Sunday, August 26, 2018

this town ain't big enough for the both of us

Back-to-back blogs about pizza? Really? I must be hungry.

One day last week, my son E. initiated a "no pressure" gathering at a South Philadelphia restaurant/bar in honor of his birthday. The bar — Tattooed Mom's — is a favorite hangout of my son, his girlfriend and their friends. It sits several doors from the corner on the 500 block of  Philadelphia's famed South Street — which was a popular haunt for me in my high school days. When I met Mrs. Pincus, she lived in an apartment just a few blocks from South Street and I even worked at a busy ice cream store on South Street when I was a struggling art student. However, I haven't been down to "where all the hippies meet" in years — ever since I became a full-fledged "suburbanite."

These look delicious,
I couldn't tell you for sure.
Tattooed Mom's is a cool little place with funky decorations on the walls, kitschy board games on the tables and an eclectic selection of beer and cocktails that the hipsters who frequent the place seem to love. Personally, I was looking forward to sampling some of the offerings from their extensive vegetarian menu, specifically their highly-touted "tater tot" concoctions for which they have received local renown. So when Mrs. Pincus and I spotted our son sitting on one of Tattooed Mom's retro sofas surrounded by friends and beer, I reached for a menu while we said our "hellos."

"Hold on there.," my boy said to me with a cautionary tone in his voice. He explained that the waiter had just announced that back in the kitchen, the grill hood stopped working and the food preparation area was filled with smoke — ergo, no food from their enticing menu would be available until further notice.

Needless to say, I was disappointed. So were a lot of other folks. Mrs. Pincus — ever the pragmatist — came to the rescue with some quick thinking. She asked the waiter if it was okay to bring outside food in to Tattooed Mom's. "Sure." he said, "I do it all the time" ....which isn't exactly a rousing endorsement of the edible offerings when the kitchen is operating properly. My wife decided that we'd run out and get a couple of pizzas and bring 'em back. Everyone smiled with relief... and the anticipation of pizza. We walked out to South Street on a mission.

Back in my youth, when I hung out on South Street regularly, I seem to remember a pizza place approximately every four feet. There was Frank's, whose mozzarella-laden ambrosia was the reason people stood in line for a slice. Of course, there was the Philly Pizza Company, immortalized in the Dead Milkmen's 1988 hit "Punk Rock Girl." They had great pizza but obviously met their demise because they only served tea iced. Plus, their jukebox selections left a lot to be desired. These places, we soon discovered, were long gone. Now, it appears, that one Lorenzo and Sons holds a pizza monopoly on South Street, its saucy empire stretching from the Delaware River all the way up to 9th Street where upstart competitor Little Italy has bravely set up shop.

Empire State Building shown
for size reference.
We headed down to Lorenzo and Sons, expecting to bring back three or four pizzas to feed our son's guests. Lorenzo's, we soon found out, only has two items on their menu — and, technically, one is a variation of the other. They sell slices of pizza and whole pizzas. They also sell soda and water, but as far as food options — well, you better like pizza. The whole pizzas — I'd like to point out — measure a whopping twenty-eight inches across. Twenty-eight inches! More that two feet! The slices are as big as your head! While we marveled at the fellow behind the counter piling fistfuls of cheese on a disk of dough approximately the size of a manhole cover, my wife spotted a hand-written sign warning: "CASH ONLY. " A twenty-eight inch pizza was gonna set us back twenty-eight dollars (that's a buck-an-inch to you and me). We checked our wallets. Combined, our funds would barely get us one of these monsters. A skinny ATM stood silently at the end of the unnecessarily-tall counter. Mrs. Pincus reluctantly withdrew additional cash and — based on the size of these things — placed an order for two whole pies. We paid and waited. We watched a few people walk away from the counter with enormous slices of pizza, the edges not fully contained by the flimsy paper plate on which they were dispatched. A mom awkwardly maneuvered the comically-huge point of the slice into her child's tiny, unaccommodating mouth. Two "bros" confidently ordered two slices each, only to exhibit difficulty attempting a uniform first bite.

The young lady behind the counter began to assemble two capacious cardboard boxes which would contain our pizzas for the two and a half block journey back to Tattooed Mom's. The stocky fellow in the back extracted the first colossal pizza from the oven — deftly balancing its bulk on the end of an extra-large wooden peel and depositing it squarely in the box. The young lady cut the giant pie into 16 slices (at our request, making it look like a mutated version of a Chuck E. Cheese pizza) and then fit the barn door-sized lid into place. She opened the next box as another pizza was dropped into place and repeated the process.

Look at those narrow doors.
Now, I'm 57 years old and I have carried lots of pizzas in my life, but I never considered just how much two, twenty-eight inch pizzas would weigh. The answer is: "A lot." As a matter of fact, it was surprisingly — and unnervingly — heavy. At first, I struggled to balance the two pizzas comfortably. After a minute, I believed I was all set to carry these pizzas the.2 miles back to Tattooed Mom's. I barely cleared the narrow door jamb as I exited Lorenzo and Sons, my wife generously holding door open for me. I made a right and hit the gas, not stopping or yielding or even looking at who might be in my path. These pizzas were heavy in my outstretched arms. I did hear a few errant calls of "Whoa!" and "Lookit the size of them pizzas!," but I concentrated on my route, internally hoping I would make it the whole way without turning the South Street sidewalk into a cheesy, saucy, boxy mess.

I kept a steady pace. My feet efficiently covering as much ground as possible per stride. I could feel my arms quivering. I had to stop and rest, if only for a minute. Just before I reached the corner of 4th Street, I found a metal railing that I placed the outside edge of my cargo upon. I supported the closer end of the boxes with my hands as I caught my breath and regained my composure. I glanced around and noticed that the railing was in front of the inexplicably shuttered Jules Pizza — its darkened  and empty interior mocking me. (What pizza place is closed on Sunday? One that's a block and a half closer to Tattooed Mom's than Lorenzo and Sons, that's who! And they probably sell normal, human-sized pizzas!)

Don't eat that.
There's enough pizza for everyone.
I got my second wind and bee-lined it to Tattooed Mom's. I crossed the street with ballet precision and made it to the front door where a nice man from the neighboring shoe store (he was outside grabbing a smoke) opened the door for me. I left poor Mrs. Pincus in the dust, many paces behind me. Once safely inside, my son's guests saw me coming towards them and quickly cleared a space on a low coffee table near the sofa where some folks were seated. I dropped the pizzas and loudly exhaled.

E. excitedly opened the top box to reveal Pizza #1. It was glorious. Big and cheesy and inviting. His friends offered approval, most commenting that they had never seen a pizza this big. Cellphones came out and soon, social media was awash with photos of the first of the two twenty-eight inch pizzas we had brought. As Mrs. P passed out slices and napkins, we were told that the Tattooed Mom's kitchen was up and running.

But... but, we had pizza. And a lot of it.

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