Monday, March 7, 2016

The Misadventures of Pizza Man

He was oozing optimism when he first opened his pizza place’s doors. His little restaurant was poised and ready for what was certain to be a mad dash of salivating clientele. The shop was staffed like a bustling Midtown Manhattan pizzeria—its multiple employees festooned in matching red, logo-emblazoned baseball caps and staff shirts. The adrenalized new owner, who had succeeded an unsuccessful pizza peddler, who in turn had assumed the reins from still another failed pizza guy, had—it seemed—all his bases covered. This latest entrepreneurial endeavor was sure to prove—despite its cursed locale—that a third time's a charm.

Long a pizza devotee and forever a Bronx denizen, the shortest distance from point A (home) to point B (a quality New York slice of pizza) mattered to me. Therefore, I would throw myself at the mercy of the new kid on the block and hope for the best. I was perfectly willing to tolerate any and all growing pains, including extraordinarily green employees, who didn’t in the slightest strive to be otherwise. So, I wasn’t bothered when the two slices, plus a small fountain drink—the $5.00 lunch special—wasn’t afforded me because I declined the free drink. (I didn’t want to carry it home.) The clueless staff actually charged me $5.50, the cost of two slices when not on special, because I didn’t accept the drink! And then there was the improperly wrapped pizza conundrum, where exceptionally oily slices saturated takeout bags beyond their capacity to do the job. On more than one occasion during this establishment’s fledgling days, my bag split open before I arrived home, splattering my clothes with mozzarella, tomato sauce, and scorching hot, orangey grease. I was nonetheless hopeful things would improve once the gang that couldn’t shoot straight got the hang of it. I would thus ignore that countless pizza slices lost their tips when being plucked out of the oven and when being yanked out of the takeout bag. Call me naïve, but I was convinced the pizza man would soon appreciate that his pizza pies were usually too thin, often too crisp, and sometimes a deadly combination of both. I had been served pizza slices with burnt bottoms before in my fast-food culinary travels, but never this degree of burnt offerings.

This pizza shop in the Northwest Bronx began with both high hopes and a full showcase of every conceivable specialty pizza. Quickly, though, a conspicuous dearth of sales cut the pizza selections on display to a haphazard, forlorn-looking medley of slices. A portent of things to come occurred when the restaurant’s top pizza oven went on the fritz and was not repaired for months. Truth be told, it was painful to behold the well-intentioned, formerly optimistic owner preparing his pizza pies in an oven that was practically on the floor. God knows the man tried. He inundated the surrounding neighborhood with fliers on several occasions. In fact, one of them heralded that the place would be open for breakfast. But—go figure—he never opened for breakfast. It would have been the opportunity of a lifetime—and a first—to sample “Mash Potato” on a roll to start my day.

When all was said and done, the pizza served was pretty good—above average, I'd say—even if the slice size and its mass fluctuated from one day to the next. My last takeout purchase of a couple of slices—with pepperoni on them—was practically weightless. It was as if I had bought them on the moon. Unquestionably, there was a consistency issue. You could get the freshest, tastiest slice one day and a soggy muddle the next. Refrigerated pizza from the prior day is a definite no-no in this business. And pizza visuals matter! The place’s showcase was too often unsightly—practically empty with just a few petrified-looking options. Nevertheless, I genuinely liked the proprietor and hoped and prayed he would eventually get his act together. He never did. His almost two years of misadventures seemed like an eternity to me, a loyal customer. I can only imagine what it seemed like to him. And if this pizza man tries his luck someplace else—which I believe is very possible—I sincerely hope his pizza slice tips stay put. I also hope in the next go-round that if he advertises “open for breakfast” he does, in fact, open for breakfast.

(Photos 1 and 2 from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)

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