Pauly's Pizza Station1050 Park Blvd.East Village 619-231-0300
I used to really dread Wednesday. I know it's the “hump” day, after which everything should be a downhill coast, but Wednesday falls at the point of my week when all my projects are piling up, so the day has sort of become an apex of stress rather than a decline.
Adding to my mid-week blues was a recurring event called Pizza Wednesdays, a weekly lunch of forced company togetherness, meant to build office morale but mostly just adding to our annoyance. The pizza came from Papa John's, whose local franchise inundated my e-mail inbox with enticements like free breadsticks, discounted sodas, half-price pizzas and massages for our carpal-tunnel-plagued hands. OK, just kidding about the last one but wouldn't that be nice?
When the pizzas arrived, we were always slow to gather around the conference table and ate without much enthusiasm. One day, when I was grumbling about these lunches to a friend who goes to City College, she mentioned this place called Pauly's across from campus that had a super-cheap lunch special and, fortunately for us sedentary-sorts, delivered.
So, I got their number and, sight-unseen, ordered a few pies for our next group lunch. Anything would have been preferable to Papa John's, but as it turned out, the pizza from Pauly's Pizza Station was better—a hell of a lot better. It's been a month since we switched to Pauly's, and the difference this new pizza had made is pretty remarkable. Now, when our lobby buzzer rings around noon on Wednesdays, like a bunch of Pavlov's dogs, we jump up and busy ourselves in preparation for the pizza spread. One co-worker sings the happy pizza song when it arrives and another has fallen off her long-term raw-food regimen. Now Pizza Wednesdays are her Warm-Food Wednesdays.
Recently, I stopped in to meet the pizza maker, Paul Franza. I was surprised to find the shop tucked into the front section of a quickie-mart. A former artist, Franza thinks of the market's windows, which face the trolley tracks as they wend through the SmartCorner building, as gallery windows behind which he and his three young apprentices craft each edible composition.
Born in Brooklyn and raised in Jersey, Franza still speaks with an unmistakable East Coast cadence even though he's been in San Diego for 18 years. He's been making pizzas only for the last five but has spent time learning from and working with Luigi Agostini and Mike Bongiorno, both Bronx Pizza alums who have their own pizza shops in Golden Hill and North County, respectively.
Franza's beloved mom taught him how to make a good sauce, and he abhors the pre-made stuff, employing two large cans of it in its sole appropriate usage—as doorstops in his kitchen. He also freshly mixes his cheese blend and makes small batches of dough each day. While most New York-style pizzas are assembled on a wooden pizza peel and then slid onto the stone deck of a pizza oven, Franza prepares and cooks his on a round metal screen for a uniform shape and to prevent the pie from scorching. I like seeing some little charred and burned bits, but I appreciate his desire for consistency.
We all have our favorite pie varieties but the one that's usually first to disappear is Pauly's house special, a white pizza that echoes the colors of the Italian flag with strips of roasted red peppers and a bed of fresh spinach that's dabbed with puffs of good quality ricotta, milky and sweet. This one's more about the crust than the toppings, though, because when it's done right, this crust is sublime. It's thin, with a chewy top layer that gives way to a crisp, almost preternaturally crackly bottom. There's something so appetizing about the sound the crust makes as it crinkles and bends when you fold over a nice wide slice. The barbecue chicken pizza is a huge hit with some, but if I'm going to go untraditional, I prefer the chicken on a white pie with cheese and bright green loops of fresh, homemade pesto. The classic cheese pizza, not too greasy or cheese-laden, has a brightly flavored sauce and good flavor.
Because good food can save many an occasion, Pizza Wednesdays are no longer such a bad thing. And, thankfully, those Papa John's e-mails have been banished to my spam mailbox.