I love pizza. I could eat piza every day. In fact, about a decade ago, we went on a road trip in Italy, and I did eat pizza every single day for two weeks. Well, every day but one. That day, I decided that I couldn’t eat pizza every day and that I should at least try the pasta – when in Rome – so I had pasta.
It was in Siena, in a restaurant by the Piazza del Campo.
I remember it vividly because when I saw Wife’s pizza, I regretted not having the same.
I’ll never make that mistake again.
I wish I could remember the first time I had a pizza, but I’m fairly confident to say that it happened in Joensuu, at a restaurant called Verona, a pizza place widely recognized as “the best in town.”
That’s what we’re after, isn’t it? We all have our favourite places, but regardless of the place, we like to call it the “the best [pizza] in town.” Now, I’ve never been that discriminatory with pizza, and in my teens, it wasn’t uncommon for the townspeople too catch a glimpse of me at Al Capone’s every once in a while. Maybe Verona got too pricey or fancy for me, or maybe Mr Capone was a little more generous with the toppings – a priority at the time – I can’t remember.
The pizza that earned the moniker “the best pizza I ever had” came to me by accident.
I was a business school student with little money to eat out, but at the same time, I was also a student with a car. And the stars aligned. My best friend was a chef at a nearby restaurant and on one especially dark night at the end of an especially long shift, he called me to see if I’d drive him home.
“I’ll make you a pizza,” he said.
He had barely got to the end of the sentence before I was already out the door and sitting in my car. I parked the car outside the kitchen, and waited for him to come out with a pizza carton in his hand.
“I just whatever we had left over on it, hope you like it,” he said. I told him I’d probably like it but didn’t think about it more, until I got home and opened the box.
It had everything on it.
It was a dream come true.
* * *
I’ve always wanted to have “my” pizza place. A pizza parlor that makes the greatest pizza in town. Of course, it can’t be the most popular restaurant in town. No, it would have to be a hidden gem that only the chosen one(s) know about.
Living in Helsinki, there was never a pizza place close to me, in the suburbs. (Ironically, the grocery store that used to be there is now a famous pizza restaurant). But when I got a new job in Stockholm, and wanted to celebrate it, I drove to the next neighbourhood, rented The Phantom on VHS and bought a large pizza from the restaurant next door.
That’s how happy I was about the job.
After I moved to Stockholm, I became a regular at La Favorita, the pizza place closest to my apartment, but that one wasn’t, either, The Place. Neither was the one closest to our next apartment, nor the one closest to our apartment in Helsinki, and when we moved back to Stockholm, the closest pizza place was, once again, La Favorita.
I don’t remember how I found the next place, but it’s possible that one of our new neighbours talked about it. Or maybe I just picked one. The place was in town, which meant I had to drive in for the pizza, which is not optimal if you want to bring it home. Then again, if the pizza was going to be as good as the one my buddy made, it was worth it.
The pizza was good and a week or two later, I suggested to Wife that I drive into town for “the greatest pizza in town.”
“I know this place,” I said.
However, it didn’t stick. I’ve never been back.
For about a decade, I’ve made it a point not to work on my birthday. That’s my one present to myself. I don’t always have work on my birthday, but it’s also nice to take the day off, mentally, and not worry about anything.
Often I wind up in Stockholm’s Old Town, and I stroll around, go to bookstores, have a cup of coffee, and just hang out.
I did that last year, too, and as I was walking down the street, I saw a sign with an arrow pointing towards an alley. It said “PIZZA SLICE.” I was hungry, there was pizza, I was curious. About halfway up the alley, there was another sign for pizza but the doors were closed, and when I pressed my nose against the glass, I couldn’t see anyone inside.
I gave the handle a slight pull and the door opened. I stepped over the high threshold, and coughed a few times to see if anyone would appear.
It worked. A young man greeted me from behind the pizza oven. I walked up to the counter and studied the large pies on display, then chose the one with the jalapeño topping and sat down. Than I got up and bought another slice.
Now, dear reader, I’m happy to report that I have found a place I can call my own, the one that has “the best pizza in town.”
It’s called Goose Alley Pizza and it was so good that I took Wife there on her birthday.
But that’s all I’m gonna say about it.
It’s supposed be a hidden gem.