Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Summer of Pizza

My whole life I’ve loved pizza. The first great pizza memory I have is eating a cheese pie at Papa Gino’s in Glens Falls. My father used to work short-term jobs at the Finch Pine paper place up there. My mother and I would drive north to meet him. We’d stay at the Howard Johnson’s Hotel on exit 19, my all-time favorite hotel. And one time we did Papa Gino’s on a Saturday night. All these years later, I remember eating piece after piece after piece and never filling up. Papa Gino’s and HoJo’s are long gone now.

There used to be a Chuck E. Cheese in Albany. I think it was located somewhere around the old Northway Mall. That was the setting of my second great pizza pie. There was a darkened dining room with long tables, and every so often the Chuck E. Cheese characters would rise out of the floor up front and give a thirty-second sing-song performance. I remember the pit of colored balls and the great pizza I had at some kid’s birthday party. It was perfect pizza. It tasted as good as pizza looks in the movies and TV commercials. And that's rare. That Chuck E. Cheese is long gone too.

The third great pizza of my life was homemade by my dad in November 1990 when the Giants lost 7-3 to the 49ers on Monday Night Football. I came home from school and my dad said he was taking the night off work. I saw the flour, the plastic bag of pizza dough rising, and the cutting board on the counter. And I knew. The Giants didn’t win that night but my dad’s pie was first rate. Then the G-Men got the last laugh, knocking the Niners out of the NFC playoffs that year and winning SB25. I like to think my father’s cheesy pizza had something to do with that.

This summer I decided it was time to create a new batch of pizza memories. I wanted to finally figure out what the best pizza place in the Capital Region really was. Who better than yours truly to preside over such a serious matter? After all I’ve loved pizza since Papa Gino’s in Glens Falls. And nothing says good pizza like, um, Papa Gino’s. Yes, this would be the Summer of Pizza.

While King of Queens reruns played on TV Land we plotted out our course. Rule one: Nothing in Clifton Park. Every Thursday night during the school year we order out to the CP shops, so we know them well. Cusato’s is our top spot, and like the song says, “See you in September.” This summer project would be on the road. So gas the car and let’s go.

We began the quest for #1 with a drive out to good old Averill Park, the place of my meager beginnings. First on tap: a night at Kay’s Pizza on Burden Lake. We ordered one cheese pie and one veggie pie plus a pitcher of soda. It isn’t a real pizza place unless they sell soda in pitchers. It was amazing. And that wasn’t a surprise. It was voted by Times Union readers as the area’s best. We’ll see about that.

Next on the agenda: a long sip from the Fountain in Albany. (That's a pun, people, so laugh.) We sat at the Gov. Pataki table on the raised floor in front. Remember when Pataki had surgery way back and he couldn’t eat pizza for a while after? He famously restarted his pizza eating at the Fountain and it was a big news story. So that’s where we sat. I’ve had a spotty history with the Fountain. But the food was A+ on this night, which was nice, because the service left something to be desired. (Note to owners: a waitress who actually speaks with the diners is a nice touch.) Maybe the secret to having a magnificent pie at the Fountain is to sit at the Pataki table.

When family gets together it’s time to hit the Purple Pub in Watervliet. Tradition is important. Plus, umm-umm good. What’s not to like at the PP? It’s always good. I ate seven slices of cheese and almost a full pitcher of diet coke that night. Here’s the thing with the Purple Pub though . . . you will have a pizza hangover in the morning and the mere idea of ever consuming sauce and cheese again will make you dry heave for three days straight. Maybe that’s the secret: The Purple Pub is like a great lover, it ruins you for anybody else. But four days later, I rose above my queasy tummy and went back to it. After all, this was the Summer of Pizza. I would not be stopped on July 15th.

LaBella’s Pizza in Wynantskill. I was a HS senior when this Main Ave joint opened its doors, so I like to think I have a special connection with the people there. I threw the front doors open and strode in like the King of the World. "I've returned after years gone!" I announced. And the counter crew acted like they didn't even care. Such characters down there at LaBella's. With that said, I think LaBella’s is one of the region’s best kept secrets. We did a large chees, two house salads, and soda. It was a perfect Tuesday night on the town. Total tab: 24.00 plus tip.

We decided to give the pickup scene a shout out so we did the Deli & Brew by HVCC. They advertise the best cheese and freshest toppings and claim they can cook a pie in seven minutes. Eight minutes later we were eating like royalty. Plus they have a great mac salad. Light on the mayo; tuna mixed in. Best fourteen bucks I spent all summer.

So here we are, halfway through August and summer’s coming to a close. We're running out of time to hit all the region’s top pizzerias. If the Cap Reg has one thing going for it: a plethora of great places to buy a slice. All my life I wanted to do Little Anthony’s in Albany. This would finally be the year I'd do it. But LA’s closes at 9:30PM and it was already 8:45PM when the garage door closed and we pulled out of the driveway. To the iphone for a last second audible. We ended up at DeFazio’s in Downtown Troy. It’s in the gut of the ghetto and the dining room is no bigger than a cardboard box. Then the food came out and I forgot all about Little Anthony’s.

There’s one more pizza place on the summer schedule: Publik House in Malta. We’ll be meeting a lifelong friend there this Thursday night. There’s no better way to eat pizza than with a friend like him. We’ll talk all things and laugh and have some good food. These are the glory days. And when the bill’s paid and the goodbye hugs given, another pizza memory will be made.

So which Capital Region joint delivered the best slice of pie? Guess you’ll have to hit the road and have your own Summer of Pizza. But I’ll tell you this much, we only went to one pizza place twice this summer. But I can’t tell you which place that was, o-KAY. And if you go to the same pizza place more than once in one summer--especially when it's the Summer of Pizza--that must mean something, inKAY’S you didn’t catch my drift.

The Summer of Pizza.

Brian Huba

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