A few weeks ago my friend Steve was here with his sister & nieces from California, and George & I met them all for dim sum in Chinatown. As we were breakfasting together, the nieces started talking about their sister who goes to Tufts. Then Steve's sister started talking about her husband who invented this very cool giant frisbee (which is the reason they were in town - to attend a big toy industry convention.)
Anyway, a strange feeling started awakening in me during this breakfast. I kept thinking "Steve's nieces .... Tufts ..... giant frisbee....." and I knew I was getting rather excited about something that I couldn't quite put my finger on.
Then Steve said something about his wife Jane having visited the Tufts niece over the summer, and everything clicked into place.
It was the pizza. That blog entry of Lulu's about the pizza.
Although I was able to hide it pretty well from the rest of the table on accounta I'm so used to it and all, I went a little psycho in my head for a few minutes. All I could focus on was that pizza Lulu had written about. Pizza with fresh clams, garlic & bacon. I silently went all Jimmy Stewart for about 5 minutes. "My mouth's bleedin' Bert, my mouth's bleedin'.... Lulu's pizza....Lulu's pizza......Lulu's pizza....."
Last summer my friend Lulu participated in an NEH seminar at Amherst. One weekend Jane came to visit her, and the two of them took a roadtrip through New England to visit the Niece with the Giant Frisbee among other things.
One of those "other things" was New Haven style pizza with fresh clams, garlic and bacon. The theory was that although Lu had been eating New Haven style pizza for a number of years, she could not be sure she *actually* liked "New Haven style pizza" because she had never *actually* been to New Haven. So they hightailed it to New Haven to find out, a decision I respect.
They ended up at Frank Pepe's Pizzeria Napoletana, a very famous old pizza joint, and supposedly the place where New Haven style pizza was invented.
I've been lusting after that clam & garlic pizza since I saw the picture on Lu's blog back in July. We had a lot going on at the time, so I put the idea of a road trip in my vault.
Well, yesterday I got up early and did car maintenance and cleaning as pennance for having drugged one of our house guests with my margaritas. When the car was all freshly oil-changed and sparkling clean inside and out, I returned to the apartment and said to George "get yourself cleaned up, we're taking a road trip."
"Why New Haven?"
"Because that's where they have Lulu's pizza."
"What are you talking about?"
"Lulu's pizza. It's got clams & garlic. We need to go there. Today."
"We can probably find pizza like that in New York."
"I don't care. I want Lulu's pizza."
"Tom, I can probably make whatever pizza you're talking about. Why do you have to get so obsessed sometimes?"
"Mind your own business. Just wash your face and change your clothes, NOW!" Clearly, he was not understanding the urgency of the situation. He went into the bathroom while I looked up Frank Pepe's on the Internet so that I could call just to make sure they were open. (They were.)
I changed my clothes & got some personal effects together. At one point I walked into our office area to get something and discovered George playing solitaire on the computer instead of getting ready to go. I thought I might have to kill him or go to New Haven alone.
"OK, OK!! God, calm down! I'll be ready in five minutes!"
So off we went to New Haven! I was very excited. I called Lu from the car and we chatted for over an hour while George valiantly weaved in & out of Manhattan traffic to get out of the city & on the road. Lu was very sad she would not be with us to experience our first bite(s) of her pizza. But she would be with us in spirit.
I had warned George there would be a line outside, but he was crabby after the horrible traffic and wasn't looking forward to the wait.
While waiting in line, we struck up a conversation with a family from Long Island who had travelled even farther than we had for this pizza (although while in Connecticut they were also busy buying half a cow and a pig, but that will be another blog entry.) I asked them if they were going to order "New Haven" style pizza. They were puzzled.
"You know, the white pizza with fresh clams, bacon & garlic."
"Eeewww! No, we're just getting ordinary old tomato sauce pizza." Ok, I thought, well if they're willing to come this far just for tomato pizza, maybe we'll get one of those too and carry it home. Anyway, I went on & on to them about the clams when it dawned on me - what if George didn't want clam pizza?
I began to panic.
"Um, Georgie?" I said in my sweetest voice. "You do realize we're getting clam pizza, don't you?"
"Yes, that's fine, whatever you want." He probably would've agreed to eat a newborn infant if it would shut me up about this pizza.
We only had to wait about 25 minutes, which was fine with me after sitting in the car for two hours. At last we were at our table.
A very crabby waitress approached and said "are you ready to order?"
"Yes!!! We would like the New Haven style pizza with fresh clams, bacon & garlic."
"No clams today."
Just like that, that's all she said, with the straightest, most humorless face I've ever seen. "No clams today."
"WHAT???? How could you not have clams today? I thought this clam pizza was your specialty! We just drove here all the way from Brooklyn to get this clam pizza!"
"Didn't you see the sign on the door? It said "no clams today."
No, I had missed the sign, although I would not necessarily have jumped right back in the car and gone home. I was kicking myself for not having inquired about the clams on the telephone earlier.
"They tried to deliver us some clams earlier, but they weren't good. We don't really want to serve them."
"We'll need a few minutes then." She scowled. "But we'll have one beer and one coke to drink."
A few minutes later the crabby waitress arrived with our drinks. This made me laugh - this place is so old fashioned that my "coke" came in one of those tiny water sized glasses. Not that I'm against serving cokes that size, because we drink way too much sugar in our culture today. I just wasn't expecting it.
Ultimately we decided on pepperoni, sausage & mushroom.
Needless to say, it was delicious. But to be honest I'm not sure this "basic" style of pizza was worth a two-hour drive. I would drive probably 45 minutes for this particular pizza. Lulu's pizza will still warrant two hours, though. I'll just make sure to inquire specifically next time before we get in the car.
We stopped in at the old Italian bakery next door to Frank Pepe's (at the advice of our new friends from Long Island) to get some cannolli and cookies. Delicious. Then, we took the scenic route home along the coast of Connecticut, and George made sure to point out every seafood shack we passed in case I wanted to try again for clams.
All in all, it was a very nice outing despite my having been denied Lulu's pizza. At least I still have one extra reason to keep living!