As I've grown older, I've started to pick up on those small things that make the world wonderful. It's easy to appreciate the big things: God, family, friends, love, kindness, and a host of other things it would diminish to lump together with "etc." But it's the small things I've learned to cherish as well. And there's no better example of a small thing to be cherished than the Pretty-Good Neighborhood Pizzeria, or PGNP.
Let me define what I mean. A PGNP is a local pizza place. If it's part of a chain, it's only a small local chain. The pizza is reliably tasty, and it's slid in and out of a big oven with a peel; it doesn't ride along a conveyor. But the pizza isn't exotic or even fancy. The atmosphere is simple and relaxed. The staff is friendly and seem to enjoy themselves. In short, this is not the pizza place you take someone you want to impress. This is where you go get pizza when you just want some good pizza. You often end up here because someone says, "Hey, let's just go to..."
I think a PGNP is the cornerstone of a good neighborhood. Do you ever wonder if you live in a real neighborhood, or just a collection of homes? Then ask yourself: where's the PGNP?
Here where I live, in "old" Hoover, Alabama, the PGNP is Salvatore's, which takes up half of a building that was once a Swensen's. (The other half is a Subway, of which we'll not speak.) At Sal's, you can eat delicious pizza by a bubbling fountain as you watch the traffic along Highway 31, which is exactly the kind of up-and-down ambience that suits a PGNP. In the Edgewood neighborhood in nearby Homewood, the PGNP is New York Pizza, where I've always enjoyed the food, even the time I took my pal Yancy when he was in a vegetarian phase and wouldn't allow meat on my half of the pizza ("the grease crosses the middle.") Even Alabama's fanciest address, Mountain Brook (the city people like Courteney Cox really mean when they say they're from Birmingham), has a fine example of a PGNP: the venerable Jim Davenport's Pizza Palace, where the crust is so thin you're probably allowed to eat it during Passover.
More recently I've discovered the joy of finding a PGNP when I am traveling. Visiting a far-way PGNP is a chance to become an honorary local. It feels great, like you've found a second home. For example, if you ever find yourself in Navarre Beach, Florida, the PGNP is the New York Pizza Depot. I highly recommend the Garlic Knots.
In Kissimmee, Florida, not too far from Disney World, a great PGNP is Broadway Pizza. When my family visited there, my wife had a migraine and didn't feel like eating much, so she ordered a salad, and barely touched that. When we were leaving, the waitress handed us a to-go box; inside was a fresh salad in kit form, everything separate to keep the ingredients crisp until the headache went away. So sweet! That's the kind of attention you get at a PGNP.
It's so easy to take the PGNP for granted. It's just pizza, and there's a million places to get a pizza these days. But a PGNP is more than pizza, it's part of the neighborhood family. When you walk through the door, you can feel the neighborhood chucking you on the shoulder and saying hello. The PGNP is an oasis of friendliness and cheer in a world grown bitter and impersonal. It's a wonderful thing.