of the name. In Austin they might as well have called it "cardboard with tomatoes and stuff". DC might be close enough to still remain edible, but you might as well save it for a special occasion, hop on the Acela, and get in line at Frank Pepe's or Sally's.
3.3.2009 10:25pm
Jonathan B. (mail):
Hey David,

Valentino's is indeed good, as another reader has suggested, but if you really want to try the best pizza reasonably close to DC, it's hands down Astoria Pizza Kitchen in Woodbridge.

Originally in DC, it's been a Woodbridge establishment since the 70s, and if you go, you'll find that the owner will likely be serving you.

For me, it's not pizza if it's not New York style, and there's no way that you could be disappointed at Astoria.

http://www.yelp.com/biz/astoria-pizza-restaurant-woodbridge
3.3.2009 11:39pm
http://volokh.com/?exclude=davidb:

Well, now I will finally have to start using that /exclude=davidb thing.

It's best suited for the likes of wohjr, but to each his/her own. :)
3.3.2009 11:57pm
Ugh:
"In My Neverending Quest for Good New York Style Pizza ..."

Will all due respect, you could have ended the discussion right there. There is no "good" New York pizza anywhere, not even in New York.
3.4.2009 12:05am
Arnostocles:

Bonus: The owner is from Queens.


Professor,

I used to feast at this place in Sunnyside, Queens.
Not the chain.

Queens has some great pizza...but New Haven's is the best.
3.4.2009 12:15am
mimritty:
Best pizza I've had in the DC area is at the Italian Store on Lee Highway, just off of Spout Run. It's NY style (i.e., real pizza) and very good. That's also where I pick up Locatelli romano cheese for grating and halfway decent sopressata.
3.4.2009 2:17am
BABH:
I'm with Ugh:

Can anyone cite New York style pizza in NYC that's worth eating?
3.4.2009 3:28am
countertop (mail):
I know not of NY Style pizza, but having grown up in North Jersey, I know plenty about good pizza (period).

As others have noted, Chicago pizza stinks. Might as well get pizza hut (bleh!)

2 Amy's is marginal, and a bit put on and pretensious for me.

The sauce at Luigi's on 19 &M, frankly, stinks. Too acidic - the chef could use a couple more shots of sambuca and 2 or 4 more hours of loving care stirring it.

Luckily, living in McLean the last 10 years I've had the pleasure of discovering TWO very good pizza places. McLean Pizza, in the same strip mall that McLean Hardware used to be in, is very very good. Especially for a greek.

Pulcinellas, just down the street on Old Dominion has a bit of a pretensious McLean crowd. I doubt they know how lucky they are, but the pizza is fantastic. Easily the best this side of Philly. Sauce is fine, flovorful and rich but not acidic with the right balance of garlic and oregano. Crust is thin, perfect consistency, and cooked up just right!
3.4.2009 4:50am
Bob_R (mail):
I was in what was then called Married Graduate Student Housing at UMd in the early '80's. Just up the hill from what was then the only Ledo's. I'm from Jersey, and I realize that there are partisans who can't even think of it as "pizza," but Ledo's pie with green peppers and precooked bacon is (was?) ambrosia. I hear they have franchised. Is the original place still as good?

I sympathize with the search for good NY style. I've learned to make my own pizza down here in Blacksburg. Can't get the oven hot enough to really do it right, but I can make better than anything I can buy.
3.4.2009 8:03am
PeterWimsey (mail):
NY style pizza (and for that matter, chicago style pizza) must be the kind of thing you have to grow up with to like. Both are fine on a cold day, but neither bear much resemblance to the much better pizza you can find in Italy, or to places in the US that emulate that minimalist kind of pizza.

Obviously, both are much better than California style pizza, which isn't really pizza.
3.4.2009 8:36am
One Man's View:
FWIW, Two Amy's is very good pizza, but it is NOT NY Style. Too much "style" to the pizza; not enough heartiness or grease. The only decent pizza I've gotten in DC is Al's Pizzeria at 15th and East Capitol ... the cheese is fairly solid, not runny, and they use a good pepperoni.
3.4.2009 9:30am
Anonymous Hoosier:
DavidB, if you haven't already been to 2 Amy's, don't bother. It's gone way downhill. And as nice as the owners are at Cafe Pizzaiolo (when they first opened and were closed on Sundays, they offered to come in specially to make pizzas for a football party -- no extra charge), it too is not as good as when they first opened; I fear the second location has proved a distraction.
3.4.2009 9:53am
Bob White (mail):
I'm with Ugh, though I may be missing out since I've never had NY-style pizza in NY. I'm glad the abattoir that is St. Louis-style pizza hasn't yet been mentioned, as it's significantly inferior to skipping a meal. Uno's the chain is a chain and should be judged accordingly; upon last bite, the original (and Due's) were still good, but my favorite remains Gino's East. The truest observation in this thread is your favorite pizza is the one you grew up with.

As to DC, I've heard the same reports that 2 Amy's has declined from its original level, which IMO was not particularly high.
3.4.2009 10:09am
DavidBernstein (mail):
Both are fine on a cold day, but neither bear much resemblance to the much better pizza you can find in Italy, or to places in the US that emulate that minimalist kind of pizza.
My parents, who've lived in NYC and evirons all their lives, went to Italy last year, and ate a lot of pizza, because with the Euro at 1.50, everything else was extremely expensive. Their verdict? Not nearly as good as Carlo's (their favorite pizza, in Middle Village, Queens).
3.4.2009 10:24am
DavidBernstein (mail):
Ledo's is good in its own way, but, as you say, it's not really pizza.
3.4.2009 10:26am
Captain Ned:
Is Generous George's still going in Alexandria? I always thought that was decent -za.
3.4.2009 10:33am
JWHIII (mail):
I know that shopping center, I think. It's also home to one of the last Roy Rogers restaurants in the DC area.
3.4.2009 10:35am
Professor Chaos:

[I]f you really want to try the best pizza reasonably close to DC, it's hands down Astoria Pizza Kitchen in Woodbridge.



Wow. That's like a mile from my house. I can't tell you how many times I've driven past, without ever bothering to go in. Thanks for the tip. I'll give it a shot.
3.4.2009 10:37am
jackson:
The best pizza in DC was at AV, which, alas, has closed.

People feel passionate about various local foods and local restaurants less because of taste than because of emotional associations with the food; thus the range of favorites in DC, thus the raging wars over the best chili and the best barbecue, and thus the local attachments to other dishes associated with the particular locality. NY pizza really isn't that interesting from a taste perspective, but it provides comfort and satisfaction of an inner need for New Yorkers. The worst local dish associated with a city is the Philly cheese steak, which really has a very low up side that is entirely unrelated to taste: sometimes you need a cheese steak in the same way you sometimes need a chili dog, but neither can match, say, a muffaleta.
3.4.2009 10:51am
Piola's!:
I've gone to most of the places in DC mentioned above, and I agree with most of the comments, However, for me, Piola's in Rosslyn is the best for the type of pizza I like. (Thin, traditional italian style)
3.4.2009 11:31am
UnintelligibleLiberal (mail):

I've no idea what Chi. cuisine is like today, or even whether they still use that Tribune-promoted term, "Chicagoland", for the city + vicinity. However, a few years ago I stayed a week and a half in Detroit and near Hillsdale, and found the food out in the country of SE Mich. to be overly salty, with expensive yet low quality produce in the supermarket.


Hillsdale?!? LOL.

Here's a tip: next time you visit your incarcerated family member at the federal prison in Jackson, make the trip to Ann Arbor for some food. They have a nice selection, even for stuck-up picky New Yorkers. I guarantee Zingerman's and NY Pizza Depot will not disappoint. But please do not characterize all of SE Michigan by what you ate in HILLSDALE.
3.4.2009 12:13pm
Abe Froman:
Depends where you get pizza in Italy. It's not fair to walk into a random place in Rome and assume you're getting "real Italian pizza". But if you go to a relatively well-known place in Naples (like Brandi), you can assume you're getting some of the best pizza in the world.

2Amy's serves traditional Neapolitan pizza. It's very good and certainly worth trying. [Truly, the death of the white pizza at A.V., which was made with little to no ricotta -- and was cut in squares, as in Chicago -- was very sad.]

In New York, there is almost no good place to get a slice of pizza. The places that come close (like Artichoke on 14th street in the east village) are places that try to approximate Grimaldi's. Grimaldi's is great (and is itself an approximation of Neapolitan pizza), but most of the time, the line is brutal. Nowadays, more Grimaldi's-like places using good mozzarella (or even bufala) are popping up around New York, but they're expensive, less filling, and they don't serve slices.

For reasons that escape me, New Yorkers still eat so-called "Sicilian" slices, even though these slices do not exist anywhere outside of New York and Boston. And certainly they don't exist in Sicily. These "Sicilian" slices are more like foccacia plus cheese.

Chicago pizza is amazing (perhaps because I grew up on it). There are three kinds of Chicago-style pizza: thin (cut in squares), deep dish (Lou Malnati's), and stuffed (Giordano's, Edwardo's). The common denominator among all these types: lots of cheese. The other defining characteristic is the sausage, which is far, far superior to sausage anywhere else in the country. The deep dish and stuffed have the tomato on top, and the sauce is usually pretty hearty. I think the latter are best eaten without toppings -- a good plain cheese stuffed pizza is incredible.

In San Francisco, Patxi's in Hayes Valley serves good stuffed pizza, as does Zachary's out in Berkeley. North Beach Pizza (there's one in North Beach and one across the street from Kezar Stadium in Cole Valley/Haight Ashbury, plus others?) serves great thin pizza with lots of cheese and great sausage. And they serve slices.

Not a single place in New York City -- not one -- serves stuffed pizza. If Giordano's opened up here, I would single-handedly keep them in business. And nobody serves deep dish except for the pizza place that claims to be related to Uno's but is nothing like it. I don't get it. [Please let me know if you've found one. Hopefully it's not on Staten Island.]

Is there a neighborhood in New York that happens to have lots of former Chicagoland residents? If so, I pledge to open up a stuffed pizza place right there.
3.4.2009 12:50pm
EnriqueArmijo (mail):
jackson,

I haven't confirmed it, but according to this article, Mixtec in Adams Morgan is now offering AV's white pizza, prepared by AV's former pizza chef, on its takeout menu.
3.4.2009 12:57pm
luagha:
I once brought my leftover Giordano's stuffed pizza to Chicago Midway airport because I was going to have a long wait (my ride could only drop me off several hours before the flight). Every security guard who walked by smelled it first, gave it a look, and then threatened to confiscate it. :)
3.4.2009 1:15pm
A Bay:
Abe -

As for Chicago-style in NYC, there's Big Al's in the Financial District. While it's definitely not as good as Chicago-style in Chicago, it's got the right crust and format going for it.

As for your no-stuffed-pizza-in-NY statement, I must report that you are completely incorrect. The NYC-area has many places that serve it alongside traditional NY slices. Although sausage is a lot less common in the East Coast stuffed version, it's still mighty tasty.

For the DC-area, I must agree with "mimritty" -- The Italian Store is fantastic NY-Style by the slice or by the Pie. Their Sicilian is great too.

-AK Bay
3.4.2009 2:17pm
EIDE_Interface (mail):
What Israel isn't involved somehow? I can't believe it...
3.4.2009 4:13pm
Chris M (mail):
I'm originally from Long Island, currently a 3L at WCL (American U), and living in Bethesda. Mama Lucia's has pretty decent NY style pizza. There's a few locations throughout Montgomery County, but the main one is located in downtown Bethesda on Elm St. off Woodmont Ave.
3.4.2009 4:37pm
Jonathan6:
But I thought everyone knew that the best pizza is from Old Forge, Pennsylvania. For those on facbook: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2331983512
3.4.2009 5:07pm
Gavin (mail):
David,

In fairness, ricotta isn't even really a cheese. Cheese is made from curds. Ricotta is some kind of cheese biproduct, made from the whey.
3.4.2009 5:12pm
Felix Sulla:
While obviously not NY or Chi or any other style, one of the most scrumptious things I have ever eaten in this general realm is the BBQ Pizza from Coletta's in Memphis. Seriously, I start to salivate and my pulse starts racing just thinking about it. It's also monstrously fattening, far more so than the "normal" run of pizzas and befitting something which was often eaten by Elvis: good thing I don't live in Memphis anymore.
3.4.2009 6:02pm
Bob Goodman (mail) (www):
The worst local dish associated with a city is the Philly cheese steak

Nah, "Italian beef" is worse...but maybe because it doesn't have Chicago as part of its name, it's not associated enough.

But please do not characterize all of SE Michigan by what you ate in HILLSDALE.

I don't. I just gave it as a geographic reference because it might be recognized by some here who get "Imprimis". I was actually staying at my friend Nancy's in Jonesville, but we ranged all over the place, including a restaurant near Wayne State U. in Det. Ann Arbor I ate in with some people at the SLS conference in 1980.

The sad thing about the produce at Wal-Mart on the road between Jonesville &Hillsdale is the gyp the produce is there, in the middle of plenty of farms. The restaurants seemed to go heavy on nachos, pickled olives, and cheese, giving every meal a salty cast. I actually lost a little weight -- then gained it back trying the Atkins diet for weight loss when I got home.
3.4.2009 7:14pm
Abe Froman:
To AK Bay,

When you say that many places in NY sell "stuffed pizza", that's because what New Yorkers call "stuffed pizza" is not what Chicagoans call "stuffed pizza". You might be thinking of calzone or stromboli. Please correct me if I'm wrong. Chicago-style stuffed pizza looks like a regular deep-dish pizza, but it has an imperceptibly thin layer of dough between the cheese and the sauce.

Please correct me if I misunderstood you, and if I did, please please please recommend a good place for stuffed pizza in NYC, because I am lost.
3.4.2009 7:15pm
Bob Goodman (mail) (www):
In New York, there is almost no good place to get a slice of pizza.

Then come to the Bronx. You can find some pizzerias where the crust is soggy or the sauce is bland, but you have to look hard for such inferiority; otherwise it's all good.

The other defining characteristic is the sausage, which is far, far superior to sausage anywhere else in the country.

Must've changed since 30 yrs. ago. Then, sausage as a pizza topping was de-emphasized in Chicagoland. They'd offer hamburger/meatball or pepperoni, but if you asked for sausage it was like, "Let me check whether we have any."

Not a single place in New York City -- not one -- serves stuffed pizza

I believe you can find it as "double deck" pizza.

If you really like that sort of exalted pizza, try Gordo's in Valhalla, Westchester Co.

And have you ever had pizza rustica? I've never seen that in a restaurant, but a Sicilian friend used to make it. No sauce, no toppings, everything baked into it in bits like a fruitcake. Very good, except for the egg bits.
3.4.2009 7:58pm
Bob Goodman (mail) (www):
Please correct me if I'm wrong. Chicago-style stuffed pizza looks like a regular deep-dish pizza, but it has an imperceptibly thin layer of dough between the cheese and the sauce.

Close. There's sauce under the top crust too. That's why I described it as a pot pie.

BTW, in the Bronx at least the pizzerias all use the same brand of cheese. I don't think the Mafia enforces that any more; I think by now they've simply capitalized their muscle.
3.4.2009 8:03pm
UnintelligibleLiberal (mail):
wow, can't believe i didn't notice it before: abe froman - best handle i have seen on the site.

do you by any chance not believe in "isms?"
3.4.2009 8:50pm
A Bay:
Abe,

The "stuffed pizza" I'm thinking of is very similar to what you describe, except the cheese is on the inside just below the top layer of crust. It is most definitely a completely different animal than a stromboli or a calzone and looks nothing like them. Stuffed pizzas are about the same size and shape and a regular pizza, and you can buy individual triangle slices just like regular pizza. But, unlike a regular pizza, there is both a top and bottom crust so the stuffing is completely enclosed. They will stuff it with Chicken Parmesan, broccoli and cheese, sausage and meatball, artichokes -- you name it and they'll probably put it inside. The melted cheese is heaven.

It's been a year since I've lived in NYC so names of individual places there escape me, but if you're ever in Northport, Long Island, I highly recommend Paradise pizza on Laurel Rd. It's walking distance of the LIRR station.



Enjoy!
AK
3.5.2009 10:54am
Abe Froman:
AK and Bob Goodman,

The pizzas you describe, although tasty-sounding, are not Chicago-style stuffed pizza. Here are some pictures of traditional Chicago stuffed pizza. As you will see, the sauce goes on top, and the stuffings are not enclosed.


I swear I'm not crazy when I say there's no stuffed pizza in new york.
3.5.2009 11:42am
A Bay:
I concede. Although both "stuffed pizza" in name, the incarnations differ clearly. Good luck on your quest. -AK
3.5.2009 1:13pm

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