SOMETIMES, EVEN THE fondest memories can be painful. After requesting pizza recommendations in my Facebook status update, I got inundated with more places that I had not heard of than I expected. And I was nostalgically surprised by the mention of some places that I hadn't been to in years, but back then where my regular pizza hangouts.
So I decided today to embark upon a PHUDE walk down memory lane, pizza edition. During the first 21 years of my life, I probably ate 85% of my pizza in four places: The Bread Shoppe, which was across the street from my apartment; Koronet, which was not only two blocks away from where I used to pick my sister up from Catholic school, but was also eventually a few blocks away from the West End, a Columbia University bar I frequented when I was underage, and, as well, later still, as near to the Columbia fraternaties and abodes of my friends; the Pizza Joint, across the street from the prep school I attended for 10 years; and Mimi's, which was centralized in the Upper East Side, where my friends from other prep schools primarily lived.
Refilling my MetroCard at the 86th & Lexington station, I waited for the M86 Crosstown bus. After several minutes of being subjected to God's cruel joke of an overflowing vegetable and fruit cart, the bus showed up. I took it through the park to Broadway and grabbed the uptown 1 train local to 110th Street, being subjected again to produce before setting eyes on Koronet for what may have been the first time in over ten years.
Koronet is the home of the jumbo slice, a slice almost twice as big as the standard-sized paper plate they still give to you with it. Also bigger, the pizzeria itself, at least since I was last there. But the pizza was just as delicious as I remember having with my younger sister, fellow teenage revelers, frat boys, and, a few nights, right before walking some brilliant Barnard coed back to her campus housing....
That guy in the picture above was kind enough to model himself with a slice for size referentiality. And he enjoyed the slice as well, great sauce, thin crust—not as crispy as I like (and still waiting to eat a slice this week that has that crispiness)—understandable for the size of the slice, mellow, flavorful cheese. And the best part? $2.50. Yep, this jumbo slice cost just $2.50. And it filled me up, as I started to wonder if I really had any clue of how I was planning on eating another slice from each of the next pizzerias.
Psyching myself up for the task ahead, i jumped on the downtown 1 local, getting out at 79th, right in the neighborhood where I spent 10 years of my youth attending the Collegiate School for Boys, and all-boy prepatory school and the oldest school in the country, founded 1628 (5 years before Harvard). Some off my friends lived in the neighborhood as well, of course, and as the nostalgia kicked into overdrive, and couldn't help but take pictures of the Apthorp, the then household of one of my dearest 25+-year friends, and Collegiate, my alma mater of over 25 years as well, before standing in front of the pizzeria in which I celebrated scores of birthday parties, high school sports victories, first dates with sister school girls, and the inevitable breakups.
Big Nick's is really a full service diner, thinly divided into two culinary studies: pizza and burgers, and this is where I had more of either than anywhere else throughout my childhood, serving me even more than the McDonald's that opened up across from my apartment when I was 14. And it felt like visiting an old relative who seems a little estranged until you hear their voice. This was the pizza—short of the pizza at the Bread Shoppe, which is no longer there—that originally defined pizza for me. And this was the place where I had my first of several Dr. Brown sodas, a Black Cherry-flavored one of which I enjoyed with my second plain slice within the hour.
It was still a very fine slice, great sauce and cheese, and—finally!—a crispy crust the firmly held a "fold".
The staff were extra courteous, possibly thinking I was a food blogger with all the pictures I was taking. I remember them always being that kind though.
I walked back by Collegiate—the official entrance now on 78th Street and not on 79th as it was when I attended. I didn't snap my second photo of the newer entrance before three men—security—came running out at me, yapping into walkie talkies and firing off questions at me. "What are these photos for? You're not taking pictures of actual people, are you?" Suffice it to say, I was stunned and resented being interrogated in the middle of the street. After explaining to them that I was a graduate of the school and rambling off a number of former faculty and headmasters and telling them how I actually help the school raise money for the Alumni Fund did they finally lighten up. "Well, you went here, so you understand [the inquisition], right?" No, actually!
But I decided not to let this dampen my spirits as I left them and headed crosstown on the 79th street crosstown bus, getting off at Lexington and walking five blocks to Mimi's, which was already semi-full of prep school kids. While thinking that I might want to order something besides a plain slice for my last slice, I espied a fresh mozzarella pie in the display case, prompting me to remember that Mimi's was not only the place where I had my first fresh mozzarella slice, but it was the place where I first learned that there was any other type of mozzarella!
The proverbial "they" always say that the best food is usually the food you grew up with; it's the reason why the smell of homemade chocolate chip cookies may still be the best anti-depressant around! And, as with every bite this afternoon, i relived many cherished moments of my growing up years, and was even reminded of particular—fond—events I hadn't recalled in decades. Which was why the memories of his afternoon were two-sided; they were fond, but in a matter of a few hours, after three slices of pizza in two hours, they could very well be quite painful.
However, as I walked home, I found contentment in realizing how, in my efforts to celebrate a particular week, I got to also celebrate a lifetime. Or a life that seemed like a lifetime ago.
And if that didn't put enough of a smile on my face, when I did finally get home, I found this letter from my alma mater, Collegiate—where the security guards had just Jack Bauer-ed me less than an hour ago—asking me for more money!
BIG NICK'S PIZZA JOINT | 2175 Broadway (77th Street), Manhattan | 212.362.9238 | www.nignicksnyc.com
KORONET PIZZA | 2848 Broadway (110th Street) | 212.222.1566 | no website
MIMI'S PIZZA KITCHEN | 1248 Lexington Avenue (84th Street) | 212.861.3363 | no website