Suburban Food Memories – Part III

The Pizza Place

I drove past Martio’s Ole Time Pizza Parlor every day on the way to work and on the way home for about two years before I set foot in the place.  I no longer remember who or what caused me to try Martio’s.  What I do know is that, after my first meal there, I was hooked.

Much later, I learned that Martio’s had already been a Nanuet, New York institution for decades, the orange and green neon sign on the plate glass a window a magnet for local teens hanging out with friends, young couples on dates and families out for dinner.  I was none the wiser, living over in the next town, where the big deal was Perruna’s downtown or, closer to my own neighborhood, Hillcrest Pizza (and later, Paesano’s, their competitor across the street).

Located on Main Street only a block or so from busy Route 59, parking at Martio’s could be a challenge at times.  The establishment had no parking lot; you had to park parallel on the street or in one of the diagonal spaces around the corner by the firehouse.  I cannot tell you how many times I parked on Prospect Street and, just as I stepped out of my car, “blaaaaaattt!” went the fire horn, causing me to about jump out of my skin.

Once I got started with Martio’s, I’d find myself sitting at their counter at least a couple of times each week, and sometimes quite a bit more often.  They had booths along the wall, which worked great when I brought my parents or a date, but mostly I was in there alone and enjoyed watching all the action from the convenient vantage point of my perch on a stool.

I usually started out by ordering a Coke and a mushroom slice, sometimes the regular Neapolitan, sometimes Sicilian.  I’d chat up the owner, his son and the son’s fiancée while they went about their duties.  Then I’d order dinner, usually manicotti or eggplant parmigiana, occasionally a hero sandwich.  The platters would come out with two pieces of crispy garlic bread.  I’d often order a salad, which was served with cruets of oil and vinegar.  While I ate, I would watch customers come and go and listen to pizzas going into and coming out of the oven that was just out of sight, while staff yelled at each other about what they were cooking or what was 86’d for the evening.

When I finished, I would order a cappuccino and a cannoli and linger over dessert.  Often, I’d order a second coffee, not quite ready to go home yet.

When I advanced to management at my job, one of my minor responsibilities was ordering food for my section’s monthly employee recognition meetings, held in the basement canteen.  One month, I’d order fancy pastries from Pakula’s Bakery (alas, long gone)  — chocolate pudding tarts, cannoli, charlotte russe and tiny replicas of strawberry shortcakes. Pakula’s was a Spring Valley institution at least since the 1950s, when they moved to the suburbs from their original home in The Bronx.  They produced the most amazing desserts, including “yummy rummy cake” (kind of like a firmer pound cake with a hard crust and layers of rum-soaked chocolate cake), “tropical fruit pie” (cake and custard with slices of kiwi, pineapple and strawberry on top), giant brownies slathered in chocolate icing, and all the local Jewish and Italian favorites (hamantashen, rugalach, Napoleons).  It was where my bar mitzvah cake was purchased when I was 13 and where my sisters’ engagement party cakes were purchased 13 years after that.  Back in my hometown, you couldn’t go visit someone without bearing a Pakula’s box tied up in red and white string.

On the alternate months, however, I would order pizzas for work from Martio’s.  My section contained five departments and about a hundred staff, including a lot of big, hungry pressmen, so you can imagine how many pies they had to lug over to the chemical plant.  Sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, cheese, ground beef?  Yes, please.  Give me some of each.  Martio’s made good money from us in those months.  I would bring out a rolling cart and have the Martio’s people load it up in the parking lot.  It would be so heavy that I could barely push it past the assembly lines, through the narrow, winding passageways that led to the canteen in the back of the building.

Sitting at the counter at Martio’s, I could look out the glass in the center of the big red door and watch the cars come and go on Main Street and the time and temperature sign change on the bank across the street.  In the wintertime, it might read -19° F, while in the summer, it might read 105° F.  Seasons came and seasons went, but through it all, the popularity of Martio’s was a constant.

In the years immediately before I moved to California, Martio’s purchased the storefront next door and expanded it.  First, they turned it into an ice cream parlor, featuring Italian gelatos.  Then they installed a brick oven in the annex in addition to the regular oven in the old store.  All of the staff was extended family, and they would use the kitchen to cut back and forth between the two storefronts.  At busy times, the booths in the old store and the tables in the new store would all be full.

I am happy to report that Martio’s remains alive and well and serving its heavenly pizza, heroes and parmigiana dishes.  It is among the finest memories of my youth and one of the things that I sorely miss about New York.  Eating there once more would be near the top of my bucket list.

Tomorrow:  Thanksgiving or Festivus?

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