I was heartbroken when I learned, at a party a few weeks ago, that Whitefish Cuban restaurant Mama Blanca’s had closed. I’ve made no secret of my love for that place; the food was so good that I would routinely make the detour on my way back to Kalispell after a day in Glacier. Its closing was a culinary loss for the Flathead from which I would not soon recover.
And then, after a frigid day in the park last week, I stopped in to Second Street Pizza, the new restaurant opened by the same owner in the same place as Mama Blanca’s. And I rejoiced.
I should explain, as I have in previous posts, that I am from New York and part-Sicilian. I know pie, and it is something about which my family is deadly serious. I avoid arguments with Chicagoans who want to debate deep-dish pizza v. New York-style. It’s apples and oranges, I say. Similarly, if you like some type of chain restaurant pie, go ahead and knock yourself out. Put chicken and barbecue sauce on it and throw it in one of those little conveyor-belt ovens; I’m no snob. It’s just not New York pizza.
Which is why entering Second Street Pizza was a kind of homecoming for me. Garlic knots, chicken parmesan, eggplant parmesan and other sandwiches on the menu; plastic pitchers of beer; the heat from a huge oven; a small radio playing classic rock; circular trays instead of plates; football on TV over a large Italian man working the cash register: This is the setting for good pizza.
Though Second Street Pizza didn’t have the following, other indicators of an authentic pizza joint include a ragged poster of the Sopranos tacked up somewhere, and/or, a sign with an off-color expression about pizza, for example: “Pizza is like sex – even when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good.” (I remember this from Rosa’s, the best pizza place in Atlanta, Georgia.)
And, last but not least, the pizza itself has to meet exacting standards, as Second Street Pizza’s does. The crust is crispy, but not like cardboard. The red sauce tastes fresh and slightly sweet, not poured out of a can and reheated. And the cheese, likewise, was pretty fresh. Like most southern Italian cuisine, a few simple ingredients go a long way in pizza and the whole is ultimately greater than the sum of its parts. At Second Street Pizza, the end result was a pie that is at once rich, but light. It’s a subtle balance, and one easily spoiled by too many toppings, which can make the crust soggy. Two toppings are usually enough. I’m a pepperoni and mushrooms or sausage and peppers man.
The last time I was in for a few slices and a Pabst was after a long day of Christmas shopping, and it hit the spot the way only pizza can. While I was sitting in a booth, a customer joked that he was doing his best not to come in more than three times a week. I’m suffering from the same problem myself.
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