Natty Strange logged onto Twitter earlier this year and shared a photo of a, let’s say, unique pizza she found.
It resembles a Sicilian slice with its square crust and red sauce, but instead of traditional mozzarella cheese, it has barely melted slices of pasteurized, yellow American on top. Beneath the cheese are invisible green bell peppers and salami.
The photo of this “Altoona-style” pizza birthed in Altoona, Pennsylvania, was shared on Strange’s Twitter account, Fucked Up Looking Pizzas, and it evoked an impassioned response from some users—as well as 23,000 likes: “Jesus Christ. Central PA is the Pizza Void,” one user said. “As a Jersey girl, this is disrespectful,” another echoed. “I just showed this to my husband, and now he won’t speak to me,” yet another claimed.
Strange said responses like these are quite typical on her posts from the account she created out of love for pizza and exposing those that, well, look fucked up.
“Pizza seems to be such a divisive subject to people because it’s such a universal experience,” Strange said. “Everybody knows what pizza is, and if you’ve had pizza before, you’re eligible to have an opinion. It’s just like a shared experience. People have different standards for what’s a good pizza and what’s fucked up-looking.”
Many of the pies shared on the account that now has over 45,000 followers come from outside the Pizza Belt, that stretch of land from Philadelphia to Connecticut that has been blessed with a historic influx of Italian immigrants, according to the Brick, New Jersey, native who now lives in Philly. She said there is an element of pride for the cuisine of where you come from that’s found in many of the responses she receives, something that Italians, who invented pizza, apparently demonstrate often.
“That pride in the amazing quality of food that comes from Italy makes them just that much angrier when people take different dishes created in Italy and kind of bastardize it in their own way,” Strange said. Some people get angry about the pizzas she posts and leave comments when she puts pies they’d actually like to eat on blast.
“I had one person, like, start insulting me as a person. They looked up my profile and started throwing all these insults at me because I thought their combination of blood pudding and lingonberry pizza was gross,” Strange said. “This response seemed a little outsized for the crime committed here.”
Strange is a proud New Jerseyan and credits growing up “in the epicenter of where all the good pizza is” for her taste for the dish and her knowledge of when it looks fucked up. The pies she’s found most unappealing to date are those that are topped with… testicles.
“A few people had sent me pizzas that were topped with animal testicles. There was one with bull testicles,” she said. She said she couldn’t remember where these pizzas came from but said she may end up seeking them out to taste for her followers.
Strange, who said she likes to think of herself as the Anthony Bourdain of fucked-up food, eventually wants to take a tour to document herself trying pizzas she’s posted about. She’s planning a stop in Altoona and then Beto’s Pizzeria in Pittsburgh, where they bake their square pizza slices with marinara then pile a mountain of cold mozzarella cheese on top. “It looks super fucked up. But I would not be surprised if I tried it and was like, this actually rocks,” she said.
In the meantime, Strange will continue sampling some interesting fare in her own city, sometimes funded by followers who send her cash. “I had a pizza that had pineapple, crab meat, a bunch of different peppers, some broccoli, some corn and hot sauce,” she said. “And it just looks like a mess. I opened up the box, and this aroma of crab just filled the room, and I was like, ‘Oh God, what did I just order?’”
But it isn’t all bad. There was one instance of a particularly ugly-looking pie actually tasting okay, she said. “It had meatballs, gyro meat and Philly cheesesteak meat and a couple different cheeses,” she said. “And that, that looked pretty fucked up. But it actually tasted like, you know, it’s one of those things that sounds a lot worse than it is, then you actually try it, and you’re like, ‘This isn’t bad.’”
But what about pizza that looks beautiful and tastes delicious to Strange? She said this pie exists in Elizabeth, New Jersey, at a little joint called Santillo’s that has no seating. “They have a bunch of different pies that you can order by year, and my favorite is the 1964,” she said. “It has tomato sauce, mozzarella, a little bit of parmesan and olive oil. To me, that’s the platonic ideal of a perfect pizza.”