A lot of people say they enjoy a certain food so much that they could eat it every day. I never say that. Anne always says it for me. "My husband could eat pizza every day," she often proclaims. It is true, though – that I could eat pizza every day, I mean.
For several months, I've been steering clear of wheat products, so I've missed out
on a lot of pizza. However, right now, I'm on a break from that crazy, self-imposed,
wheat-free regimen. And just in time.
Pizza Hut currently is promoting its $6.55, large, one-topping, carryout, pizza special. It's available Monday through Thursday only for a limited time, and I've already taken advantage of the Hut's special offer twice. Both times I ordered pepperoni, my absolute favorite. Picture this: pizza sauce, cheese and pepperoni slices on Pizza Hut's
hand-tossed crust, piping hot from the pizza oven, smelling like heaven in a pizza parlor, making you fumble your money when paying because you want to hurry up to your car and get that thing home quickly.
Comedian and actor Kevin James describes that trip home so simply: "There's no better feeling in the world than a warm pizza box in your lap."
What's that you say? Pizza Hut pizza pies won't do? Chain pizza joints aren't good enough for you? Somebody somewhere once said pizza is a lot like sex. When it's good, it's really good. When it's bad, it's still pretty good.
Give me a pizza – from anywhere, I say, from anywhere – and it's soon history in my presence.
Here in Lebanon, Ill., we have two pizza places – Schiappa's Italian Restaurant and Mama Gustos. Schiappa's is known as the home of the 40-inch pizza, and Mama Gustos touts itself as an Italian restaurant, pizzeria, delicatessen and caterer. Can you buy a good pizza at either of these places? Would Chuck E. Cheese squeak like a mouse if you dropped one of his oven-baked discuses on his tail? Yep.
However, the O'Fallon Pizza Hut is just 4.63 miles from Lebanon, and a large pepperoni pizza pie there is only – remember what I told you? – $6.55 from Monday to Thursday right now. You simply call in the order, drive to Pizza Hut, pick it up, drive it home, and devour that yummy, delicious, delightful, Italian tomato pie.
While the mouthwatering specials at such places as Pizza Hut and Papa John's can be a good deal, I encourage you to support your local pizza makers, of course. I must admit that I lust over the pepperoni-topped tomato pie at Mama Gustos. Delish, delectable, divine. Ooh.
I ate my first pizza about a block west of Mama's, which is on West St. Louis Street, at a place called the Lamplight. I was already a teenager by then, but things like pizzas were still pretty exotic in a small town in the rural Midwest, even though we weren't far from St. Louis and its Italian neighborhood known as The Hill.
The Lamplight was pretty much the teen hangout. Previously, for many years, it was Daumueller's Music and Gift Shop. Mr. W.C. Daumueller specialized in Sealtest ice cream, Scheaffer and Parker pens and pencils, and Kodak cameras and supplies, along with a slew of other things. Anyway, old Mr. D finally retired, and the place became the Lamplight and the scene of my introduction to pepperoni pizza. I have been a devoted connoisseur of pepperoni pizza pies ever since.
Those first pizzas were probably of the frozen variety. I do not recall anyone at the Lamplight tossing pizza dough into the air, and I cannot remember the joint having a pizza oven. So, imagine my elation when I tasted my first real Italian tomato pie at a pizzeria! I experienced explosions in my mouth and bombs bursting in air and little Italian flags unfurling right over my head. OK, I exaggerate sometimes. Suffice it to say that my taste buds burst in exuberant pleasure, and I was culinarily impressed far beyond my small-town culinariness.
Then came Vietnam and the Restaurant Pizzaria in Saigon. Don't correct my spelling. That's how they spelled pizzeria.
Restaurant Pizzaria in the old capital city was at 76-C Le Thanh Ton St., where they made pizza that looked like pizza but didn't exactly taste like Italian pizza. But it was the only pizza we had in Saigon, and I loved it. I especially loved the shrimp pizza.
Let me tell you how dumb I was when I was young. Growing up in landlocked Illinois, I'd eaten only the breaded-and-fried version of shrimp. So, I thought the shrimp on my Saigon pizza was raw. Of course, it was raw when it hit the oven but cooked when it came out. But it didn't look like my idea of cooked shrimp – breaded, fried and crispy. Anyway, my roommate was going to Restaurant Pizzaria one night, and I asked him to bring me some raw shrimp from there, which he did. I know. I know. I realize this sounds really, really stupid. He came back with raw shrimp, wrapped up in butcher paper and plastic. That's when I understood the difference between raw shrimp and fried shrimp and boiled or broiled or sautéed shrimp. And I guess you could say that I ate my first sashimi in Vietnam, not in Japan.
I have digressed from pizza to sashimi. So sorry. Let me end this with the beginning of my true pizza enlightenment. That came with the discovery of Pizza Umberto, where my wife and I enjoyed Italian tomato pies when we lived in Paris.
Umberto's introduced me to calzones, Chianti wine and great pizza cookery. I adored the traditional tomato pies and the Italian turnovers called calzone and that Italian red wine in the fat bottles wrapped in straw.
Since then, I have enjoyed many outstanding pizzas – Neapolitan style, Chicago deep dish, New York traditional, St. Louis thin, Japanese octopus. What did I just say? Sure, the Japanese make pizza, too, and I like the octopus, although you might consider their pizzas a little too small, thin, light and too gourmet-like. When I pick up a slice of pizza, I want some weight to it, and I want my mouth and cheeks to get covered with pizza sauce and melty cheese and pepperoni grease. But I'll eat anything that's called pizza. Bring it on.
"When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that's amore." Oh, yeah, I love my tomato pies, Dino.
There's one thing I cannot argue about with my wife. She's right when she says I could eat pizza every day. I really could.