First Posted: 9/27/2013
I opened the Best of Greater Pittston awards reception by mentioning that last year when we announced the award for Best Tripe someone in the audience said, “I’d like to try tripe but I don’t have the stomach for it.”
The joke only meant something to those familiar with the Italian delicacy. Tripe is made from a cow’s stomach.
The reason I told the story is that the guy who made the quip was there last year because he won for Best Square Pizza. And this year, while we celebrated at Brews Brothers, he was lying in repose at a funeral home just a couple of miles away.
This was Mike Savokinas of whom I wrote extensively last week. The message, I told the gathering Tuesday night, was to live every day to the fullest. That’s what Mike did.
For the record, the Lincoln Inn won both last year and this year for Best Tripe. We did not offer that category the first year of the awards but the next time I insisted we put it in. Tripe, to me, has the consistency of rubber bands. But in Tina Macario’s sauce at the Lincoln Inn and half a loaf of Italian bread at the ready, I’ve been able to acquire a taste for it.
Savo’s Pizza, established by Mike Savokinas and his brother Ray in 1964, again was voted by Dispatch readers as having the Best Square Pizza. I told my daughter, who lives in Los Angeles, that I can’t imagine the term “square pizza” making sense anywhere but here in Wyoming Valley. Not to mention that the pizza is not square at all, but rectangular. She added this also is the only place where people refer to a “tray of pizza.” That never occurred to me, but she’s probably right.
Anyway, I’ll say what I say every year when we do our “Best Of” awards: I’m glad it’s the readers who vote and not me. Especially when it comes to pizza. With apologies to Wil Rogers, I never met a pizza I didn’t like. My yardstick is whether the pizza holds up cold the next morning for breakfast, but I’m not a harsh critic.
And while I am indeed a Savos’ fan, I’m also a fan of the square pizza at Lincoln Inn (decidedly better than tripe), Lizza’s Mezzo Mezzo, Bernie’s Villa Foglia, Colarusso’s in Avoca, Napoli’s on Main Street (try Grandma’s Special), the fried variety at places like Victory Pig, Pizza L’Oven and Ernie’s G’s, every pizza joint in Old Forge, and even one I’ve yet to taste but just know I will love, Sal Shandra’s in Jenkins Township.
Then there’s Cebula’s in Dupont. They call it pizza but it’s in a category by itself. I’d call it an experience.
Cebula’s makes me think of something about the pizza of Greater Pittston that lies beyond the realm of good eating. Having lived here all my life, every pizza tells a story.
Cebula’s, for example, is the first pizza I remember eating. We were little, the four Ackerman kids — my younger brother had yet to be born — and lived in an apartment on Oak Street in Browntown. My dad went out for a few beers one night with our neighbor Eddie Halat and brought home a tray of pizza … Cebula’s pizza. We’re were put to bed about 8 o’clock at night back then and I distinctly recall my mom waking us up with the good news that Daddy had brought home a treat. So my very first pizza was eaten in feet jammies.
Last week I mentioned several Savo’s pizza stories and I could supply several more. One is that the first time I heard the Mamas and Papas song “Monday, Monday” it was while sitting with friends in the front booth — the one in the window — at Savo’s Pizza on Main Street. I was a junior in high school. The very next year, 1967, Greater Pittston was introduced to the pizza of Tony Martorana at Tony’s Pizza in Cityline Plaza. The place is now owned by Victor Giuliano but the pizza tastes the same, and won this year for Best Round Pizza.
Another round pie that brings back memories is served at DeMuro’s on William Street. Joe DeMuro came to Pittston when he worked for the W.T. Grant Company in Pittston Plaza. Grant’s was a national company with a long history but that wasn’t enough to keep it from collapsing. When it went belly up in the mid-’70s, Joe could have returned to his native New York or to Florida where he once lived, but he liked it so much here he decided to stay and see if he could make a go of a pizza parlor.
Nearly four decades later, DeMuro’s Pizza is still going strong, the building itself outlasting all of its neighbors, including a Catholic church more than 100 years old.
But my favorite pizza story involves my friend Bernie Foglia, whom I mentioned above. Fine homemade Italian dishes dominate Bernie’s menu but the pizza should not be overlooked. It’s one of my all-time favorites.
The story it conjures up, however, involves not the pizza, but Bernie himself. And his younger brother, Richard.
Bernie loved his kid brother and was perfectly willing to slave in a kitchen while Dick, as he was called, tried his hand at acting. Dick loved Bernie, too, but had a way of getting under his skin. So much so, that one day Bernie took out a classified ad in this paper to teach Dick a lesson. Here’s how it read:
For sale. Set of encyclopedias. Don’t need them any more. My brother knows everything.
By the way, Bernie makes a darned good footlong hot dog too.