Uncle Mike had a way of entering a room, and when I think of it, I should change the sentence structure. The verb should come first: Entered, he. Barreled into the party, My uncle. He was never on time, and he never stayed long. Speaking of nevers: I never saw him lean back in a chair. He stayed perched on the edge, launching into a story about so-and-so and so-and-so, telling it as a series of punchlines that were funny even when you had no idea who he was talking about, which, for me, was often. When he got sick, the operation permanently changed his voice, but he sounded the same.
Because the verb comes first.
For a long time, he worked as a bartender at a place called Rocco’s. My family would go every Friday or Saturday night for dinner when I was a kid. This was right before the cigarette ban in restaurants, so Rocco’s — poorly lit to begin with — had a floating wallpaper of smoke. The air was so thick with it, people would step outside for deep breaths. Uncle Mike working there was a nice bonus, but we went for the pizza.
This pizza was thin crust, but that’s not doing it justice. The crust was so thin, you could just make out sauce through the bottom. But it never drooped. When you folded a slice in half, the crust made that glorious cracking sound, hard proof that some of the best food noises are destruction, the breaking of a thing to make it more perfect. Uncle Mike would drop our pizzas off at the table and take the edge of a seat for a second to let us know what was happening in the back. And I would stare at that pizza, map out my top three choices, and wait for the okay to devour.
For a place that gave off the distinct vibe of a sausage and onion special, it was their shrimp and garlic pie that changed how I thought, and how I still think, about pizza. The shrimp they used would be disappointing in a scampi, but would feel generous in a greasy container of lo mein. And the the garlic, which had the thickness you’d get from a butter knife chop, was warmed only from the oven and hidden between a ladle of sauce and a thin blanket of mozzarella. You woke up with a hot mouth and smoky hair the morning after Rocco’s. There was no hiding where you’d been.
Uncle Mike would have been skeptical of my updated version. Pineapple? Basil? A precious squeeze of lemon? Getouttahere. But Rocco’s has been gone for years. I can’t have that pizza again. What else am I supposed to do? Why do we pull on doors with Closed signs? Why do we press our faces to the glass to see if anyone is still walking around inside?
SHRIMP AND PINEAPPLE PIZZA WITH GARLIC
Makes one 10-inch pizza.
3-4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 scallion, thinly sliced
8 slices of mozzarella
8-10 shrimp, sliced in half lengthwise, patted down with paper towels*
1/2 cup small pineapple pieces, drained and patted down with paper towels
1/4 cup torn basil
Crushed red pepper, to taste
Salt and pepper
Squeeze of lemon
Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.
Season the shrimp with salt, pepper, a squeeze of lemon, and a drizzle of olive oil. Allow to sit for a few minutes.
Spread dough out on pizza stone or pan and cover with a light coating of olive oil. Sprinkle with chopped garlic and scallions. Top with the mozzarella cheese.
Strategically place shrimp over the pizza, followed by the pineapple.
Cook for 18-20 minutes until crust is golden, cheese is bubbly, and shrimp are perfectly pink. Top with torn basil. I like to add some crushed red pepper, salt, and a final squeeze of lemon, but those are all optional.
* The slicing of the shrimp is only necessary if they’re big guys. Small to medium shrimp can stay as is.
When I first made this up, the pizza was a little, shall we say “juicy,” because I didn’t get enough moisture out of the pineapple and shrimp. Now I let them sit on the paper towels for awhile so they’re nice and drained.
Check in the middle of cooking to see how it looks. Sometimes, I have a paper towel handy and pat down the top if it’s looking too wet.