You miss your family and friends when you leave New York City, and the streets and the buzz and even the grime, but when a certain yearning hits there’s one thing a true New Yorker misses above all else:
John’s Pizza on Bleecker Street.
I’ve brought out-of-towners to John's and they've fallen to their knees upon that first bite - ecstatic over the taste, and mournful over what they'd been missing all their lives.
Maybe it’s the coal oven, or the cheese, or the sauce...I can promise you it isn’t the decor. Dusty framed pictures of celebrities cover the walls, which haven’t tasted paint since the earth cooled.
Nobody cares. Anyone can paint a wall. Pizza like this is a gift from the gods.
A few weeks ago I could stick my head out the kitchen window of my Greenwich Village apartment, look to the left and shout my order for a half-plain, half-meatball pie - that’s how close John’s was. My security blanket.
Now I’m living in a British suburb. It’s a rainy night, and I’m in full mozzarella withdrawl, but John’s doesn’t bother delivering around the block, much less across an ocean. What I need is a Sicilian sponsor to call and talk me through this crisis, or maybe an A.A. meeting (Anchovies Anonymous.)
What can I do?
Well, not far from where we live is a grocery store that stays open late, and a desperate thought crosses my mind:
Buy a frozen pizza, and hope for the best.
My British wife, a longtime fan of John’s Pizza, isn’t crazy about the idea.
“It’ll be dodgy,” Kim predicts. "Dodgy" is one of those great British words with a variety of negative meanings. In short, if something "dodgy" is coming your way, dodge it. Especially a frostbitten pizza. But I'm refusing to give up.
“I think it’s worth a shot, Kim."
“I’ll be having a salad tonight, then.”
Off I go to the shop, full of hope and doubt. There’s a variety of pizzas in the deep freeze, and I use the time-honored “eenie-meenie-miney-moe” method to choose one.
I bring it home and take it out of the cardboard box. Oh boy. It looks like a forgotten Frisbee that’s blown off the roof after a long, relentless winter.
I turn it in my hands, rap it with my knuckles. The crust is thicker than the soles of my running shoes. Cheese flakes resembling bits of asbestos fall to the floor.
“What do you think?” I ask Kim as she recoils from the Non-John’s pizza.
“Don’t let Bailey get it,” she replies.
Translation: Dispose of it in the outdoor garbage pail, where our chocolate labrador retriever can’t dig it out.
Which I do on my way to the nearby Quality Fish and Chips shop, where they serve up the best cod and chips around.
Two orders of that to go, with salt and vinegar on the chips, and our evening is saved.
The lesson is obvious: When in Rome, do as the Romans do.
And when in London, stay away from frozen pizza, and just let the fish and chips fall where they may.
(Next time: A DENTAL DISASTER)