My first awareness of Pizza came with the song Dean Martin sang in the 1950s; "Amore". In the southern backwater where we lived Pizza was unknown. It was a time of burgers and fries. A&W and Dairy Queen were what passed as fast food chains, and we never went out to eat, ever.
So, when Dean Martin sang I heard the lyrics as meaningless;
When the moon hits your eye, like a big piece of pie…
It’s a moray.
Don’t ask me why I knew what a moray eel was, but not amore. Someone filled me in on both
My first memory of eating pizza came in 1964 in my first year of medical school when a group of students, celebrating getting past a major exam descended on Shakey’s Pizza in Little Rock, Arkansas.
We were unbearable at that point, egregiously full of self-importance, still wearing our short white coats that reeked of formalin from Gross Anatomy laboratory. Shakey’s had pizza, and beer by the pitcher, and we all pitched in and bought both. The beer was all from the Midwest; Budweiser, Schlitz, Pabst or Michelob.
Shakey’s for some reason that seemed reasonable and fun then had a ‘gay nineties’ theme and the one in Little Rock had a piano player and a tenor banjo player dressed in bowler hats and bow ties, who played as the words to songs with lyrics like, “Roll out the barrel, we’ll have a barrel of fun”, were projected on the wall.
I have a great memory of being at Shakey’s with friends when a group of German businessmen came in. They bought us beer – a sure way to our hearts – sat down with us and joined in the singing. German’s seem to love group singing.
There were humorous signs on the walls like, “Shakey made a deal with the bank. Shakey won’t cash checks, and the bank won’t make pizza.” Shakey’s pizza was, for me, for years, the standard.
I later learned that what Shakey’s made was New York style pizza; thin crisp crust. A few decades later I went to Uno in Chicago and discovered Chicago style pizza. Different, but also delicious.
In the mid-80s L and our older daughter went to Europe on one of those “fifteen countries in nine days” tours and found that in Rome you cannot sit down when you order pizza. It’s considered snack food there and they had to eat it standing. Italians invented it and they get to make the rules in Rome.
It’s not just Rome. In Little Rock we occasionally went to a ‘ma and pa’ Italian restaurant, The Villa. Ma cooked, and Pa took orders, communicating with Ma by yelling from your table to the kitchen in Italian. There was usually a heated discussion between the two and then Pa would turn and suggest that instead of pizza and beer we should have some of their nice ravioli and his home made wine.
We would acquiesce. The ravioli was delicious. The wine was atrocious.
Crisp thin crust, tomato sauce, pepperoni, olives, onions, mushrooms, no anchovies, please, (I like them, but my wife and daughters hated them) was our usual.
And then we went somewhere and the restaurant offered a “white pizza”. Up for a lot when it comes to food, but this sounded weird. No tomato sauce, chicken, cheese and artichokes?! It turned out that the ‘sauce’ was a mix of ricotta and mozzarella cheeses, with garlic in addition to the artichoke and chicken. It was excellent. Since then I’ve had white pizzas with things I liked, things I’m ambivalent about, and things I really don’t care for. Arugula is something I’m ambivalent about. For me, pineapple, white beans and squash don’t go on pizza. I’m sorry. You may like them.
To indicate how much things have changed in the South, beer joints, as they were called then; places with names like, The Dew Drop In, served slim jims, pickled pig’s feet and boiled eggs at the bottom of a jar of vinegar. In the really upscale bars there were grills where they would make you a hamburger. The other day at a similar place known locally as “the Dive” you can get a really good white pizza, and they even have an IPA on draft.
Like most of the country, Georgia is now the home of a lot of microbreweries like Sweetwater in Atlanta, producer of Sweetwater 420 (yes, in honor of that 420), my favorite,
and Jekyll Brewery, producer of ‘Hop Dang Diggity” in Alpharetta, Georgia
We met our friends at The Dive the other night because it is about mid-way between our homes. Despite all of the choices, our friend had the “meat lover’s” pizza with Yingling beer. He just recently branched out from Budweiser after I told him that Yingling was not an import beer, that it was in fact from America’s oldest brewery. He is a really good cook, but he doesn’t do anything fancy. He’s kind of a conservative “meat and potatoes” kind of guy.