We asked Act 2 readers to share their best pizza memories. Two date to 1940. Another tells of romantic pursuit with a happy ending. And there’s one from a loyal son who fondly remembers his mom’s bialy pizza, made with ketchup and processed American cheese. It seems there are as many stories as there are varieties of pies. Here are some pizza tales, edited for space.
— Gwen Young, Act 2 Editor
NUMBER'S ON THE NAPKIN: WILL HE CALL?
I hope you like my pizza story. It's true.
My daughter, Liz, got a slice and a Coke at DiRaimo's Pizzeria in Huntington before heading for evening classes at Hofstra. She was carrying a heavy schedule, working 9 to 5 in a retail store in Huntington, and spending evenings absorbing all she could of marketing and finance. She had just turned 20.
A friendly young man usually worked the counter. He was attentive to the customers. Liz enjoyed watching him laughing with patrons. He never stood idle. He was either restocking, setting tables, filling shakers with cheese or cleaning, always cleaning.
Instead of taking a sandwich from home, Liz began stopping by for pizza before classes. One night, he wasn't there. She found she missed seeing him. A few nights later, she stopped in again, and he wasn't there. She asked about him. One of the boys who worked there told her "Steve" was upstate looking at some culinary school.
OK, now she knew his name. He was going to school. Her interest was piqued. Now, how to go about getting a date? She found herself preoccupied with thoughts of Steve. Midterms loomed, so she became a denizen of Hofstra's library, eating from vending machines. It was a week before she returned for a longed-for slice.
He was there! It was very busy. He served her and asked if she wanted anything else. "Yes," she said. "Can I have a napkin . . . no, two napkins?" He grabbed a small stack and placed them on the counter.
She finished her slice and took out her Bic pen. On her napkin, she penned in big letters her name and phone number. She folded it and waved Steve over. She placed the napkin in his hand and left. A day passed, then two. "Oh well," she thought, "at least I gave it a try."
He called her on Friday afternoon. They arranged a date. Four years of dating and 14 years of marriage with two little boys for seasoning find them very happy with their slice of heaven.
I live with the family now and can get all the pizza I want. FREE!
KOSHER KID'S INTRO TO REAL ITALIAN PIZZA
I remember the first time I ate pizza, in 1940. I was 13. It was Tuesday, and we were off from school. Two friends and I finished a game of stickball when another friend, Bob Simone, suggested we go eat "abeetz" (Bob's Italian for "pizza"). It sounded good, but for a Jewish boy to go into an Italian bar was a no-no. If any of the neighbors saw you, word would reach your parents at warp speed.
We sneaked into the bar and Bob, who spoke Italian, ordered the pie. Out it came, the size of a garbage can cover, steaming hot. At first, I was leery about eating anything not kosher, but Bob and his brother Dominick would eat matzo brei at our house on Passover, so it was an even trade. The pie was superb, and to this day I never found an equal.
The bill was 40 cents, so the four of us chipped in 15 cents apiece. Forty cents for the bill and a 20-cent tip (we were big sports). I am thankful for the friendship of Bob for the many pizzas we shared until 1944. Bob was killed in the invasion of Normandy, and pizza has never again tasted as good.
DAUGHTER-IN-LAW'S 'HOLY PIZZA'
My mother-in-law and father-in-law were born in Italy, not far from where pizza was invented. They came to America and raised a family of six boys and one girl. (The baby is 85 years old -- my husband.) She made pizza every weekend to feed her hungry boys and later their girlfriends.
Not long after my husband and I were married, I invited them over for my first attempt at making pizza. Over the years, we had many laughs over that pizza. It was thick on both ends, with a hole in the middle. I went on to learn many of the wonderful dishes Mom made, but would never attempt another "Holy Pizza."
Mary Ann Forte,
SON KEEPS FAMILY TRADITION ALIVE
There is nothing more rewarding than having a son who is following in the footsteps of his father and grandparents in the art of making pizza. As Italian children, we had pizza made from scratch; making the dough, the sauce and buying the best cheeses and olive oil to put on top. It had the best ingredients and was made with love.
As we grew up and could go to a pizzeria, there was still nothing like what you got at home. The art of making a great pizza today is using the best ingredients; keeping with family traditions by making homemade sauce and topping it with the best cheese. My son keeps these traditions alive in the pizza and dishes he prepares at Pauly's Pizza & Pasta in Farmingville.
Michele A. Infante,
IN OLD BROOKLYN, THAT WAS SOME PIE
When I was young, I lived down by Carroll Gardens, near the Red Hook section of Brooklyn. There were three pizza places near us. There was Nino's, another on the corner of Carroll and Court streets, across from Carroll Park. The best one was on Union Street, between Hicks and Columbia streets. They would stay open until 3 a.m. in the summer. Every Friday, my brother, my sister and I could not wait to go with Mom and Dad. He worked so much, and that was our highlight of the week.
The only problem is, back in the 1960s and 1970s, everybody knew each other. So to avoid making one store owner upset, one week we would go to Nino's, next week to another pizza place, and so on. Now, living in Holbrook, the only one that even comes close is Oven Lovin on Main Street. I will add that the best pizza on Long Island cannot even come close to pies from the city. I think it's the water out here.
EVERYBODY'S PIZZA IS THE BEST THERE IS
I came from Bay Ridge, St. Patrick's and Fort Hamilton High School. I don't recall sales by the slice until the late '50s or early '60s. I lived on 88th Street, and on the corner of Fourth Avenue, there was Joe's Italian Restaurant. Joe's eventually became Brione's in the middle '60s; no more pizza, just upscale Italian.
At 75th and Fort Hamilton Parkway was the famous "4 Corners." My dad, during the war years and after, took us in the summer to 69th Street, one block from the ferry, "Shore Road Gardens." We loved the outdoor dining area; never heard ofalfresco in those days. The other famous pizza spot was Lento's, the thinnest pies and delicious. They were there forever and opened two other places, in Park Slope and Staten Island.
The best pizza was from Chicago. I moved there in 1964, and my company had a bowling night, and we had pizza. They came out hot, square and expensive. This pizza was distinctive and delicious; when I would go back home, I would sing Chicago's praises to a deaf crowd.
I was never a big pizza fan but did enjoy it and today, at 79, still do. On Long Island, I believe there are a few great places for pizza, including Umberto's and Eddie's, both in New Hyde Park, and Salvatore's in Port Washington. New Yorkers can fight all day about which is the best, and we are all right.
25-CENT PIZZA PAID OUR MORTGAGE
I am 84 years old. In 1940, my mother and father, Jennie and John Cavalluzzi, opened a place named Fortway Restaurant on Fifth Avenue between 89th and 90th streets in the Fort Hamilton section of Brooklyn. She made pizza like no other. The crust had big bubbles she would prick. In a large, coal-fired oven, they would rise.
One night, a customer ordered 13 pizzas. It cleaned her out of dough. I was there and helped box and tie them. She made dough from scratch, also sauce. I have the original pie pans: small pizza (about 12 inches) 10 cents; large pizza (about 16 inches) 25 cents. In 1950, the prices increased to 25 cents small; 50 cents large.
The restaurant thrived on the sale of pizzas. It paid the mortgage: She purchased the two-story building that had two apartments above the store for $2,000 in 1941.
KNEADING DOUGH CALMED ME DOWN
The first pizza I can recall was made by my Aunt Fay and her sisters when we visited her in Woodside. Aunt Fay was my father's sister-in-law, and I loved her; she made me feel special. Her pizzas were a work of art, sometimes with anchovies but usually pure, with homemade sauce and mozzarella from an Italian grocery store. Ingredients were always fresh -- there was no such thing as a frozen pizza.
I started making pizza on Sundays when my kids were young, or if we were having company who considered it a treat coming to our house for homemade. My mother-in-law made a great dough and topped hers with sauteed onions. Coming from different parts of Italy, every person who came to the States added their own touch. The first time I had pizza by the pound was in Rome.
Everyone who worked usually got Sundays off, so I decided not to cook, as I wanted a day off also! Making pizza was not "cooking," per se. I usually had sauce and cheese in my freezer, and making dough was a great way to take out any frustrations I might have had. You had to knead the dough for at least 10 to 15 minutes, and that always calmed me down. Years later, whenever my grandchildren were over, they helped make the dough and stretch it in a pan, sauce and cheese it. I would let them add whatever toppings they wanted. Callen, my grandson, was big on pepperoni. In a pinch for time, occasionally, we'd have English muffin pizza, which is purely an American invention.
Camille Quade Costanzo,
LOOKING FORWARD TO PIZZA WITH YAYA
We called my grandmother of Greek descent "Yaya." She lived on 19th Street in Coney Island, where the famous parachute ride and Raven Hall pool was. It was a busy street because of parking to get to those attractions. Every other Friday or Saturday my family would go to visit Yaya for pizza night. My uncles would put a bench in the gutter in front of their house so no one would park there except my Dad. My uncle Harold, his daughter Georgia and I would walk to Totonno's pizza parlor on Neptune Avenue between 16th and 15th streets and, as we walked in and smelled the sauce and cheese, we knew Mr. Totonno would give us a fresh slice of mozzarella.
When the pizzas came out of the oven piping hot, with crispy crust and melting cheese, we couldn't wait to eat them. The pizzas were placed on a cardboard disc, then put into the pizza box. Our family would eat this pizza and watch "Sea Hunt" or wrestling on my aunt Jean's black-and-white TV. Simple good times.
BIALY, KETCHUP AND KRAFT TASTED GREAT
I wasn't lucky enough to have a mom who made pizza from scratch, but my mother, Linda Siegelman, made her own Jewish version of pizza when I was growing up in the 1950s in Queens.
She would slice a bialy in half, top each half with a slice of Kraft American cheese, smear some Heinz ketchup on top, and sprinkle on some garlic powder. Then, she'd heat it in a toaster oven until the ersatz "cheese" started to melt and bubble, and voilà: "pizza," ready to eat and burn the roof of my mouth.
To a 9-year-old who didn't know any better, it was just as Italian as the Chef Boyardee ravioli she would sometimes heat up for part of a quick dinner, and I thought her pizza was delicious. Thanks, Mom!
WHAT A DOLLAR GOT YOU 50 YEARS AGO
Fifty years ago, on a Saturday morning, my mom gave me $1. I was 11. My friend and I walked up Crossbay Boulevard in Howard Beach to Crossbay Bowling Lanes. We bowled three games for 50 cents, including shoe rental.
Later, we crossed the street to New Park Pizza. For 15 cents a slice and 10 cents for soda, we had lunch. We had 10 cents left over to buy two candy bars on the way home.
New Park pizza is still there, owned by the same family, using the same ovens. It is absolutely the best pizza anywhere. I still stop there when in the neighborhood.
THE LOST ART OF TOSSING THE DOUGH
I grew up in Brooklyn in the '50s on Ocean Parkway. I remember the first time I ever heard the word "pizza." I must have been 7 or 8, walking to school with my friend Adrian. She told me she and her family had pizza pie over the weekend. I asked, "What is that?" She said it was a big pie covered with tomato sauce and cheese and was served hot! I didn't believe her, as she was prone to "tall tales."
"Pie has fruit, not tomato and cheese," I said with certainty!
I was so wrong, and when I finally got to taste it, I LOVED it! One of the best things about going to the pizza parlor was watching the men throw the dough. It was entertainment with lunch! I think it is a lost art now.
UTAH PIZZA IS A CRYING SHAME TO AN NYC KID
In 1980, when my daughter was 4, we moved from Brooklyn to Salt Lake City, Utah, where I have family. We went with my sister's family to a new pizza chain for dinner. When the pizza arrived, everyone started to dig in until I saw my daughter, Erin, crying. I asked what was the matter, and she said, "I thought we were going to get pizza!" There's no pizza like New York pizza. Erin still will not eat pizza in Utah when visiting family.
THE WONDERFUL SCENT OF THOSE HOT PIES
When I was growing up in Yonkers, we lived in a section called The Hollows. Up the street was an Italian restaurant we called The Silver Bar or The Round House. In those days, pizza was called "hot pies." A small pie was 25 cents and a large pie was 50 cents and, of course, a nickel tip for Ronnie, the waitress. The smell was mouthwatering, and we always burned the roof of our mouths from biting into it too soon. Now and then, I may come across a place that will have the same wonderful smells, and it brings back fond memories.
Helen E. Purdes,
FLYING A NEW YORK PIZZA TO ARIZONA
My son, Jason, moved to Prescott, Ariz., to finish college and acquire his teaching degree. He loves the wide open spaces and explores with his Jeep Wrangler plenty of ghost and mining towns, and some of the real Old West. He is currently married, raising his daughter and following his love for teaching and coaching junior high kids.
But one thing he does miss -- really miss -- is New York pizza. On his recent visit to Long Island, he insisted we go out for oven-baked pizza every day. Since he traveled across the country to visit me, how could I say no? My wife was out of town, so I didn't care if we ate pizza every day.
We had fun sampling pizza from different pizzerias. He liked them all. It was a good bonding time between us. We leisurely had some beer or Coke, enjoyed the pie and reminisced of growing up on eastern Long Island.
Our close time together had come to an end. On our way to MacArthur Airport, Jason said, "Dad, I need one more pizza." I replied there wasn't enough time. He said, "Dad, I'm not going to eat it now. I want to take a fresh pizza home to Arizona to show my family what a New York pizza is like." I couldn't say no, so he ordered a pepperoni and sausage pie to go in a strong cardboard box.
The smell of fresh pizza filled the airplane cabin. Comments were made: "Pass a slice!" Jason explained that he had to save it for his family. Finally home, pizza in the oven, the aromas filled the kitchen. Bottom line, everyone said it was the best pizza they ever had.
THEY ASKED FOR PLAIN AND PLAIN THEY GOT
On an RV trip through the Southwest with wife and kids, 12 and 10. Stop for pizza in Page, Ariz. Stand in line to order (good sign, right?). Tell kid taking order, "We want one pepperoni pizza and one plain pizza." Sit down and wait for our number to be called. When it comes out, there's one pepperoni pizza and one circular piece of baked dough. No tomato sauce, no cheese, no spices, just baked dough. Not really pizza. We complain to the manager, a college kid. She smacks her forehead and says, "I am working with idiots." The moral: always say "cheese pizza" when that is what you want.