In my old age, I’ve taken to judging experiences by how many of my favorite things they can combine. And by this standard, Gioacchino’s had two things going for it from the outset: pizza (obvi), and Catholicism.
This place was saturated with the latter. On the wall directly opposite our booth, separate framed paintings of the Virgin (not any depiction I recognized, but a very Italian-looking rendition, with dark hair and eyes) and Christ (the Sacred Heart variety) both peered off to the left– as if they were living in adjacent apartments, and both looking out their windows at, say, a public disturbance happening on the street outside. On a counter, a statue of Joseph cradled an infant Jesus in one arm, and a lamb in the other. Directly above our booth, a certificate proclaimed the establishment to be under the explicit protection of St. Francis.
It’s a smallish place, Gioacchino’s. About the size of your average greasy spoon diner. It has a bit of a diner feel, for that matter; one wall was all mirrored; the opposite wall had a row of booths; with a few banquet-hall kind of tables in between. On the far wall stood a glass display case, stuffed full of what looked to be family mementos (lots of school dance pictures) interspersed with random documents of practical or sentimental significance (the etablishment’s business license; a letter written to express a family’s thanks for the establishment’s catering their daughter’s wedding). Positioned above the display case was a TV, which was noiselessly running Italian television (the Maestro and our dining companions speculated by turns whether the feed was actually a satellite TV feed from Italy, or just a videotape of a block of Italian television– the latter possibility, we all agreed, would have been an impressive, if unorthodox, gesture of commitment to authentic Italian ambiance).
My Diet Coke was brought in a plastic decanter. Upon asking for a Sprite, the Maestro was brought a 7UP, which I considered somewhat of a faux pas; however, I was subsequently assured that, for practical purposes, the beverages are identical (I still have my doubts, though I don’t find myself in a position to judge, as I subsist entirely on diet cola).
“I want a pizza with every vegetable you have,” were my instructions to our no-bullshit server. Typically, when I give this instruction to wait staff, they flinch a bit, and often either ask if I’m sure, or, occasionally, take my request as a cue to list every vegetable they have, to ensure that I actually want them all on my pizza. Our no-bullshit Giaoacchino’s sever, however, merely said, “A veggie? Okay.” And that was that.
Turns out the default Gioacchino’s crust is a thinnish, crispy crust– and as far as thin crust pizza goes, they got it just right. Crispy, but warm, with a liiiiiiittle bit of a burnt aftertaste (I note this with satisfaction– I like just a hint of toast-taste to my thin crust pizza). My veggie pizza turned out to have broccoli, black olives, green olives, onions, broad slices of tomatoes, mushrooms, and green peppers on it, all of which were entwined with thick, gooey, golden brown knots of cheese– and it was fucking delicious.
They go light on the sauce at Gioacchino’s. The cheese is really the star of the show. What was pretty amazing (and pretty great) was that, after shoveling at least 3/4 of this veggie pizza into my face, I didn’t at all feel bloated or stuffed– which occasioned the observation that they also go light on the grease, which probably helps account for the consistently crispy crunch (often times, as the evening goes on, the later pieces of pizza get a little soggy or limp because they’ve had a chance to cool and sit– not so here).
The place also gets props from me because its diner-like atmosphere is one in which you can actually have a conversation. It’s basic, but in a good way– it doesn’t try too hard, fully embraces what it is, and totally leaves you willing to come back. I get why the Maestro wanted to start here, with a throwback to his childhood.
The Doc gives it a thumbs up. It’s a no-frills experience that’s about the pizza.
And Holy Mother Church. Obvi.