Posts Tagged ‘Old-time pizza parlors were the best’

Palace2   As a kid, I used to love pizza. I would get excited when my mom and dad would tell me were were having pizza for dinner. I can still remember the fresh-out-of-the-oven taste… it was so good, it was worth risking a burn to the roof of my mouth to get that first bite!

Now, I can barely stand most of what passes for “pizza” these days.

Eating Pizza in the 1970s
Being born in 1970, I had the distinct pleasure of knowing what good pizza was supposed to be. First of all, it wasn’t just about the pizza, but I’ll get to that in a minute. Eating pizza in the 70s didn’t mean picking up a phone and calling the closes delivery pizza place; instead, it meant going to something called a “pizza parlor,” also known as a “pizzeria.”

For any Millenials who might be reading this, a pizza parlor was an actual restaurant where you and your family went to enjoy lunch or dinner. The old-time pizza parlors were rather unique by today’s standards. Generation Y won’t be able to relate to pizza place that:

  • Has wood-paneled walls.
  • Has a mini working jukebox at each table.
  • Paper place-mats that feature the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Coliseum in Rome, and other Italian architecture and highlights.
  • Pizza chefs who actually tossed the pizza dough in the air, a talent that is both art, sport, and science.
  • Pizza served at your table on round, stainless steel plates supported by a stainless steel column.
  • If you were lucky, there was also at least one video game, usually Space Invaders or Asteroids, that us kids could play while we waiting for our hand-tossed pizza to be made.
  • As to the pizza itself, it had rounded crusts about an inch or two in diameter that was chewy but not greasy nor heavy, while the sauce was a salted, well-seasoned blend of Italian herbs and spices.

Palace  Palace Pizzeria in Flint, Michigan
When the Ribner family wanted to go out for pizza, we packed into the family car and dad drove us to Palace Pizzeria at 3905 Clio Road in Flint, Michigan. Being only about a mile from Trauma Central made Palace a regular dinner destination for us Ribners. Being from New York City, my dad particularly enjoyed Palace because the food there reminded him of the pizza he used to eat while growing up in the Big Apple.

My brother and I loved it to for all the reasons listed above – it was a genuine pizza parlor. Needless to say, my family and I went there until its eventual demise, sometime in the early to mid-1980s.

Pizza in the 1980s
Sometime during the 1980s, the old-time pizza parlors and pizzerias like Palace quickly began to disappear. They were quickly being replaced by a new business model that not only promised your pizza to be made in record time, the people making it also would toss it into a car – sometimes literally – and drive it to your house.

Personally, I believe this new pizza business model was a direct reflection in the rise of two-income households, which was a trend during the 1980s. With both mom and dad working – or mom working in a single-parent household – few people had time to cook, let alone spend an hour or more at a restaurant while Mr. DaFazio flings away back in the kitchen. The pizza made by these quick-delivery joints were still pretty good during this era.

Note: The 1980s also saw a rise in the “family fun center” pizzeria. With marquees such as Showbiz Pizza Place and Chuck E. Cheese’s, these restaurants combined the appeal of pizza with the fun of video arcades and carnival games to become a huge hit for the young and young at heart. I won’t dissect these places here, since I believe they deserve a blog post of their own. (Stay tuned!)

I Blame Corporations
Sometime during the 90s, the quality of your average delivery pizza took a horrible turn for the worse. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what happened here. The ingredients in pizza, even delivery pizza, was no longer being chosen by the owner of the place that made the pies. Now these decisions were being made in the corporate boardroom.

As is always the case, a corporation will choose profits over quality, and second- and third-rate ingredients that offer a higher profit margin became the norm. The result: Pizza pies just ain’t what the used to be!

Rons   Flint’s Best Pizza Sauce
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Ron’s Pizza & Ice Cream, my go-to pizza parlor in the late 80s, early 90s. Located at 3122 Fenton Road on the south side of Flint, Ron’s had the most tasty pizza sauce I’ve ever had the pleasure to enjoy, bar none. Seriously people, it was that good. After eating there on and off for a year, I got to know its then-owners – Ron and Don Schmidt – and they divulged at least one of the sauce’s secret ingredients: anchovies.

Would you believe that grinding up one or two anchovies into the tomato sauce adds a certain saltiness to it. When combined with the other herbs and spices masterfully mixed by the Schmidt brothers, the results were out of this world. Sadly, the brothers sold their interests in the restaurant long ago, and I’ve heard that the new owners eventually shuttered the place.

If you know the Schmidts – or used to work at Ron’s – I would be eternally grateful if you would share the sauce recipe with me. My wife is an amazing cook, and she could no doubt replicate that famous recipe… and probably add some intriguing twists of her own.

Gracie   A New (Pizza) Hope
While Palace Pizzeria might be long gone, I’m happy to report that there is a least one old-time pizza parlor near my new home in Novi, Michigan. One of the many benefits to marrying a Detroit girl is my wife’s knowledge of great places to eat in and around the Motor City. One of them is Gracie See’s Pizzeria. Located at 6889 Greenfield Road in Detroit, Gracie See’s boasts the ambiance of the old-time pizza places I came to know and love as a kid.

But how’s the pizza?

It’s freakin’ delicious! The folks at Gracie See’s pride themselves on being old school, right down to hand-tossing the dough. The sauce features an intriguing mix of herbs and spices, and in perhaps the most interesting twist, chopped garlic is an actual item you can order on your pie. And they’re not stingy with it, either! If you’re planning to be in the D, you owe it to yourself – and your love for old-school pizza – to have dinner at Gracie See’s.

In fact, if you’re down here, let me know. I’ll pack the family in the truck and meet you there!

About J.P. Ribner
J.P. Ribner is the author of Viking fantasy adventure series “The Berserker’s Saga.” Currently, the saga features two novels – “Legacy of the Bear” and “Prophecy of the Bear.” For more about his written work, check out his website.