Take a look at me and it’s obvious; I love to eat. It gives me great pleasure and comfort but it also brings profound distress because the price of that pleasure is having to shop at the big and tall men’s stores for awful looking clothes that scream “loser.”
Anyway, one of my favorite programs on the Food Network features various chefs and food stars talking about the best things they’ve ever eaten when they’re on their own and picking up the check themselves. They use an avalanche of adjectives and superlatives to describe these delicacies and then viewers are taken to the restaurants to watch those dishes being prepared and consumed.
The other day the subject was pizza which got me to thinking about what I consider to be the best pizza “I’ve” ever eaten.
More about that in a minute. First a little personal pizza history.
I clearly remember riding home from a family vacation in 1953 and hearing Dean Martin on the radio singing his new hit song that begins with the line, “When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore.”
I asked my mom what amore was and she told me it meant “love” in Italian.
“What’s a pizza pie?” I asked. “I’m not sure..an Italian dessert, I suppose,” she said.
It wasn’t until we got a TV set a year later that we found out for sure what a pizza was when Chef Boyardee himself appeared in commercials demonstrating his pizza in a box.
I don’t recall that it looked all that appetizing..not in black and white anyway.
Mom was a wonderful cook but she didn’t get terribly adventurous in the kitchen exploring cuisines from other cultures. The spiciest thing in her cupboard was an unopened box of seasoning salt.
I finally got my first taste of pizza at my best friend, Dixon Hoberg’s 10th birthday party in 1956. His mom and older sister decided to try something a little different. They bought and prepared a couple boxes of Chef Boyardee cheese pizza for us kids to eat before the cake.
I remember his sister opening that yellow and red carton to remove the contents and watched with interest as she dumped the flour into a bowl to be mixed with a half cup of warm water and left to rise for five minutes…then stretching the dough onto a cookie sheet, spreading the can of the chef’s red sauce over the dough, sprinkling the grated cheese on top and finally popping it into a 400 degree oven. Within minutes the aroma coming from that stove was like nothing I’d ever inhaled before; Absolutely heavenly; ambrosia from the gods.
The smell was only surpassed by my first taste of that foreign food on my tongue. “So THAT’S amore,” I thought.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved my mom’s roast beef dinners and just about everything she made but the bubbling tomato sauce and tangy cheese along with a crunchy light brown crust on that first pizza was the best thing I’d ever eaten in my first ten years of life!
In 1961, Pizza King’s restaurant opened in downtown Brookings and it wasn’t anything like the stuff that came out of a box.
Instead of just a tiny can of grated dry cheese, Pizza King taught our uneducated little palates about pepperoni, mozzarella cheese (sliced, not grated) and the variety of toppings that can raise the pizza eating experience to new, never before explored delicious heights.
We ate there a lot.
Over the years I’ve eaten and enjoyed lots of pizza. Earl’s in Sioux Falls came awfully close to Pizza King’s. It was also cut in squares and filled with greasy goodness.
I absolutely loved the taste of Shakey’s Pizza and almost cried when they pulled out of town..then out of the state. The only Shakey’s restaurants left appear to be in California.
Of course there are pizza joints on every corner these days and most are okay..but nothing really special.
For that Linda and I still turn to Chef Boyardee. We buy his pizza kit and adorn it with a generous amount of cheese and our own toppings. It’s not only terrific, it’s nostalgic.
Speaking of nostalgic, Linda and I drove up to my hometown over the weekend and as we were rolling down Brookings Main Street, I glanced over to see that Pizza King was not only still there open for business.
I asked Linda, “Would you like to go in and find out if the pizza I’ve been raving about all these years still tastes as good as I remember?”
“Sure,” she said, “you know me, there aren’t many pizzas I don’t like.”
The first thing, though, was disappointing; no beer. I’d forgotten. It wasn’t an issue back when I frequented the place as a teenager.
Oh well, Cokes it is.
Then, after what seemed like more than the promised 15 minute waiting time, our circle of piping hot sensuous sustenance was placed before us and all the delicious memories came flooding back. “Careful, that cheese will burn the roof of your mouth and lips.” “I know but I can’t wait.”
Oh, it was sooo good!
Because we’d ordered a large, there was plenty to box up and take home to eat later..but it was gone the next day.
So, is Pizza King the best pizza I’ve ever eaten?
Perhaps..but I still keep thinking back to that very first bite of Chef Boyardee in Dixon Hoberg’s kitchen 54 years ago.