My first theater experience was in 1986, when I was marched to an off-Broadway production of Animal Farm with several of my classmates. Since I was much too young to grasp the underlying theme of the plot (this being the gloomy, Orwellian allegorical vision of the Communist revolution), I just enjoyed the idea that animals could walk, talk and do human stuff.
As we were being marched back to the parking lot, I caught a glimpse of the actor who played Napoleon the pig. She was standing outside the side door, smoking a cigarette and bitching up a storm about the lighting and how her costume was chafing the side of her leg. Alas, my willing suspension of disbelief was shattered.
This is a lot like how I felt after chewing down a couple of slices of the Sicilian-style pizza at Giovanni’s Pizzeria. The vision I had in my head about eating a piece of the thick, square crust heaped with toppings seemed better than the actual indulgence of it. The Sicilian wasn’t bad, just not what I preferred. The meats on the pizza were killer, with bulky cuts of meatballs and smoked ham, and the cheese was abundant. I guess I’m just not that into the stout, dense crust. And it fills me up too fast, like swallowing a pair of concrete boots.
I was digging the atmosphere in the pizza shop. It was all tile floors and red Formica booths with checkered tablecloths. The walls were covered with bits of New York memories: small, framed family images, a map and a profusion of playbills adorning the mirrored side wall. There was Gypsy, Fame, The Producers, Hairspray, even Sweeney Todd. No Animal Farm, though.
I ordered at the counter from the menu board. The items were easy to understand and straightforward. Pizzas were small (12-inch cheese, $8.25), medium (15-inch cheese, $10.75), large (18-inch cheese, $13.50) and Sicilian (cheese, $18.50). Toppings included pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, bell peppers, black olives, tomatoes, onions, green chile, Canadian bacon, pineapple, anchovies, beef, garlic, meatballs and chicken.
The house specialty pies ran the gamut from Napoli (spinach, pesto, tomatoes) to cheeseless Pummarola (garlicky tomato sauce, onions, olive oil and spices). The New Mexican sounded tasty with chicken, ricotta cheese, garlic, red onions and green chile. Owner/operator Rosario Zito (he has an awesome Queens accent) proudly proclaimed the popularity of the spinach pie, this smothered in sautéed fresh spinach, olive oil, garlic, fresh herbs and cheese.
“You gotta try dis!” he said.
I immediately liked him. The cool accent alone gave me a Manhattan-Little-Italy vibe. Plus he was sporting a huge gold chain with a “100% Italian” charm, and wearing a KISS concert T-shirt circa 1980.
I ordered the Sicilian meat-eaters’ pie ($23), a large house salad ($6), a pitcher of root beer ($4), a cannoli ($2.80) and a slice of cheesecake ($2.80). The salad got lost in the fray somewhere and never reached my table, but as it turned out, the pizza was big enough to give someone a wrist sprain carrying it, so no harm or foul. I got a slice and a half down the hatch before I realized I was already full and hadn’t thought to order a slice of the regular New York-style pizza for comparison.
I returned to the counter to get a single slice of pepperoni ($2.80) and had to explain to a concerned-faced Rosario Zito that the Sicilian wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t my thing. He understood where I was coming from.
“I can’t eat it every day, either,” he chuckled, flashing me a million-dollar grin.
I was glad I got the slice, though, because I would have missed out on a big, steaming slice of proper New York-style pizza, complete with super-thin crust, cheese baked to brown perfection, just the right amount of sauce and pepperonis with those crispy little edges.
The cannoli was homemade down to the sweet ricotta filling, and the cheesecake was crustless, with an agreeable citron aftertaste.
What’s the moral of this story? Animal Farm taught me that Communism only works in theory, and Giovanni’s educated me to trust my gut (literally) and go with the thinner crust. Class dismissed.
The Alibi Recommends:
• Regular New York-style pizza, by the slice or a whole pie
• Rosario says: “You gotta try da spinach pie!”
Giovanni’s Pizzeria, 921 San Pedro SE, 255-1233. Hours: Mon-Thu 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Fri 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Sat. noon-10 p.m.,Sun. 4-9 p.m. Price range: inexpensive. No smoking, no booze, credit cards accepted.