See, when the Maestro proposed the Chicago Pizza Project (actually, when the Maestro remembered the idea that the Doc had suggested, like, a year prior, but then forgotten about, but then which bubbled back up to the top of the Maestro’s consciousness, much like the ghost of Amleto’s father bearing some awkward news that was about to make Amleto’s family therapy sessions somewhat uncomfortable), I was somewhat surprised. Not because it’s a dumb idea; blogging about pizza is a freakin’ brilliant idea, as I’m sure everybody reading this (read: the Maestro’s wife, my girlfriend, Mario Incandenza, possibly the Maestro’s mom) would agree. No, I was surprised because it was well known within our little circle that, as far as Chicago pizza is concerned, the Maestro has only had, and only ever will have, one true love: La Villa.
It’s worth mentioning that, as the Maestro and I proceeded toward La Villa for a rare lunchtime pizza adventure, we were, for a variety of reasons, particularly ready for some pizza. Which is why it was especially disheartening to see, plastered across the front door, hours of operation that clearly stated the restaurant wouldn’t be opening until the evening.
“You have to be kidding me,” the Maestro intoned dolefully. I glanced up and down Pulaski, scanning to see if there was a Cuzzo’s-style Emergency Pizza Fallback Option in view. Sadly, there was not.
“Wait!” the Maestro suddenly exclaimed. “La Villa Strada! Come on!”
Yes, La Villa was closed, but the restaurant next door– branded quizzically as “La Villa’s little sister”– was, in fact, open. And empty. The waitress who sat us gave us our menus, which the Maestro glanced up and down before anxiously asking the waitress (which, for some reason, my brain took to calling “Carla,” as in Tortelli), “Can we get dinner pizzas? Like, the same menu as next door?”
She looked at him blankly. “It’s all one menu.”
Skeptical look from the Maestro. “Are you sure?”
Continued blank look from Carla. Finally, “Yes.”
Eyes narrowed from the Maestro. “Okay,” he said finally.
Anyway. The Maestro and I were eventually joined by two friends, one someone I was later told I had met previously at a party (which would explain the confused look he gave me when I extended my hand and introduced myself), and one who had the misfortune to offer the memorable quote of the afternoon, “I used to dip my pizza in milkshakes when I was a kid.”
(This revelation stopped the conversation cold, dear readers. Though I’d like the record to reflect that my mind remained open to the virtue of this practice, whereas the Maestro’s reaction, literally, was to speculate about which circle of Hell Dante had reserved for those who dip their pizza in milkshake.)
Oh, right, the pizza. We got a veggie pizza, and a cheese pizza, and I think the dead animal variety ordered by the Maestro was pepperoni. Kinda medium crust, halfsies between thick and thin (you couldn’t fold it, but it wasn’t a cracker, either); sharp and distinct flavors from the veggies; enough cheese to be cheesy, but not enough to overwhelm the sauce. You won’t find me complaining about the taste of La Villa pizza, at least not within earshot of the Maestro. It’s perfectly tasty, and a needed retreat from the cheese-and-grease-fest that was last week’s Hangover Cure Pizza from Cuzzo’s.
“What’s your favorite La Villa pizza memory?” I asked the Maestro, investigating my evolving hypothesis that our affinity for certain qualities in pizza has less to do with our inherent love of those qualities, and more to do with various shades of sentimentality.
“I remember this one time, my wife and I ordered it,” he replied. And then stuffed another piece of pizza in his face.
(Some people have asked me if the Maestro is a patient of mine. No. And answers like that are why. Plus all the ethical stuff about treating your friends.)
(In fairness, it should be observed that the addition of the Maestro’s wife seems to make virtually any memory pleasant for him. “Hey, remember that root canal you got? Mrs. Maestro was there.” “Oh yeah, man, awesome time. I love dentistry.”)
As an aside, I’m used to my requests for Diet Coke being sporadically met with the question, “Is Diet Pepsi okay?” (No, but it’ll do in the absence of Diet Coke. Sorta.) La Villa Strada is the first place my request for Diet Coke was met with, “How about a Diet Rite?” Can you believe that? Diet RITE? Who knew that beverage still existed? What’s next, a TAB?!?
Anyhow. Were we making a ranked list, which we’re explicitly not, of course La Villa would top it, for sentiMaestromental reasons alone. We’ve had dinner pizza there in the past, and I have to say, the daytime lunch experience at La Villa Strada was very much a departure. Dinner at La Villa is, like…you remember that scene in “Goodfellas,” that long, continuous shot where Henry is gliding through the bar, his voiceover introducing us to all of his mobster buddies (“I’m gonna go get the papers, get the papers”)? That’s dinner at La Villa. Lunchtime at La Villa is…you ever see “Cheers?” Kinda like that.
Oh, postscript to this entry. I took home the remainder of the cheese and veggie pizzas, polished off the cheese pizza that night, went back for the veggie leftovers at the end of the weekend…to find that my girlfriend had thrown them away. Because she hates me. THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU DON’T BRING YOUR GIRLFRIEND TO PIZZA, PEOPLE.