Friday, October 5, 2007


Pizza, from an image copyright by Jakob Dettner and Rainer Zenz
I'm one of the few people I know that doesn't really like pizza. Well, I will eat it, but it is not something that I love to eat.

A common image of geeks like me is that we drink a lot of caffeine (I don't like coffee either, by the way...!) and we eat pizza at midnight while we are doing a coding all-nighter. Sorry if I disappoint.

I know where my dislike of pizza comes from. I had "stomach problems" all during my childhood, and as a result, I had this terrible aversion to cheese. Since pizza is covered in cheese, it made the entire issue a non-starter for me. Now, as I grew up, I slowly grew to tolerate cheese to the point where I don't mind the milder cheeses. Contrast that to my oldest daughter's one-time attempt at Limburger... [shudder!] Anyway, the fact that most pizza purchased at my house when I was younger was the plain kind (no meat), also turned me off. So, for me, there wasn't anything to like.

When I started dating Sandra (1975), I found that she absolutely loved pizza, and had a couple of favorite places. Since pizza was a cheap meal, I grit my teeth and we went on a few pizza dates. I decided that if they added enough meat (sausage, pepperoni), the pizza wasn't really THAT bad. I moved from toleration to mild acceptance. I started experimenting with differing styles of pizza—discovering a place in Hicksville, NY called "My π" (the second "word" is the greek letter "pi," the kind of pun a geek like me would like!). This was a different style of pizza, which I would later learn was "Chicago Style" deep dish.

After moving to Miami (1979 through 1982), I remember the common wisdom from everybody who came from New York was that the pizza there was truly hideous. My parents agreed, and I was no longer faced with having to find something else to eat when people were doing pizza. One day, I was reading the Miami Herald, and saw an article about the terrible pizza situation in Miami. The article also pointed out a few places where good pizza could be found. I kept the information on what the Herald considered the "best" in Miami (which they claimed was as good or even better than the best pizza in New York!), mainly because when Sandra came for a visit, we could do another "pizza date" as before.

The place was called "Little Caesar's Pizza Treat" (no affiliation with the chain that I believe came along later) and it was located on South Dixie Highway in Coral Gables, right across the street from the University of Miami. When Sandra visited, I took her to the place, and—surprise!—the pizza was actually quite good. Again, I insisted on adding meat to it, and after Sandra and I got married in 1981, it became a semi-regular stop for us for dinner. Interestingly enough, there was also a "My π" in the Miami area as well! (It used to be a small chain of restaurants, which lives on in in Illinois by the son of the original owner.)

One day when Sandra and I were walking around the neighborhood where we lived in Miami, we stopped at a new strip mall that recently opened. Sandra saw a pizza place and insisted that we go there. I tried to warn her about Florida pizza, but she insisted that she loved ALL pizza. In Sandra's defense, I must point out that her only Florida pizza experience up until that time was Little Caesar's near the University, so she thought my warnings were due to the fact that although I started to accept pizza, she knew that deep down, I could live without it. When she bought the slice, she had to grudgingly admit that I was correct. She hated the pizza!

After we moved to New England, we found a chain restaurant called Papa Gino's just across the street from our apartment at the Rockingham Mall in Salem (this place is still there). Sandra liked the pizza, although it wasn't as good as the best pizza in Long Island or Little Caesar's. I, for my part, liked the pasta. So once again, pizza dates started to become common—about once a week since the place was so close.

I remember a place just over the Massachusetts border in Ayer from Salem on Route 97 that had a very good pizza before the kids were born. For a mere pittance, the two of us would share a pizza (with sausage, pepperoni, and meat balls), and a sixty-four ounce pitcher of Stroh's beer. We made this a Wednesday habit, and we started to become regulars there—the owner would see us and start pouring us our pitcher while we decided which pizza we would order.

Sadly, that place in Ayer is no longer in business. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts, in its infinite wisdom, managed to let itself be convinced by some pious know-nothings that happy hours should be banned. "It makes sense," the promoters would say, "that if you discount alcohol, people will buy more of it." That seemed ludicrous to me; I never once saw a person go into a bar and ask for five dollars worth of drinks. Lowering the price at happy hour should only have the effect that it will lower the amount you will spend on your drinks. The proponents didn't point to any studies that proved their "common wisdom," but, alas, the Commonwealth passed its "happy hour" laws.

I remember the owner of the pizza place in Ayer sadly informing us that he couldn't sell us any pitchers—his sixty-four ounce pitchers were deemed "too large" by the new law. Sandra and I had to instead purchase the beer at full price by the glass (which made for a lot more expensive meal). Only a few weeks later, the place went out of business, and was replaced by a video store. Thank you, Commonwealth of Massachusetts...

Today, we have pizza, but no longer have the pizza dates we once did. I'm still mildly accepting of pizza, but most places that serve pizza also serve other things that I'd prefer to eat. With the kids enjoying pizza as much as their mother, I'm not really a stick-in-the-mud as far as that's concerned.

One place my family currently enjoys is Sal's "Just Pizza." They have a colossal three-pound pizza (one "slice" is a quarter of the pizza and enough for a meal). From its little place in Salem in 1990, Sal's has grown into a very popular chain here in New England. Its location in Salem moved down the road to a larger facility, and they now serve things other than pizza, incorporating Mary's Pasta and Sandwiches (making me much happier).

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