In the endless winter of 2014 -- spring is a rank rumor, I don't care what the calendar says -- staying home was the best bet most nights. And what better when stationed in front of the TV than the meal like no other?
You got it: pizza.
"Hey, let's get a pie."
"Took the words out of my mouth."
Is this the greatest sustenance ever invented, or what? If you ate it three times a day -- and who hasn't? -- you'd never tire of a good slice, hot, cold, half-warm, frozen, for that matter. Forget quinoa or kale or this month's magical mystery sprout. Pizza is the perfect food.
At least that is true around here. Even in its most humble iterations, if it comes from a New York or Long Island pizzeria, there is no such thing as a bad slice.
Out of town, could be another story. In the far regions, no telling what will show up when the alleged "pizza" comes to the table. Oh, yes, I know, it recently was Pizza Week in Detroit (give me a break) and some guy once won a pizza-eating contest in New Zealand (stop, already), and even Reader's Digest ran a pizza delivery help guide I guess for folks in the flyover states, but, let's face it, we know there's no place like home.
Beyond the gravitational pull of Planet Pizza (that's us), the impostor pie might be served on a pedestal better suited to a church altar and divided into almost any shape -- little bites the size of Saltines or portions that could double as postcards. Crazy, and that's only the half of it. Comes time to dig in, exurbanites are apt to do almost anything. Start with the crust, tear off the cheese or even eat with a knife and fork the way -- incredibly -- New York Mayor Bill de Blasio did in Staten Island a while back. Word hit the papers and it looked briefly like a recall vote might be launched overnight.
Around here, pizza protocol is serious business. When the pie arrives, you must wait maybe 30 seconds to be sure the mozzarella does not slide onto your lap. Grab a slice, blow a little across the surface in a generally useless attempt to avoid blisters, snap the crust with a downward motion of the index finger, fold and take a bite, shaking your free hand vigorously to confirm that, wow, that's hot, all right, and, oh boy, there's going to be some serious potholes on the palate.
No pain, no gain. Pizza! Yes!
Way back when in Bay Ridge, there wasn't much pizza to start -- this was in the early '40s -- only a special New Year's Eve treat from a bar and grill somewhere around 75th Street and Fort Hamilton Parkway. It came from a coal oven, I think, because there were big black bubbles on the edge of a delicious thin crust. I was still in footsie pajamas, but I remember.
It didn't take long before lovely "apizza pies" were everywhere. In some neighborhoods, you couldn't go more than two blocks without passing a shop with a sliding front window and a fellow in white apron handing slices to hungry Brooklyn working people. Ten cents it cost back then and five cents for the necessary Coke chaser. The Age of Enlightenment had arrived.
What Locke, Voltaire and Newton were to intellectual pursuit, a sweet young guy named Tony in a storefront pizza place a couple doors from my house on 69th Street was to the more immediate human enterprise called "lunch." Tony could toss a pie, could he ever.
For sentimental reasons, though, nothing will ever taste as good to me as the pizza at the long-gone Felix's on 18th Street and Fifth Avenue in Brooklyn because that is where we went -- teenage girls and boys -- when we had finally figured out what it was to be teenage girls and boys.
There was a waiter named Chubby and a tenderhearted waitress with a red bouffant that looked like it might scrape the ceiling. "Hi, Hon," she'd say to each of us before we ordered the usual large pie and pitcher of soda. "Here it is," Chubby would say 10 minutes later as he brought the beauty to the table, no pedestal, not a chance. "Enjoy yourselves, kids."
Mentioning pizza joints, past or present, is risky, of course, because if I say Spumoni Gardens, Brooklyn, you're going to say Lombardi's, Spring Street, Manhattan, or Sal's and Carmine's on the Upper West Side and we will go on for hours. Then, near exhaustion, we will turn to Long Island and it will be the same thing all over again. I'll bid Emilio's, Commack, and you'll raise me Grimaldi's in Garden City, and before you know it the undertaker is on the way.
I've had pizza all over the country -- even in Alaska. I tried pizza in Jerusalem, too, and ate a decent slice at the Vatican cafeteria -- no kidding. Columbia, Mo., Colorado Springs, Colo., Bandon, Ore., Duluth, Ga., Bloomington, Ind., Chicago, Toronto, anywhere. I'm fearless and open-minded. Show us what you've got, Detroit and New Zealand and pizza kings of Canada.
Nothing beats New York pie. Not according to me.
Just asking, anybody hungry?
RAISED ON PIZZA?
Have you been eating pizza since forever? Lately, have you opted for "healthier" whole wheat pies with just a sprinkle of cheese? Were you lucky enough to have a mom who made it from scratch? Is pizza what it used to be? Share your best pizza memory for possible publication. Email firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to Act 2 Editor, Newsday Newsroom, 235 Pinelawn Rd., Melville, NY 11747.