In the Front Row
My friend Vinny from Bayonne called me last week.
"Hey Bobby! Didj-a hear da Big Apple is closin?"
No! The Big Apple Sports Palace? In Bayonne? The place that for over 40 years has served, hands-down, the best thin crust pizza in the world? The one last meaningful reason I have left to visit New Jersey?
"Hey-uh Bobby, don't-ja still got family here?" Vinny reminded me.
Yeah, but it won't be the same.
I literally grew up at The Big Apple Sports Palace. When I was 13 years-old, my dad took me there to watch Bayonne's own Chuck Wepner fight Muhammad Ali for the heavyweight championship of the world. It was the only place in town that was showing the fight live on what used to be called closed circuit TV.
I sat right there at the bar, watching him and his friends swill beer and suck on cigars and curse and swear like only real Jersey men can. It was one of the best don't-tell-your-mother moments I ever had.
As I got older, me and Vinny started hanging out at the Big Apple. The conversation usually went something like this:
"Let's go to da Apple."
We'd split a plate of calamari and each order a bar pie — the original personal pizza — and watch everything from hockey to horse racing on the dozens of TVs that lined the walls. There were so many satellite dishes on the roof it looked like a branch office of the NSA.
But the pizza was the real draw. Wafer-thin, tomatoey, burnt slightly around the edges with a heavenly mix of melted, bubbly mozzarella and marinara and no more than two toppings. Shrimp and garlic was my favorite.
Then, almost 30 years ago, I moved to Wisconsin. On my second night here I wanted to order a pizza, so I looked in the phone book and found a place with an Italian sounding name.
"Yes, I'd like to order a large pie," I said.
"Um, we don't serve pie," came the reply.
That should have been my first sign.
When the pizza finally arrived — sans the shrimp and garlic — I opened the box to find my pizza had been cut into little squares! I called back to complain but they said that's they way they cut all their pizzas!
Huh? Round pizza? Squares?
A few years later Vinny came out to visit. He actually cooked at the Big Apple for a few years, so I begged him to make me a pizza. He even brought out a can of the same crushed tomatoes they use to make their sauce. He measured and tossed and ladled and shredded, but in the end he just couldn't duplicate that ultra-thin, crispy crust.
"It's the waw-ter," he said. "It ain't got all dem minerals and stuff in it."
For awhile I thought I had solved my pizza predicament. A friend of mine, a private pilot from River Falls who made regular flights into Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, would make the half-hour drive to Bayonne and pick me up a shrimp and garlic pie. But eventually he switched jobs and I lost my special delivery guy.
And so it's been ever since. The only truly good pizza I've had has been on my trips back to Bayonne to visit my family. I usually just give the taxi driver at the airport the address to the Big Apple and tell my family to meet me there.
And now it's gone. No more. Shut down. Fugeddaboudit.
God, I'd kill for a bar pie right now.