My first recollections of pizza were of takeout pizza as a child living in Worcester, MA. I even remember the store, Papa Gino’s. I remember this because they had a promotion of some sort where they gave out a kite if you drank five of their pizzas. Of course I’m kidding about drinking five of their pizzas as I’m sure nobody could drink more than three, but the kite was real.
I joke about the pizza being greasy because it was. I don’t mean the odd drip or two of grease coming off the pizza and running down your four arms kind of greasy. I’m talking about rust proofing the underside of a 63’ Cadillac Sedan De Ville kind of greasy. If not held and eaten properly the rivulets of grease would literally pour down your arms and make it impossible to lean on your elbows without them sliding out from under you.
The thing that I do remember was that the pepperoni they put on the pizza would curl around the edges and manage to get to this glorious stage of doneness just shy of burnt. I’m not sure if this was something my father requested as he liked everything from toast to hot dogs done to a certain stage of charred, or if it was a functional timer used by the pizza guy to gauge its doneness.
Either was it was the thing I liked best about that pizza and would sneak them off their greasy base to the point that my father eventually had to order extra pepperoni as it was easier than this game of alternately slapping the back of my hand and in turn getting the back of his hand slapped by my mother for doing the same thing. When we moved to New Hampshire when I was three, there was luckily a Papa Gino’s in the town next to where we moved, so for a few short years we had the security of pizza we knew.
I’m not really sure when it closed, but I remember having to go to different places to “try” their pizza. We tried the pizza barn with no recollection of their pizza. We tried Mama Mia’s, Mr. Pizza and then the brand new grand daddy of all pizza places…Pizza Hut. Yup, wasn’t I the lucky one?! We went there exactly once and blessedly, it took more than an hour to get 1 pizza and mom decided Pizza Hut was not to be our pizza place.
We then decided to try this place on Main St. called Athens Pizza. It was your average Greek style Pizza joint and I remember the man at the counter a Greek man named Andy, would come to our table and joke with my brother and I. Anytime we went in there… he knew us all by name and still does to this day. In one hand he was customer service personified, in the other…he was the devil. My mother was and is not much of a meat person and he suggested a pizza with maybe some mushroom or green pepper on it. This was all fine and good but for people of the vegetarian faith, these are just gateway ingredients to something more sinister.
So with mom being the only parent home at night during the week, and dad working nights… My brother and I were relegated to piles of undercooked vegetables on top of soggy pizzas until we were old enough to order and eat small pizzas for ourselves. That started with my mother saying, “ok but if you order it you had better finish it mister!” What my mother didn’t know was that I’d eat an entire couch cushion rather than one slice of her pizza disasters.
Until I was nineteen Athens pizza was the bar by which all other pizza had been measured. I went out into the world and found out there was so much more that my childhood could never have prepared me for. From Neapolitan, Sicilian, California and Chicago styles and everything in between I have tried them all and found that they all have strengths. Sure there are things that I like about each and some things maybe not so much.
We often lose sight of what’s important while we bicker about toppings, shape, how hot was the oven, what was the oven fired with, what type of oven is it, or which style is better. It’s pizza, a humble peasant food, something meant to carry a precious few toppings and in the original carnations, no sauce or cheese and really save for some salt, oil and herbs…no toppings. It was about the bread, not the number of things you could put on top of it and what order they were put on.
I went to Flatbread Company in Amesbury, MA the other day and they did a pizza with nothing more than olive oil, garlic, onion, peppers and a few slices of homemade Italian Sausage spaced judiciously so you could taste the star of the show the bread. It was cooked beautifully and as I ate, it gave me an epiphany of sorts. It’s like the folks at Flatbread were shouting at me “don’t forget it’s really about the bread…stupid.” It’s about cooking it well and with care as it’s a damned pizza and there’s no such thing as “perfect” only perfect for you. So to Flatbread Company, thank you…I won’t forget.
|Notice there is no sauce and no cheese…Flatbread Company Amesbury, MA.