The proprietor of this joint is right out of central casting. He stands around 5 1/2 feet tall, thinning hair combed over his bald pate, gray mustache, white apron, and bifocals. He doesn’t talk so much as he grunts.
Two ballet posters hang on the wall. The ceiling is low, made of stained acoustic tiles, and the booths are covered in lithographed wood laminate like a fast food restaurant circa 1982. A guy sporting both a muscle shirt and a mullet just hit the counter. Beside me a couple carries on a loud conversation in Spanish. Behind the counter someone yells, “Slice!” and a mail carrier jumps up from one of the booths to fetch her lunch.
The cooler behind the counter is stocked with Miller Lite, Colt 45, Olde English, and Rolling Rock. An old timer sits in the far back corner of the dining room, fingers pinching an invisible cigarette. He has neither food nor drink.
The stromboli arrives with a similar shout: “Stromboli!” It is delicious, just like the ones that Luigi Cosenza made at his namesake pizzeria in the Spartanburg of my childhood. Modern English’s “I Melt With You” blares from the restaurant’s speakers. It probably played at Cosenza’s, too, 30 years ago.
The mail lady ordered a slice.
The mullet went with the cheese steak.
There is nothing special about this place, other than it has survived. It isn’t a Subway or a Sbarro, nor is it a gastro pub serving rosemary-infused gluten-free portabello and goat cheese artisanal strombolis. It is simple, straightforward, owned by a grouchy asshole who likes ballet and shows up at 5 every morning to fire up the oven and get the dough started.
I have romanticized this place simply by describing it. I have collected it, pinned it to a board like an angry butterfly. The stromboli is gone. I get up and leave, and no one notices.