Pam’s Pictorama Post: It’s a food post today, This childhood photo of me at an early birthday party of mine – maybe fifth grade? I am the birthday girl in light blue and to one side of me are twins, Beverly and Beth Bruckmann, the girl standing I believe was named Lisa. I don’t think I can confirm many others – I believe it is my sister Loren’s head we see in the upper left and just below her may have been a neighbor, Sally Jacques. The blonde girl wearing the party hat might be her sister Karen – their other sister Buffy was my bestie at the time but not shown here. Sorry other blond girl seated next to me, I cannot remember even a hint of your name.
This was taken on a wonderful four seasons porch/room my parents added onto the back of this tiny Cape Cod house. It had slate floors and windows all around with a river view. It was the very favorite and most used room in the house except for in the dead of winter or very stormy days when it tended to be chilly.
As evidenced here, pizza has long been a ubiquitous Butler family food and we are selective about it! About a week ago my mom, who can rarely be coaxed into a few mouthfuls of solid food these days, surprised us by consuming a slice fresh out of the box. You can’t take the Italian out of the girl I say.
Mom told a story recently I had never heard before about how as a small girl she was sent down the block from her grandparent’s apartment (and bar on a main drag in the small town of Long Branch) where she could get a very own pizza for lunch from one of the nearby merchants. They were expecting her and would seat her with her pie by the kitchen door. She said she was very pleased with herself and the arrangement and that in retrospect the couple who owned the establishment must have gotten a big kick out of her and her love of their pizza.
In the course of my childhood pizza was most frequently delivered in a thin cardboard box from the likes of places called Red Bank Pizza or Danny’s. It was delivered by a high school or college student, almost always male. It had thin crust and toppings were limited to the most traditional – pepperoni or sausage (before we all became vegetarians), maybe mushroom or peppers. It was, quite frankly, heavenly and a great treat made no less great by how very often we ate it. (Mom did love a night off from cooking.)
In high school I reached some sort of pinnacle of summer jobs making sub sandwiches and warming slices for Aniello’s Pizza. He made an exceptionally good pie with the only disadvantage being that he did not deliver so it lacked in convenience. While I worked there the rule was waitresses could eat as much pizza as you wanted, but in theory had to pay for sandwiches. No need to tell me twice. I happily lived on pizza that summer and even that did not dim my affection for it.
Somewhere along the line my father made a discovery, a place called The Brothers Pizza in Red Bank. Like some of the other top notch establishments they eschewed delivery. My Dad liked to go there with my brother Edward (hey Ed) on the weekend and I would tag along sometimes. I was known to introduce it to a boyfriend or two as well. I must run in that direction this weekend and see if it is still there. I usually stop a block or two short of making it over there, preferring not to cross an especially busy street or two. (Update, I just googled it and it still exists and they deliver – can you say pizza this weekend?)
In college we ate a fair amount of bad pizza from Dominoes – a disgrace really. Having grown up with a surfeit of really good pizza I barely knew such things existed. New London, Connecticut was not as well endowed with good pizza and you take what you can get in college and adjust your expectations accordingly. However, sometimes we would drive to a Greek owned pizzeria downtown (which sadly also did not deliver) and eat a memorable moussaka pizza – the only time in my life I have had that.
As you know, life eventually took me to New York City which is an odd and ambitious assortment of pizza. Within a few blocks you can have excellent traditional pies, chains like Dominoes, reasonable slices to go, homemade and gourmet. It is a pizza Mecca in some ways. It took me time and taste testing before I settled on Arturo’s on York Avenue and 85th Street as my pizza joint of choice. It is a street corner take out and delivery hole in the wall that makes a fine pie. I am partial to a well done mushroom, although olives tempt me too. Kim has graciously given up on peppers to fall into line with my mushroom preference. Arturo’s was very loyal to Yorkville during the pandemic and I gave them a shout out at the time in a post that can be found here. When they too close at for a month or so due to illness I really did begin to think things looked bleak indeed.
We walk up the, block to Arturo’s to fetch our own pizza – Kim eschews delivery and of course he is right, what is it to walk up the block. It is usually a nice walk as well and on pleasant evenings hanging out on the corner and waiting for our pie, watching folks get bright colored snow cones is good too. We take our pizza home in the more popular hard cardboard box which has mostly replaced the flimsy cardboard one. It has a graphic on it of a street scene in an imaginary Italy which has morphed a bit over time. Kim speculates that they hired someone very inexperienced to draw it and they have improved over time. I am sorry I don’t have a photo of it!
I was sad to realize that most of my childhood pizza places are gone – some as recently as during the pandemic it seems. My mom had scooped out a place called Gianni’s that delivers and is a credible pie. They also do a grandma’s deep dish. (I’ve eaten deep dish pizza in Chicago twice and I’m not sure I will ever eat anything else in Chicago if left up to my own devices.) If I do treat us to a Brother’s Pizza this weekend I will post it as a follow up on Instagram. It is sounding pretty good to me.