PIZZA AS ART
I fell in love with pizza the first time my parents took my brother and me to Sal’s, the only Italian restaurant in Bayside, Queens, Long Island, New York. Sal’s was a red sauce restaurant and I thought it was the finest restaurant in the world. I was eleven. It served spaghetti & meatballs, lasagna, baked ziti and other familiar Italian dishes in the 50’s and 60’s, all with sliced Italian bread with pads of iced butter. It served tomato, white onion and iceberg lettuce salad with chunks of blue cheese dressing… something I thought was so delicious I truly believed it was made by some food gods. AND Sal’s made pizza. I don’t know if I had ever had pizza before Sal’s (pizza parlors had not taken over the country yet – hell, this was long before McDonald’s and the franchising fast food ‘restaurant’ frenzy, but I digress…), but my memory of seeing a bubbling cheese pizza brought to our table, then taking that first glorious bite is something that’s embedded in my brain as the greatest food experience of my life. I was eleven.
My brother and I grew up in a White Castle, Howard Johnson world so going out as a family to a “restaurant” was a big deal. We went to Patricia Murphy’s Candlelight Inn (the very best popovers EVAH – digressing again) farther out on Long Island for special occasions like Mother’s Day, but once in a while we walked downstreet on Bell Blvd. (Bayside’s Main Street) for dinner at Sal’s. So, needless to say, my love affair with pizza started with Sal’s, coupled with my mom and dad and brother as a sort of Ozzie & Harriet memory of ‘family’ that changed after my dad died. He was 41. Our mother was 39. I was 13 and my brother was 9. Life was never really Ozzie & Harriet again even though I did have a mad crush on Ricky.
Sadly, when Richard and I went back to Bayside two summers ago to do my ‘roots’ thing, Sal’s was gone -- but not my childhood memories or my love for pizza. Pizza is almost perfect in its conception. And today pizza has become art.
Many of you have been reading me for a while and you read how pizza played a supporting role in my “Dinner in LA in Three Chapters” short story posted not too long ago on this blog and as you’ve probably guessed I have an almost religious feeling about pizza. So, when we were in Sacramento during Thanksgiving week and my brother suggested we go to Hot Italian Pizza & Panini Bar + Motors & Gears for dinner after our day of wine tasting in Amador County, it didn’t take a nano second for me to say “yes!”
Hot Italian Pizza & Panini Bar is a fun ‘industrial’ designed pizza and panini restaurant in the heart of Sacramento. Patrons can sit at one of the tables by the open kitchen
We started with a salad of gorgonzola dolce cheese, pears and honey -- a gourmet version of Sal’s salad with chunky blue cheese dressing and while eating this mix of mold, fruit and honey it confirmed my eleven year-old belief that there definitely are salad food gods when it comes to blue cheese dressings! We then ordered three pizzas to share among the four us:
#01 - Bellucci – a tomato sauce pizza with a delectable, not too spicy sausage, mozzarella and ricotta cheese. Bellissimo! Bob, Nguyen and Richard’s favorite.
# 06 - Stella - (probably not named for Tennessee William’s immortal heroine in “Streetcar Named Desire,” but some relative in Rome – oops, digressing…). This was made with prosciutto parma, mozzarella and crescenza cheeses with a mushroom medley. Bellissima!!! (It’s a ‘feminine’ pizza.) Definitely my favorite.
And the last was #04 - the Cannavaro, a simple tomato sauce, mozzarella and basil pizza. After the first two spectacular pizzas, this pizza was a disappointment, but we still ate every slice save one. It had too little cheese and though all the pizzas had wonderfully thin crusts, I’d rather my crust have more on it than tomato sauce with a sprinkling of basil and cheese. But, hey no restaurant is perfect.
The next time we’re back in Sacramento, I want a return visit to Hot Italian – I’m dying to try their #10 Pantani – bresaola (cured, salted beef) arugula, mozzarella, shaved grana padana cheese and #11 Ligabue – basil pesto, mozzarella, pine nuts, pecorino romano cheese… oh, but then there’s #12 Citterio – fior di latte mozzarella, spinach, prosciutto cotto ham, parmigiano and then there’s # 25, #50 .... stop me before I digress………