Author Topic: Memory Lane, Bronx New York  (Read 750 times)

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Offline Gags

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Memory Lane, Bronx New York
« on: May 11, 2014, 07:33:33 PM »
As Peter Reinhart wrote:

“After many hunts, many adventures, many conversations, I have come to the conclusion that there are two kinds of perfect pizza: contextually perfect and paradigmatically perfect.  They are both important....It's the pizzeria where we have a special history, a memory that is woven together with the flavors, textures, and atmosphere of the place.  It is necessary, I think, that such a contextually perfect pizza – that is, perfect because of the circumstances of a time and situation- at least aspires, even if it fails, to be paradigmatically perfect as well....Once in awhile, and only rarely, these two perfections come together in one pie, in one perfect pizza moment, and then we know a different reality, a moment of grace, and we attain an indelible memory.  When that happens, if we are conscious enough even to recognize it when it occurs, it is like a gift, and the best we can do is to be grateful.”

It's with these words in mind that I set off to make New York style pizza again this weekend.  It's a departure of sorts as I've been baking Neapolitan style for the past few months, but living in Southern California, you can be assured that I get homesick from time to time.  And the catalyst to bring me back to those perfect moments growing up as a kid in the Bronx -- the voices of my parents having a conversation over pastries at the table, walking home from Cardinal Spellman HS through the leaves fallen throughout Pelham Bay Park, the clatter of the elevated train whilst dripping snowmelt from its tracks, the windows fogged from Sunday dinner, the TV on the kitchen table broadcasting the Phil Simms-led NY Giants, and the smell of garlic bread or my mom's lasagna -- is NY Style pizza. 
 
My earliest memories include Louie & Ernies' very peppery, very thin style pizza.  I remember waiting in our car, seeing the fog filled windows of this basement pizzeria, and wondering what was to come out of the neon glow of its signs.  Anticipation gave way to reality, though, and upon opening the clay-lined cardboard pizza boxes, I didn't much care for it.  In fact, I would strip the cheese from my slice and give it to my dad, who was more than happy to oblige.  To this day, I'm surprised when I see it rated highly on NY Pizza polls.

Fast forward to my days in the seventh grade, when I somehow convinced my parents that the school lunch at Our Lady of Assumption wasn't cutting it anymore.  My special dietary needs required that I be let out of school grounds over the lunch hour.  At last I was to be done with the spoiled milk smell in the school staircase as it led down to the subterranean cafeteria.  Now I would be free to roam Middletown Road, Buhre and Crosby Avenues in the search of real flavor.  While all but the bakery are now gone, DeSimini Salumeria, Zeppieri Bakery, and John's Pizzeria were my refuge.  DeSimini was a journey back in time.  The moment you walked in, you might be thrust back on your heels onto "the avenue."  The rich, pungent smell of aged cheese hanging from the ceiling was THAT strong!!  I remember walking down her aisles, curiously looking at the Nutella spread, Stella D'Oro cookies, Drake's Cakes, and other delectable items and wondering what treasures these were.  I'd sometimes get a ham and cheese sandwich and the cheese alone would make your cheeks pucker!  And John's Pizzeria, across from DeSimini and Viking Cards & Books, now a sushi shop, I think, was fantastic.  A delco with hard formica seating for about 20, it had a classic NY pie.  I remember that my tolerance for granulated garlic had gotten so high that I would very liberally coat my $0.75 slice with it as I simultaneously twisted the pop-top off my Veryfine Lemon-lime drink.  Only when the oil would no longer absorb the garlic did I deem that the slice was ready for consumption.  As it turns out, garlic will saturate your pores and your clothing.  My parents had to declare an end to that love affair, worried that I was doing irreparable harm to my relationships and also to my Catholic school uniform!!!

Other local shops pervade my memory.  As a kid hanging out with friends, we'd sometimes drop into Crosby Pizza Stop for their fantastic Sicilian slice, Family Pizza for a standard slice, or Five Brothers, next to Catania shoe store, for a slice and maybe to put our quarters up, amidst the cigarette burns on the dashboard, to play the next available game of Centipede or Ms. Pac Man.  Of those, I think only Crosby remains and Family Pizza was reincarnated recently under a new name.

Some time later we started getting our pies from Frank's Original NY Pizza on Middletown Road, just under the Lexington Ave #6 train's Middletown Road station, of course.  In those days, Frankie and his brother, Carmine, who was more likely than not to be at the helm, turned out some incredible NY pies.  They were just perfect.  I didn't see much browning of the crust, but they were supple and baked perfectly, leading me to think they didn't use sugar in the dough.  It was a very simple dough with a great garlic-heavy sauce and beautiful cheese.  As a testament to how authentic this family operation was, my oldest brother would oft be disappointed that he couldn't get a spinach calzone because Frank's mother hadn't finished washing the spinach that day!!  The significance of those Friday nights hasn't been lost on me - a few casual hours when my two working parents could relax with their three sons - is most meaningful to me.  To this day, my father and I can still joke about the pizza college diagram Frankie had framed on his wall.  The shop has since been sold off and now is in different hands.

Allora, as I was reading the news from New York City the other day, I realized that it's not the same.  Crime and human apathy run rampant, more so it seems than in the past, but my memories persist.  The break of the crust, the softness of the cheese, the bite of the sauce, and that drip of orange oil take me back to the days of my youth.  And I'm sure that's what Peter was referring to. Oh, how significant a slice of this simple peasant's food, pizza, can be...
« Last Edit: May 12, 2014, 06:15:49 PM by Gags »
"I'd trade it all for just a little bit more"


Offline waltertore

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Re: Memory Lane, Bronx New York
« Reply #1 on: May 11, 2014, 09:30:53 PM »
Gags:  That was a great story. It brought back similar memories of my Newark NJ area upbringing.  Your pizzas look great too!  Walter

Offline Gags

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Re: Memory Lane, Bronx New York
« Reply #2 on: May 11, 2014, 09:54:25 PM »
Gags:  That was a great story. It brought back similar memories of my Newark NJ area upbringing.  Your pizzas look great too!  Walter

Thanks for the kind message, Walter!!  And it was a pleasure to open up this month's PMQ to see you and your students' smiling faces!! 
And you playing some mean blues harp in that TV report was pretty cool too!
Great job out there and I hope the new coverage leads to more orders than you and your team can handle!!   ;D
« Last Edit: May 11, 2014, 11:08:11 PM by Gags »
"I'd trade it all for just a little bit more"

Offline Gags

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Re: Memory Lane, Bronx New York
« Reply #3 on: May 11, 2014, 10:11:59 PM »
And while I'm reminiscing, here are some pix to substantiate my story...

Our Lady of Assumption schoolyard and that staircase...
A recent trip back for a local slice...
« Last Edit: May 11, 2014, 11:04:12 PM by Gags »
"I'd trade it all for just a little bit more"

Offline waltertore

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Re: Memory Lane, Bronx New York
« Reply #4 on: May 12, 2014, 06:17:24 AM »
Gags:  Thanks for the compliments!  Things keep unfolding with this journey at breakneck speed lately :) Again your pictures bring back memories for me. I went to St. Mary's Catholic School in Nutley, NJ, until we moved to another town.  It was all brick and blacktop and a twin to the pictures you posted with school and surroundings.  I hear the school is now closed as well as the huge convent they had on the blacktop.   Times change...........  I spoke with my mother, who is 85, last night and she told me the rent on the 2 story/2 family home I was born in was 75 bucks a month!  Today I bet that same place goes for a couple grand.   The only thing that has remained about the same from those days is the cost of our pizzas :)  Walter

Offline Pete-zza

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Re: Memory Lane, Bronx New York
« Reply #5 on: May 12, 2014, 05:34:59 PM »
Ryan,

Kudos to you. I enjoyed your reminiscences very much. You have a nice, natural writing style. It looks like your teachers at Our Lady of Assumption and Cardinal Spellman HS taught you well.

Peter

Offline Gags

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Re: Memory Lane, Bronx New York
« Reply #6 on: May 12, 2014, 06:26:43 PM »
Hi Peter,

Thank you for the great compliment!!!
Let's just say the sisters beat my education into me!   ;D

And thanks for reading through it.
The combination of some plain cheese slices and Racer5 IPA brings out my sappy and nostalgic side!

Ryan
"I'd trade it all for just a little bit more"

Offline doughjockey

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Re: Memory Lane, Bronx New York
« Reply #7 on: May 14, 2014, 02:51:05 AM »
Hi Ryan,

I live in Sydney, and having read your story, evocative of a long gone NY, I hold you responsible for the expense involved in flying to NY later this year.............
Cheers,
Gus

Offline Gags

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Re: Memory Lane, Bronx New York
« Reply #8 on: May 16, 2014, 11:50:39 AM »
Hi Ryan,

I live in Sydney, and having read your story, evocative of a long gone NY, I hold you responsible for the expense involved in flying to NY later this year.............
Cheers,
Gus

Happy to oblige, Gus!!   ;D
Are you indeed going?
If so, what pizza shops do you intend to hit?

"I'd trade it all for just a little bit more"

Offline doughjockey

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Re: Memory Lane, Bronx New York
« Reply #9 on: May 25, 2014, 03:47:16 AM »
Hey Gags,
I am planning to visit, my second trip there, this time to really hit the joints to discover, to learn, to find out how sub standard my pizzas are !  i have been researching the forum, members recommendations, making a list bit by bit. Also would like to explore the less touristy areas.
Regards,
 Gus


Offline Jackitup

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Re: Memory Lane, Bronx New York
« Reply #10 on: May 25, 2014, 05:33:20 AM »
Let's just say the sisters beat my education into me!   ;D
Ryan


Ha ^^^ '60 - '64 grades 1 thru 4 were at St Boniface school for me.  Many of the sisters were quite nice and I loved them dearly. Just as many had their habits a bit to tight. You want some high risk concussion risk???? piss off them nuns and get those "long" blackboard erasers upside the head a few times and that will line you up for a couple days. My ears are still ringing from some of those :o and like I deserved it or something :-D :-D Actually, getting back to those woodshed days would serve us well me thinks nowadays! Whoop some respect into todays youth, but that's a WHOLE nother topic!!

jon
Save A Cow, Eat A Vegan....Totally Organic And Hormone Free!!


 

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