Friday, June 26, 2009

The Flavor of Childhood

I like pizza. I don't like all pizza equally well, but the basic idea can be executed in a lot of different ways and still turn out fine. Pizza made with focaccia is pretty good, the sort I remember from San Francisco, probably at Boudin's. Deep dish style stuff is fine. Limp pizza doesn't do as much for me, the sort turned out at Pagliacci or Pizza Schmizza (a favorite with the junior member of our household) or the execrable Chuck E Cheese. But it's still pizza, and I'll eat it unless it's been contaminated with some unpalatable topping or other.

The pizza ideal, though, is tough to come by. My favorite is the pizza I had at Shakey's when I was a child growing up in Boise. My memories of the place are probably faulty, but I remember the door and windows had those multicolored round glass panes like bottle bottoms, and didn't admit a lot of light to the interior. The kitchen where the dough was tossed was behind glass, and there was a raised platform and a rail where we could stand and watch them twirl the pizzas and then brush on the thick sauce with a fat mop brush and sprinkle cheese all over and deal out the toppings like so many cards before sliding them into the giant oven with the peel that had a handle as long as a broomstick. The other entertainment was a movie projector playing Our Gang or Little Rascals shorts on a continuous loop. The pizza parlor was halfway across town, and I don't recall going that often, but I liked it when we did, even if I had to peel off the tomato slices that Mom liked on the Canadian bacon pizza.

The pizza had a crisp, crackery crust, and a sauce so viscous that it was almost solid, like tomato paste, with a hint of spice, in a thin layer under the cheese and toppings. Perfection! Sadly, the Shakey's chain was never especially well run, and I understand they changed hands several times in the Eighties and Nineties, losing lots of franchisees in the process. I discovered one in Bellevue when we'd been living in the area for a couple of years, but not long afterward they changed their pizza recipe to something with a thicker crust and a runnier sauce and not nearly as good, making it no longer worth seeking out in preference to the mediocre Round Table or Pizza Hut stuff. Then they closed, and a Mongolian Barbecue place opened in the building which was worth going to again, but I missed the pizza place.

When we went to vacation at Cannon Beach, Oregon the first time, the hotel we stayed in had a pizza place right next door, Fultano's. Naturally, we tried it, and it was the first time I'd had a pizza comparable to the old Shakey's recipe in quite some time. It became a favorite spot, along with the great beach, and added to the vacation draw of Cannon Beach. We've been back every year or two ever since.

We made some pizza at home a couple of weeks ago, and I made up some sauce based on a couple of recipes I found online, roughly equal parts tomato paste and tomato sauce, with some garlic and oregano and minced onion and salt and pepper, and left to simmer on the stove for a while. I was thinking about the paste-like sauce on Shakey's pizza and wondering how to recreate it. The result was pretty good, if I do say so myself. A while later I thought to see if maybe someone else liked Shakey's style pizza and perhaps had a recipe or two to share online. That's when I discovered that the greater Seattle area was still home to a couple of Shakey's franchises, which I thought had all dried up and blown away at least a decade ago. The nearest one was in Renton, a couple of miles east of Ikea. Not exactly close, but not out of the realm of possibility if traffic wasn't too bad.

Wednesday, the Formidable Mrs. had a dinner event for work, leaving me and the boy to our own devices. I packed him up in the van and we hit the road for Renton.
I'd looked up the location on Google's street view, and had a good idea of what I was looking for. It's your basic hole in the wall strip mall location, not a distinctive building with those multicolored glass panes, but you can't have everything. We got there in about twenty-five minutes in lightening traffic, and ordered up a large pie and some mojo potatoes to go. While they cooked it up we made a quick stop at the golden arches next door for the boy who was not as enamored of the pizza idea as I was, then came back to pick up our finished pizza and hit the road for home. Total time away, door to door, was about an hour and ten minutes. Impatient to try it, I shoveled some in my mouth while driving, which may not have been the most attentive thing to do, but there were no accidents, and it was so worth it. They had the original recipe going again, thin crust, paste-like sauce, and all. I stuffed myself with half of a large pizza, and found the belly distension a little uncomfortable afterward, but my mouth was not complaining.

I'm sure my wife is dreading being dragged for miles down south so that I can relive a little of my childhood in a vinyl and formica strip mall eatery, but it's a lot closer than Oregon. Sadly, there's no beach.