On the road…again!
Afghanistan to Zambia
Chronicles of a Footloose Forester
By Dick Pellek
La Pizza In Tutto Il Mundo
While finishing a slice of hot pizza from an undistinguished establishment not usually known for good pizza (Sam’s Club in Salisbury, Maryland), the Bengal Tiger and The Bear started to recall some of the places where their past ventures into pizza-dom had taken them. The memories included the places where the pizza was good, but especially where the pizza was horrible. The memories put us both…On the road….again!
Since many, if not most, pizza parlors are family-run eateries whose business names mean nothing to strangers, there is not much point in naming individual establishments. However, there is room for a few exceptions, starting with the pizza places in the Footloose Forester’s hometown of Netcong, New Jersey. It was in the early 1950s that he first became aware of the widespread popularity of pizza parlors as venues rivaling hamburger joints in the social scheme of adolescents. He was unaware at that time that Netcong would eventually rank highest on his list of places that had great pizza. And that is why he makes an exception in naming a couple of places in the Netcong area. Sam’s Beautiful Day in Chicago Pizza was his all-time favorite in those days. Carmine’s was also high on his list; and fortunately for local residents, Carmine’s is still going strong, some 60 years later.
But the most enjoyable part of the conversation with his Bengal Tiger wife about pizza was all about the lousy pizza we had shared; and a few that the Footloose Forester shared with his brother Joe in far-off places. Some of the grotesque stuff that was served up overseas begs for their inclusion in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly portfolio. In no particular order or chronology, then; here were a few of the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly ones:
The Tiger and The Bear were eager to enjoy a pizza in Haiti, having been away from the United States for a couple of years or more; so when we heard that a new pizza place had opened up on the Route de Delmas, we went to check it out. You can’t tell a book from its cover…and you can’t tell a pizza from its menu. When it came to our table, we despaired to know that they used American cheese. After we shared the tale with friends, we went back with those friends to prove to them that we were not making stuff up.
Another big disappointment was at the local Pizza Hut, not long after we moved to Virginia. Although the Footloose Forester remembers having one of the best pizzas at a Pizza Hut in Hilo, Hawaii 35 years earlier, something has gone badly wrong over the years. We gave up going to the local Pizza Hut in the Pittsburgh area, prior to our moving, because the quality of the pizza dropped off so dramatically that we refused to go back into that place. The quality was merely bad. We all know it’s all about the ingredients and the preparation; but when the consistency and the expectations of quality are gone, it’s time to look elsewhere. That is why we were willing to give the local Pizza Hut franchise in our new neighborhood a try. Sadly, when the crust turned out to be from Bisquick flour, we decided then and there not to go back. No wonder the Sam’s Club no name, no brand pizza ranks so high.
Bengal Tiger and her hubby also agreed that the street vendor pizza we had in the Waikiki District of Honolulu was not only bad…it was ugly. Ironically, the chef who prepared it and served it up from his tiny little kiosk was an Italian who could barely speak English. Not a knock on his ethnic background, but a big knock on such disgusting fare. We wondered how he could stay in business. This leads into a segue about another Italian pizza… in Florence, Italy.
Brother Joe was the one who suggested we go for pizza when he and Footloose Forester were both on leave in Europe. And it was Joe who, by far, frequented more pizza parlors where ever he went. Thus, he also knew a thing or two about how good pizza is made and what good pizza tastes like. Unfortunately, neither he nor the Footloose Forester liked what they brought out to us, as we sat outside in a pleasant, sunny plaza. Maybe we were deluded into thinking we knew anything about genuine Italian pizza. But, on the other hand; Netcong, New Jersey where we both grew up was known as an Italian town; and both Sam Olivo who owned Sam’s Beautiful Day in Chicago, and Carmine’s were as Italian as it gets. By the way, Joe also ordered pizza in Paris; and he didn’t much like that one, either. But Paris is loaded with pizza places these days, so it is unlikely that all Paris pizza is unappealing.
Footloose Forester usually tried to have an open mind about the quality and taste of pizza prepared in other countries; after all, different people have different opinions as regards what tastes good. Not surprisingly, some of the pizza he discovered in various places had a wide range on his perceived scale of personal satisfaction. The pizza in Maseru, Lesotho was boring but edible; but the almost daily lunch or dinner of pizza in Ethiopia was most satisfying. Don’t forget that the Italians previously had a long history of occupation in Ethiopia, thus great Italian food was more commonplace than might be expected.
Pizza prepared in the African home of the former Ambassador Donald DuMont stands out as having a very recherché and memorable recipe. Of course, it was a creation of his wife—who was French through and through. Having lived in France and the United States; and in several African counties, she probably invented recipes that others never even dreamed of. Her basic ingredients of olive oil, a few spices, and anchovies over a very thin coating of tomato sauce brought back memories of 30 years earlier when the Footloose Forester had enjoyed a simple style of Netcong pizza prepared in a standalone oven in the open; under the stars at the annual St. Cesario’s Day fireworks near Barone’s Park, and behind Rea’s Tavern.