There's a joke made by skeevy managers and other humorless types that says pizza is a lot like sex: Even when it's bad, it's still pretty good. So let's get this out of the way first — the pizza at the new Freehold Miami bar/venue/workspace in Wynwood is probably totally *fine*.
The Instagram-worthy space at the Freehold, a "hotel-like" concept with no actual hotel rooms, opened last week with multiple bars, a café, and a pizza shop on site. The minds behind the operation brought on pizza consultant Anthony Falco to develop a thin, crispy pie that will sell for $16 to $18.
"Work all day here, then grab a drink with friends and some pizzas, then head outside to hear your favorite DJ spin the night away," Freehold cofounder Brad Gallagher told New Times in a story explaining the concept.
To help promote the brand, Falco, known as the mastermind behind the famous New York pizzeria Roberta's, posted a photo of the Freehold pizzas on his Instagram last week. Soon after, one of Falco's most vocal critics, Joe Rosenthal — a food blogger who broke the story about moldy jam at Los Angeles restaurant Sqirl earlier this year — reposted the photo with a critique of its quality.
"This looks awful — very obviously unevenly stretched," Rosenthal wrote in an Instagram Story shared with his 16,000 followers.
Rosenthal's followers then started noticing some other inconsistencies — namely, that the slices in the picture appear to come from more than one pie:
In a series of Instagram Stories, which are archived in a highlight called "Falco/Freehold," Rosenthal and his followers theorized that parts of the original pizza pie had been burned, leading Falco to jigger the best slices from multiple pies into two more photogenic "pizzas" for his Instagram photo. Rosenthal called it "some Chuck E Cheese trickery."
So what was going on here? New Times reached out to both the Freehold and Falco, with no success. Through a spokesperson, the team at Freehold Miami declined to comment. Falco did not respond to an email asking if the photo does, in fact, depict slices from multiple pizzas and if so, why.
Rosenthal, on the other hand, was more than willing to talk. He tells New Times that the Freehold "Frankenpie" (his words) is worth examining because of its creator.
"I think people are interested because he's presenting this as two pizzas," Rosenthal says of Falco. "He's an 'expert consultant.'... He's kind of positioned himself as having built one of the biggest restaurants on the East Coast, Roberta's. That's the basis of why he was hired by the Freehold."
Rosenthal says that creation story is a myth. In March, he published a 4,700-word story on his website casting doubt on how instrumental Falco was in creating the pizza at Roberta's. According to Rosenthal, Falco has falsely represented himself as a founder of Roberta's and overstated his role in day-to-day operations at the pizza kitchen. (It should be noted that Falco was not directly quoted in the article nor given the opportunity to explain his side.)
"He kind of astroturfed food media with this whole 'put Roberta's on the map' thing," Rosenthal tells New Times. "He's still pushing this idea out there."
Rosenthal insists he doesn't have a grudge against Falco. He says he began making pizzas years ago when he lived in Pittsburgh after his favorite New York-style pizza place closed down. That led him to connect with other pizza makers on Instagram, including Falco.
"I knew him pretty early on in my pizza-making adventures on Instagram," Rosenthal says. "He would respond to my story a lot."
But at some point, Rosenthal started to grow skeptical of Falco's background as he heard whispers through the grapevine. As Rosenthal's account amassed thousands of followers this summer thanks to his Sqirl scoop and criticisms of Bon Appétit magazine staffers, he has continued to receive tips about Falco, who remains a frequently discussed subject on the Instagram account.
Rosenthal says Falco's misshapen Freehold pizza is indicative of a larger problem of "mediocre white men" taking up space in the food industry.
"This is kind of the most tangible evidence of that, in a sense. It's a clear representation of his ability as a pizza maker," Rosenthal says. "He can't even generate two good-looking pies. It kind of says something."
And Rosenthal says food media is in many ways complicit, in its repetition of claims from press releases and investment in listicles and roundups instead of reporting more difficult truths about the industry.
Rosenthal points to a recent story by Chris Crowley for New York magazine's Grub Street about the toxic and racist workplace at New York City's Mission Chinese Food as a "good blueprint for what a lot of food media could do.
"Right now, there's a sentiment that restaurants are dying and we shouldn't criticize or attack them. I think that's fair to a point," he tells New Times. "[Don't] go dunk on some mom-and-pop because your salad didn't have enough lettuce or something. But I think, you know, holding restaurateurs accountable shouldn't stop just because the restaurants are in trouble."
Rosenthal, a self-described food antagonist, says he has no plans to quit his day job and join the ranks of the food media he often critiques. But he thinks there's a place for someone like him on the landscape.
"When I was starting out, I was viewed as this kind of bogeyman, attacking these people held up as great people, but, you know, they're problematic. They're causing harm," he says. "I was the antagonist of the status quo, and I think people are really invested in that status quo. I am probably the villain to a lot of them, but I don't perceive myself that way."
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