A New Yorker in Milan: Dad's Italian Pizza Epiphany
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It was late morning and the doors were shut.
We were on our way to Milano Centrale Railway Station in Italy and headed to Malpensa Airport to return home after our first ever and only family vacation: a trip to celebrate my parents’ long-awaited retirement. We started and ended in Milan, stopping in Venice and Rome on our grand Italian tour.
Each of the cities was magical in its own way: Milan's architecture! The surrealism of the car-less labyrinth of Venice! The history and grandeur of Rome! The visionary splendor was haunting. And yet, it wasn’t sense of sight that arrested my father. Instead, he was fixated on the best pizza he’d experienced in his life. And he was determined to have a last bite of it before we flew back across the sea.
It was unlike anything he’d had before, Milanese pizza. As a New Yorker, pizza to him meant thin bases, a dry, crackling crust, a light smear of sauce, and brown toasted speckles on a layer of cheese.
Italian Pizza Is Not New York Pizza
But here in Milan, especially from the city's most famous local chain, Spontini Pizza, it was something else entirely.
Pillowy-soft and puffy, the dough rose, sweet and tall. The golden and crisped outer edge was shiny and rich from the generous layer of oil that greased each pan. From triangular slices chopped into irregular rectangles that were meant to be eaten with a fork, a thick layer of cheese dripped enticingly and stretched everlastingly. A clean sauce, which tasted of tomatoes in the sunshine, balanced out the heavy decadence of both crust and cheese.
He was obsessed. He was determined. And he rushed to the Spontini he knew was closest to the train station for that one last perfect bite of Italy.
But again — it was late morning and the doors were shut.
We could see workers shaping the dough through the plate-glass, shaking pans of pies into the open ovens, and tossing fistfuls of grated cheese into a bucket to break it up. My father peered hopefully into the window, his eyes alight like a child’s on Christmas Day. He smiled as he made eye contact with one of the staff. The man smiled back at him and then checked the time. My father watched as he walked to the door, opening 10 minutes early.
Beaming beatifically, my father signed for slices to go. We ate them on the airport shuttle train on top of our suitcases.
And, you know what? Flavored by my dad’s joy, it may have been the best bite of pizza I've ever had.