There are three kinds of pizza in this world. Most common is the utilitarian pizza ordered by the dozens for birthday parties, school parties, and lunch meetings, and by stoned people listening to Phish who can’t afford a sufficient quantity of really good pizza because they spent all their money on… well, you know.
Common in big cities is the intermediate kind of pizza, which is made by people who know pizza, ordered by the slice, and eaten at a Formica table with shakers of cracked red pepper and parmesan. You generally need a napkin to blot the grease.
The third kind of pizza is Culinary Grade Pizza, which is what they make at The Cosmos in both Old Town and East Lansing. Culinary Grade Pizza involves craft in the conception and in the execution. I have loved The Cosmos from my first visit to the Old Town location with its funky wall murals and great people-watching. When they opened a location in Brookfield Plaza along with sister restaurant Punk Taco, I was delighted to see such a sophisticated addition to our restaurant scene.
Recently, I heard that the East Lansing Punk Taco/Cosmos was struggling after a long Covid-related closing and continued high rates of infection in the area. They are open, and they are making the same good food they always made. Last night, Captain Carnivore and I ordered some of our favorites and picked them up to enjoy at home with Vincent the Dog, who particularly enjoys the odd “pizza bone.”
No matter what I order at The Cosmos, I am always going to add the Cosmic Devils, which are to deviled eggs what real waffles are to toaster waffles. They are made with candied bacon and topped with a hot pink swish of pickled red onion. There is, as with everything they make at The Cosmos, a complicated set of flavors that are worth savoring and considering – bland, smooth egg white against dense, rich yolk with the crunch and the sweetness of the candied bacon against the tartness of the onion. Let’s just say it’s good.
I also order the Fried Goat Cheese, a salad that can be a meal (you can add chicken or hanger steak) or something delicious to eat with your pizza so you can tell yourself you had vegetables. I’ve had pale imitations of the Fried Goat Cheese, but there’s something about the hot, crisp, tart, balls of fried goat cheese nestled in a bed of greens, red onions, and beautiful little cherry tomatoes that sets this version apart. A perfect bite involves a piece of goat cheese, some vegetables dressed in a sweet-ish honey mustard vinaigrette, and a dab of honey pecan.
Although we didn’t order them last night because we are past the age where we can contemplate eating French fries with pizza, the Duck Fat Fries are really good. They do not taste like duck. They taste like super crisp-outside, tender-inside fries, and I like them with White & Cheesy, a kind of mellow, white queso dip from The Cosmos.
Now for the pizza. The Captain ordered what he always orders, which is the Pepperoni Classico. It will not surprise anyone to learn that it’s the pizza with the most meat on it: Andouille sausage, tasso ham, and pancetta. These are not the specks of meat-like substance you get on a utilitarian pizza, but bite-sized chunks of high-quality meat, each retaining its individual character. Tasso is a smoked, spiced cured pork product often used in Cajun food, Andouille sausage is also smoked, and the pancetta is fried up into crispy hunks reminiscent of bacon.
The Cosmos’ crust is thin (my personal preference,) the pizzas are cooked over a fire, and the edges are a little smoky. The sauce is house-made, and the cheese is real mozzarella. It is a tribute to this restaurant that my Captain, who usually prefers a thicker crust and a little more cheese, finds the Pepperoni Classico to be pretty much his dream pizza. The meat is the star, and it isn’t overshadowed by mounds of cheese or inches of crust, which suits him fine.
I’ve tried a lot of different pizzas on The Cosmos’ menu, and my favorite – usually, depending on the day – is the Runny Egg with jalapeno Boursin cream, runny eggs, chorizo, mozzarella, roasted sweet peppers, and cilantro. I’ve also ordered the “Trust Us” in both veggie and non-veggie iterations and have never been disappointed because when you order Culinary Grade Pizza, you know someone trustworthy and creative is assembling something wonderful for you.
This time, I ordered The Marge, a riff on the standard Pizza Margherita. The classic Margherita is a thin crust with a sweep of tomato sauce; slices of fresh, creamy buffalo mozzarella; and fresh basil. It is simple and delicious. The Marge starts with the same, thin crust, and the toppings are a modest amount of red sauce, fresh basil, heirloom tomatoes, slices of fresh mozzarella, and lashings of balsamic vinegar and basil pesto. It is the precise opposite of a greasy, chewy slice with lots of stringy cheese; it is fresh, and it’s possible to pick out the sweetness of the tomatoes and balsamic, the clean sweetness of the cheese, and the spicy bite of the basil amplified by basil pesto. It’s pizza to savor rather than pizza to gulp down.
To get your hands on this glorious stuff you will either have to visit in person, or call in an order and pick it up. We found this very easy to do. The order was taken with great courtesy, and everything was ready in the promised 15-20 minutes when the Captain went to pick it up inside the restaurant. I know online ordering and delivery is easier, but I’m telling you, this is worth a tiny bit of inconvenience. And when it warms up a little, you can have your pizza on the patio with a beer.
The Cosmos East Lansing is located at 1351 E. Grand River.