Sometimes, foods and flavors can rev up our appetite for nostalgia and drudge up memories. It’s proven that food can play a powerful part in human memory.
“Evolution has seen to it that food in general may be a privileged target of memory in the brain. There is a part of the brain called the hippocampus (one in each hemisphere) that is critical for memory. The hippocampus is particularly important for forming long-term, declarative memories—those that can be consciously recalled and which contribute to the autobiographies that we all carry around in our heads. The hippocampus is also important for spatial memories, which may be its primary role for animals that do not possess language. The hippocampus has strong connections with parts of the brain that are important for emotion and for smell. This may explain why emotional memories can be so vivid or why certain smells trigger a sense of recall in us even before we consciously remember an event.”
-John S. Allen, The Omnivorous Mind
Our appetite for nostalgia is reaching a fever pitch. Old-school pizza joints, or “parlors,” as they were affectionately called, are evidently on their way BACK, and I couldn’t be happier about it. Growing up in the Midwest, Shakey’s Pizza Parlor was IT. This was the place that you would go with your family on Friday night, for birthday parties, and after sporting events. It was a “special occasion” sort of place in the eyes of a 1980’s preteen, where a good time was guaranteed to be had by all.
I discovered Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder in the 1990’s and it became my favorite during my years living there. Something about the dark, rustic, casual vibe of the dining room reminded me of my youth, and they serve the most unique Pizza Pot Pies, as well as incredible, Italian style salads.
Today, we are hard-pressed to find an old-school family-style pizza parlor which focuses on serving great pizza in a relaxing environment. Restaurateurs are always looking for the next concept; I have no idea why more don’t jump on this idea, one which has been under their nose all along.
Pizza has evolved into a more sophisticated, with more “grown-up” ingredients. (remember when the ham-and-pineapple Hawaiian pizza was considered exotic?) While some of these creations are interesting and tasty, there is a demand for pizza in it’s truest form. Which is not this.
With this evolution and sophistication, something primal and basic was certainly lost. Gone are the days of a simple dining room with simple pizza, enjoyed simply with family and friends. To realize my modern-day pizza parlor fantasies, I may have to hit the road. First up: a trip to Portland to visit Pizza Jerk.
The versatility of the dining scene is Vegas is incredible. Next time I’m in town, I will opt out of the ubiquitous, overpriced celebrity steakhouse in favor of Grimaldi’s Pizzeria in the Venetian Hotel. I can’t even.
Boston’s Little Italy neighborhood in The North End is teeming with amazing pizza. I have been lucky enough to visit Galleria Umberto (no website, they’re old school that way, to put it mildly). There are a mere few choices on the menu, they make as many pies as they have, and they shut the doors when they are sold out. The most amazing pizza, with an “you get what you get and you don’t have a fit” kind of mentality.
Red checkered tablecloths, Tiffany lamps, plastic pitchers full of ice cold soda or beer, and dining room full of laughter and fun – it’s no wonder America has long had a love affair with pizza. It’s simple, it’s delicious, and there are few surprises. No nonsense. And in today’s tumultuous and confusing times, isn’t that what we are all looking for?
images via pinterest, shakeys, chicagopizzaovengrinder, harvardreview, thevenetian