Not sure why it has taken me so long to introduce you to another favorite of mine. In this chapter, I will bring you on a journey of my first memory of pizza as a four year old to the day I worked for a pizza restaurant at 16 to making homemade pizza for my friends and family today.
Ever since I was a young boy pizza has been a part of my life and I’m very fortunate that I haven’t grown in size, like the size of a pizza – round and doughy. The year is 1993 – I am only 4 years old and have been a lover of food since day one. My mother told me later on that my two favorite foods at that age were peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and pizza – this was true and was journaled and written down in my own personal journal that my mother had made for each of my siblings and I won’t see those journals until her soul leaves her body – it’s a mystery what she has written down in those black and white marble notebooks locked away in her closet.
Ok, it’s 1993 and Lenny Kravitz’s ‘Are You Gonna Go My Way’ is playing on the radio and Ring Pops were a sugary snack and a cool 90’s accessory, if not sucked on or enjoyed later. The earliest memory of pizza brings me back to East Main Street in Waterbury, CT to a small hole in a wall place that is called ‘Angelina’s Pizza’ – named after the owners mother. I’m sitting down with mother inside to what I remember as a stuffy and warm pizza shoppe and it’s only us and Phil the owner who’s warming up our slices. Pizza was my go-to if Peanut Butter and Jelly weren’t around and I don’t think Phil had that laying around in the back.
I remember sitting there with my feet dangling off my seat not even close to touching the floor and devouring my first slice of cheese pizza. It was so good that I begged my mother for another slice, so she made me get up and ask Phil for one more slice and made sure I said “please and thank you”. As I waited for my next slice, in walks a man who I thought was a real life giant, but was just very, very tall and bald headed and this man later became my kindergarten and 1st grade Physical Education teacher. I was so fascinated by his height that I just stared at him while he ate his slices as my mother told me that it’s not nice to stare and that my pizza was getting cold.
Fast forward – the year is 1998 and the Beastie Boys just dropped ‘Intergalactic’ and I know every word to the song and even danced like the robot in the music video and if you were into McDonald’s back then and had a “happy meal” you probably received a Tamagotchi (you might be too young to remember this). At this point, my father invested and built a brick oven in our backyard for our cooking pleasures. Most of summer and early fall my family and I would spend time cooking outside and eating in the backyard underneath the New England sunset.
We cooked a lot of food out of that brick oven, but for the most part, it was all pizza, baby. We hosted pizza parties on the regular and every Friday night pizza was being made. I didn’t complain at all and as a child because pizza for me was like a gift. Where did we get the tomato’s from you might ask? Remember from Chapter 1. Spaghetti – my family had a garden? Yes, we used our own tomato and made our own pizza sauce. The cheese came from a local farm in Bethlehem, CT where nuns milked the cows. This pizza was holy and growing up Italian-French Catholic we said a prayer before every meal, so this pizza was on a whole different level in the pizza world.
My very first job at 16 years old was working in a pizza restaurant as a dough boy. Dominick and Vinnie’s Pizza hired me on my birthday and I worked the very next day. They taught me how to make the dough, but didn’t trust me fully with the responsibility of making the dough that they were known for. I would scale out the dough for each size of pie and roll it up into a tight little ball. Next, I would put the ball of dough away in a drawer that was underneath my station and sprinkle a little flour on top, so it wouldn’t be hard to pick up when I had an order. When it came time to doing what I loved doing and after eating a few slices of pizza in the back with my colleagues I had to go to work and roll out some dough.
How did it all come together?
For the most part, the restaurant was mostly all take out, so people would call up and place an order. The owners always had a cute girl in the front answering the phones and overtime I would go over to talk….ok, flirt and I was always pulled back to my station even if I didn’t have anything to do. Making pizza was a lot of fun for me because it brought me back to my younger years and I’ve always been attracted to creating things with my hands. Once, a week the boss would allow me to take a pizza home, so once again I was eating pizza at least once a week for years.
There is a beauty to pizza making that I feel sometimes people miss. You can totally fuck up big time on pizza and have it be burnt or adding too much sauce or not enough cheese and the sauce seeps through the dough and now you just have a wet, soggy slice of garbage pizza. For me, it’s always been a meditation making pizza. You and the dough. How does it feel in your hands to the pressure you need for rolling it out. Sometimes you have a thin spot in the dough and you have to play doctor for a moment and ‘stitch it up’. Pizza, its a beautiful thing.
Today: I’ve eaten a lot of pizza over the years now and still don’t like a ball of dough – thank you metabolism! The music has changed and so has the minds of people. Food is consumed differently than it was years ago. Was gluten-free even a thing 10 years ago? I’m sure it was, but not a fad as it is today. The attention spam of people has shrunk and people are consumed by their phones. Instead, I see people consuming their food by the photos they post when they have a beautiful plate in front of them, then they need to post it to their social media, add a caption, hashtag and now their food is cold and dying, so they miss the flavors of that ‘136 Liked photo’ dish when it was at it’s peak.
Back to pizza: I had the best day earlier this week. It’s a rare occasion, but I had two consecutive days off from work and I took it in to the fullest. I was going to eat out as much as I could which I ended up doing, but the most notable moment of my week is when I set foot in Roberta’s in Brooklyn for the first time. There was a 45 minutes to 1 hour wait and for pizza however, this wait wasn’t long enough to deter me. My friends Leonardo and Alexis grabbed a quick alcoholic slushy around the corner and waited for our time to be called in to consume some delicious pizza. I have memories of my favorite pizza moments from all over the world. From my own backyard pizza to Gjelina’s TakeAway on Abbot Kinney in Los Angeles to asking for bread in Paris and receiving pizza instead to having a pizza in my bedroom and drinking my mother’s Corona’s all by myself at 16.
Buzz, buzz (the text from Roberta’s) – we downed the rest of our frozen beverages and made our way over. I haven’t been satisfied with pizza in awhile and Roberta’s knocked it out of the park and any New Yorker will say, ‘it’s the water’, like how I said it in a Brooklyn accent to my friends and that makes the pizza good. Well, whether it’s the water or not, this pizza had me dancing in my seat. If you ever have the chance to eat with me and you see me dancing in my seat this will let you know that I am in that “happy place” meaning my stomach, my taste buds, my heart is in bliss.
In the end, it’s only really pizza, right? Wrong! It’s not just pizza it’s art, it’s a way of living and eating and to experience pizza that is made perfectly is a joy and if you haven’t experience pizza like the way that I’ve enjoyed pizza then I encourage you to start like, right now!