The Papa and The Pizza

From the moment we arrived in Rome we'd been greeted by a pizza papa in a window. It didn't matter the time or day he was simply there. In that window he was rolling dough and making garlic knots. He would sometimes have it down a bit and talk to people through it. Whenever we walked by he would do some ditty for us. He'd tap on the glass or blow us a kiss. It would always make us smile. After the long hard journey to the Vatican we felt ready for some pizza. Oddly enough the papa wasn't there but his place was waiting for us. When we walked past all tired and irritated there was no papa to cheer us up. Instead there was a snarky maitre d putting on his new tie in the foyer. As we peered in looking to see the papa he quickly tidied himself and approached us. He asked did we like pizza. He said we could have pizza just for two. He then said the papa would be back in a few hours. So we told him we'll be back when papa returns.

It was so funny to us that he reeled us in. I mean he even lead us inside the dining room to show us a menu. He showed us the size of the pie. It was so quirky. So we went back to our hotel and got ready for the evening. In this we shared a bond. We had endured so many lines, groping, sweating, pushing and we were equally exhausted. We were also long overdue for a night on the town as friends. So it was nice to shower and get spruced up. When we exited the hotel I showed her the way I'd found the other night. We were eager to see the papa and very hungry. I had cried over my breakfast. I don't know if she even ate breakfast. I think all we had all day was granola bars and water. So when we went inside it was game over for the papa. We were the first to arrive. Both inside and outside dining there was no one. The same guy was enthusiastic about us returning. The papa was at the window. Now we were inside watching him do his pizza magic.

There was some other guy roaming around. I think he was the sole waiter, busser and sous chef. The guy at the door would run from greeting passerbys to talk to us and make sure the other guy was doing his job. It took a while to get our drinks. It even took a while for us to see the menu. It didn't take long for us to decide. We chose our usual caprese salad and decided to share the white four cheese pizza. It wasn't like there was some fancy ordering process. The papa was standing right there. He was exactly five feet from our table so as we made our order he began his process. I was facing him so whatever he did I shared with her play by play. He rolled out one of his balls of dough. He tossed it around in the sky. He placed it on a pan. He then placed it in the wood brick oven behind him. Then he turned back to the window and continued his fun. He winked at the girls. A cop came up and they shook hands through the window. Some old neighborhood guy came and gave him a hard time. Sometimes the phone rang and he seemed pissed off at whoever was calling. Then he took the pizza out and threw on the toppings. He basically heated up the foundation and applied the cheese. There was no sauce on the pizza. It was simply a medley of mozzarella, fontina, parmesan and blue. 

The salad was served and it was divine. It was a full salad decorated with split campari tomatoes and garnished with a glob of fresh house mozzarella. There were pieces of red lettuce and black olives. A big sprig of fresh basil was stuck in the cheese. The oil and balsamic vinegar were nearby. It wasn't the bruschetta tastings of pre-soaked over salted tomatoes. It wasn't the contrived appetizer slithers of beefsteak tomatoes and pasteurized cheese. It was someones garden, that days cheese and the best tasting oil they had to offer. Then came our pizza. This delicate misshapen pie of bubbling cheese. There were pockets of olive oil and blue craters. The cheese just stopped at the baked-in edges. We looked at it and both thought about dipping it in some red sauce. Before we could say anything the papa smiled, picked up the phone and in Italian said something about red sauce. We tried a slice while waiting both looking into each others eyes with tears of new found enlightenment. Now we're having pizza. We didn't know what we had had before. It was so good we'd forgotten about the sauce. The papa was watching and he was irritated for us. He knew we were enjoying the pizza but it would soon grow cold waiting for it. He began to yell, the maitre d ran, the kitchen clanged and soon the sauce arrived.

We both looked into this stone bowl of bubbling sauce. It was filled with oil, seeds and chunks. We had been waiting so long because that sauce was freshly made. Some poor soul crushed the tomatoes with his bare hands, seasoned it to taste, finished it in oil and ran it out to the girls as the papa glared at them. When we spooned the sauce over the pizza it changed everything. The papa was suddenly fulfilled. His work was done. He of course had other customers now and had been preparing other pizzas. However, he took his waist towel and threw it over his shoulder. He was no longer in the window. He was watching us. He even did that Italian thing with his fingers when the sauce arrived. For all we know he may have ducked out and made the damn sauce himself. It was incredible. Tears welled up in our eyes. She had her house wine. I had my Coke in a tallboy glass. We ate that entire pizza and whatever sauce remained we slurped it like soup. There was no crumb left on that table. Not a single slither of lettuce. Not a single tomato seed. Not a drop of vinegar. And most definitely not a single string of cheese. The cheese was just enhanced by the sauce and it was so nuanced. There was the light buttery mozz, then came the salty parm, an overload of smokiness from the fontina and tangy bursts of well aged blue. The hot peppered sauce just re-activated the flavors of each cheese and the thin crust just buckled to it all. The heat bubbles in the dough would crack under the pressure and their chewy insides would just fold to the roof of your mouth. Then the acids would just play on your tongue from bitter to sweet and go to die in your belly. 

We asked for the check. We paid the check. She took the last sip of her wine. I caressed the Coke tinged ice cubes in my glass. We checked to make sure there was no evidence of the crime. She turned around coy like and looked at him. She looked at me and we both whispered about him. He just stood there with his rosy cheeks, white hair, big belly and sauce covered towel over his shoulder. She got up first and walked over to him and kissed him on the cheek. I then got up and smiled and kissed him on the cheek. We then left and just kept looking each at other to make sure we both knew what we'd just experienced. We both ate pizza … for the very first time. The next day there was no papa. Then the day after that. Papa only worked certain days. He's also a dinner only guy so he's never in before 4pm. Let it be known the papa isn't just some pizza artisan. He is the boss. Papa Carlos is the owner of Carlo's Pizza/Ciao Bella restaurante. So it is a privilege to get to taste what he makes. The place doesn't shut down when he's gone it just isn't the same. There's just a guy making pizza but he doesn't come to the window or demand sauce for the ladies. We never saw the papa in the window again. But every time we passed we looked for him. I've had a lot of pizza since the papa but there is no place like Rome.

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