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Take Another Little Pizza My Heart

In 1988, an early Julia Roberts romantic comedy called Mystic Pizza adorably ambled into

theaters, depicting an idyllic Connecticut community where all social strata are bridged by way

of a particularly memorable slice of pie. It’s the kind of film that features cornball montages of

pizza-making and dough-tossing, and isn’t terribly subtle about equating the romance of sharing

a pizza with our more basic, carnal impulses. In the bizarre world of this movie, an irresistible

pizza and an irresistible romantic partner are pretty much the exact same thing. Naturally, I’m a

big fan.


Although the film isn’t exceptional — as Julia Roberts flicks go, no one is confusing it with the

untouchable Steel Magnolias — it’s somehow successful in making its point: pizza (and Italian

food in general) is certainly one of our more romantic foodstuffs, and whether it’s due to the

frequent presence of wine on the table or the communal manner in which we eat it, the

sentiment is universal. As the song says, “When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie ...”

well, you likely know the rest.

It still begs the question, though: How does the theory presented in Mystic Pizza — basically,

that you’ll find love sooner by sharing a big pizza pie than, say, a plate of chicken wings — hold

up on closer examination?


I’ve spent the bulk of my adult life trying to answer this very question. A dozen summers ago, I

took a seasonal job in the coastal Oregon enclave of Cannon Beach, working the line at a place

called Pizza a’Fetta. The pizza shop was famous in those parts for being touted by Pizza Today

magazine (Look it up, it’s real!) as one of America’s 50 best pizzerias, which made it both

popular as a date spot and a must-stop for tourists. And, if I’m being totally honest, my status as

a cook at Pizza a’Fetta did a fine job of endearing me to the fairer sex as well; some women dig

a guy with dirt under his nails, sure, but a curious subset prefers one with flour in his eyelashes.


My wife, bless her, belongs to this curious subset, and in the early stages of our courtship, I

used my pizza-making skills to full effect. One of our earliest dates involved my from-scratch

pizza — homemade dough, homemade sauce, nearly immolated apartment — and she knew she

was special. So special, in fact, that she was willing to overlook the fact that every first date,

from the time I left Pizza a’Fetta until the fateful evening when my future-wife and I ate a

basil-and-goat-cheese concoction on the floor of my efficiency domicile, began in the exact

same way.


This all goes back to Mystic Pizza, and to what makes the basic combination of dough, sauce

and toppings so transcendent. When a group shares a pizza — and we’re ignoring the sacrilege

known as the “half-and-half,” thank you very much — they are willfully trying things that they

might not always order for themselves. Perhaps my favorite part of the job at Pizza a’Fetta,

apart from having the scenery from Goonies thirty seconds from the front door, was watching

two people debate a pizza with ingredients such as crab, artichokes or clams, and then shoot

each other an “I-will-if-you-will” glance. It’s the comestible equivalent of going on a treasure

hunt.


Perhaps we’re being overly sanctimonious about the power of pizza, or maybe I’m just writing

this on an empty stomach. But there’s a very real possibility that, if not for a particularly

instructive Julia Roberts film, I might have never become a pizza chef, which would mean that I

would have never snared my wife. I'm a pretty happy guy, and pizza is largely to thank.


When was the last time anyone said that about a plate of chicken wings?


January 2017

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