Let’s pretend that I am very old, sitting in a rocker on a wide front porch, talking to my grandchild, Taylor. You can imagine an extremely cute kid is on the steps close by, mowing down a big slice of homemade pizza.
Half-way through the first slice, Taylor exclaims, “This is the BEST!”
“Be careful, sweetie! You’ll burn the roof of your mouth!”
“Mmmph!” Taylor’s head goes up and down, mouth full of hot pizza.
“But that’s the sign of a really good pizza. It smells so good, and looks so good, you just can’t wait for it to cool off. You’ve got to eat it right now. I can remember lots of good pizzas, you know.”
Taylor swallows and says, “That’s because you’re old.”
Did I mention that my grandchild is perceptive?
“You’re right, I am old. And I’ve lived in a lot of places in my life. Not just here. I’ve lived in South Carolina, and North Carolina, and Colorado, and California. And I had really yummy pizza in all of those places, before I even met your Granddaddy.”
Did I mention that my grandchild watches a little too much TV?
“Domino’s isn’t that yummy compared to most pizzas, Taylor. But when I was in college, it was the only delivery place around, and I remember eating quite a few slices in the dorms with my friends late at night.
“And I have had some very tasty Pizza Hut pizza. I remember having it in Chester, South Carolina, when I was a teenager. After the football games, me and my friends from the marching band would all pile into the Pizza Hut. It was nice and warm in there, after a cold night on the bleachers.
“I also remember having yummy Pizza Hut pizza in Ridgecrest, California, after a long drive inland from the coast. Nothing like a good pizza to wind down after a long day on the road. But I was thinking of other pizzas.”
Taylor thinks a little harder. “Other people’s pizza?”
“Other people, and other restaurants. Like at my granddaddy’s house, when my aunts used to make pizza from a kit that came in a box. They’d make the dough from the mix, putting it in a little bowl to rise, and then spreading the dough into cookie sheets. There never seemed to be enough of that dough, and it would be so thin in places you could see the cookie sheet underneath! Then they’d spread the tin of tomato sauce on with a spoon, and sprinkle on the parmesan cheese. I think that was my first homemade pizza. I even made it for your granddaddy when we were dating — but I added mozzarella and veggie pepperoni.”
Taylor gives me a funny look, “You were a vegetarian?”
“Not then, but I had been a vegetarian for five years before that. But I stopped after my trip to Paris. Being a vegetarian in France was hard. I ended up eating a lot of Indian, and funny enough, a lot of pizza! There was a tiny little pizzeria near my hotel. They had all kinds of interesting looking pizza there, and some were served with an egg on top! They’d break an egg over the center of the pizza, and it would come out cooked with the pizza!”
Taylor agrees with my expression, “Bleah!”
“Not all foreign pizza is weird though. In South Carolina my favorite pizza places were the Greek restaurants. La Brasca’s was the first one I remember, but there was the Parthenon down in Five Points, and Zorba’s — we used to go there after we’d go roller skating, and … what was that one downtown?” Some mouthful of a name. Now what was it??? I furrow my brow.
Taylor looks a little worried, “What about Colorada, Grandmama?”
Did I tell you how tactful my grandchild is? Never lets the conversation lag, even when my memory falls down on the job.
“Boulder Colorad-oh. That’s where I got my masters degree. I found two new kinds of pizza there: New York pizza, and Chicago pizza. The New York pizza was at Abo’s down on Pearl Street. Taylor, you should have seen how big those slices were! And tasty thin crust, alot like your Granddaddy’s. One slice could just about fill you up, which was a good thing. We didn’t have a lot of money back then.”
Taylor gets up, “I’m gonna go get some more, Grandmama. I’ll be right back.”
Good thing, too. That was a bit of a slip-up. The “we” back then wasn’t Taylor’s Granddaddy, but my first husband, and I’m not very good at talking about that. We’d gotten married in Boulder, but living on his minimum wages and my teaching stipend was no honeymoon. Funny enough, one of his jobs was working at a Little Caesar’s, making two-for-the-price-of-one takeout pizzas. Learning how to toss pizza was interesting, but the hours weren’t so good, and delivering wasn’t fun at all.
Taylor returns. “Are you sure you don’t want any, Grandmama? Granddaddy said he’d make another one. The oven’s still hot.”
Did I tell you what a hospitable grandchild I have?
“No, thank you. I’m saving room for dessert.”
Taylor sits back down. “Tell me about Chicago pizza. What’s that like?”
“Have you ever had Uno’s pizza?”
Taylor’s head moves side to side, mouth stuffed with pizza.
“Chicago pizza is deep-dish. The edges are built up like skinny little walls, and the pizza has lots of meat and veggies and cheese. I liked Old Chicago’s, but it was expensive because you had to order a whole pizza, and sit down and get table service and pay a waiter’s tip and everything. It was also really noisy. Kids would come in big groups to share the pizza, so it wouldn’t cost so much.”
Taylor squints and asks, “What about after you got a job? Did you eat better pizza?”
I think I already mentioned how perceptive my grandchild is.
“No, the pizza didn’t get better. But I did try some new ones when I got to California. I lived in San Francisco for a year, up above the Noe Valley and Castro districts…”
“and ordered pizza delivered from Marcello’s. It was way too hard to park in San Francisco, so delivery was the way to go. When Marcello’s was good, it was the best pizza I’d ever had. But it wasn’t always good. Sometimes it would arrive cold, or with the wrong toppings on it. Sometimes it would never come. That’s the problem with delivery pizza. One good thing about Domino’s — it’s reliable.”
“But you said it didn’t taste very good.”
Such a memory in that cute little head.
“True. Although Domino’s is just fine for late-night munchies. Remember that when you go to college.” Partying, studying — so many reasons for late nights in college.
“I think I’m going to go to UC Santa Cruz. Granddaddy says they have a good astronomy program there.”
Did I tell you how smart my grandchild is? Fourth generation star-gazer, too!
“Well, let me tell you about my favorite pizza in Santa Cruz — Pizza My Heart.”
“I know them! They have the place on 41st Avenue, over by the mall! My friends have birthday parties there!”
“Yes, they do. But that place wasn’t always a Pizza My Heart. It was a barbecue place before that. They only had the little place by the beach in Capitola, and the one on the Pacific Garden Mall in Santa Cruz.”
“And they have a place in the mall over in San Jose too, upstairs.”
Did I tell you that my grandchild is the product of a consumer-oriented society?
“They have one now, but not when your mama was little. What’s your favorite flavor at Pizza My Heart?”
“Oh, that’s easy. Pepperoni!”
Taylor’s favorite flavor at any restaurant, no doubt.
“Mine is pesto.”
“Which one is that?”
“The green one.”
“Eww. Mama gets that sometimes, too. It’s all green and drippy.”
“And it tastes really good. One day you’ll see.”
Doubtful look from the very cute grandchild with a mouthful of pizza crust.
“Have you ever been to Tony and Alba’s?” I ask.
Taylor puts down the empty plate. “I don’t remember.”
This conversation won’t last much longer. I serve up one last bit of family history.
“I first had Tony and Alba’s when I worked in Silicon Valley. We’d pile into a few cars and go for pizza in Mountain View at lunchtime. I remember they had a special pizza pie they called Stromboli.”
Taylor pipes up, “Like in Pinocchio!”
Fourth generation Disney fan. Genes are truly amazing things.
“Yep, just like Pinocchio.”
“So Grandmama, what is your very favorite pizza?”
“That’s easy, Taylor. It’s the sausage and onion pizza that your Granddaddy makes for me. Hot and fresh from the oven, with mozzarella and parmesan cheese, just the way I like it.”
“Let’s go see if there’s anything for dessert.”
We both stand up, me a little slower, coming out of the rocker.
Taylor comes over for a big grandmama hug. “I love you, Grandmama.”
“I love you too, Taylor.”
Even more than I love pizza.
Dedicated to all the pizza chefs in the world, professional and amateur. In honor of the grand opening of the Pizza My Heart restaurant on 41st Avenue.
And the restaurant I couldn’t remember is the Elite Epicurean.