The span between my first Cebula’s pizza and my most recent is a good 65 years. Cebula’s is the first pizza I ever tasted. My dad, following an evening of one-too-many, brought a tray home and rousted his four kids (the youngest had yet to be born) out of bed to sample it. And just like that, my life was changed forever. This was about 1953. I was 4.
Today, I order Cebula’s pizza “to go” at the bar where, upon walking in, I typically get a kiss from Bob Devlin, my old pal who’s married into the Cebula family, raise a shot of Crown Royal to Dale Kridlo, who was killed in action in Afghanistan, and talk sports and old times over a couple of beers.
I tell my wife Cebula’s doesn’t accept phone orders. She knows that’s not true. But she also knows that hour or so at the bar does me a lot of good.
Full disclosure, I eat a piece in the car on the way home. Two if I’m stopped by a train.
When I heard Jack Smiles was writing about the history of pizza around here (see page P2), I knew I’d be doing the same. Not necessarily about pizza, though, but rather about the people and events I associate with pizza. To me, every pizza tells a story.
Jack said his research led him to believe the first “round” pizza served in the region was at Pearl’s Pizza on Main Street. Just hearing that brought me back to seventh grade. In seventh grade it became okay to like girls and for the most daring of us, even put our arm around one in the movies. We could walk to the American Theater downtown and to Pearl’s, where two slices of pizza and a Coke were 25 cents. It was at Pearl’s where I first learned about crushed red peppers. John Brogna, who grew up on those things, stuck a paper straw in the container and “drank” some. I was suitably impressed, but not ready to try it myself.
Down the road, at City Line Plaza, Tony’s Pizza opened in 1966, just in time for our senior year. We’d been “liking” girls for quite a while by then and some of us even had cars. Tony’s often was our first stop on the way to a drive-in movie at the Comerford.
We’d mix things up with the occasional trip to Sabatini’s Pizza on the West Side. Sabatini’s conjures up memories of the best friend I met in college. Nghia Phan grew up in Vietnam during the height of the war. He told me how he and his family had hid behind the couch in their living room as tanks rolled through their front yard. An American consultant offered Nghia a trip to the U.S., a scholarship at Wilkes College, and a chance for a new life. His parents told him he could not refuse. He told me he cried himself to sleep the night before he had to leave.
Nghia and I met in an economics class and hit it off. He was on the Wilkes tennis and soccer teams, although his best sport, he said, was badminton, which was rarely played here.
We’d play tennis at the former Wilkes-Barre Indoor Tennis Center, now the Odyssey. Nghia was 5’1 and about 120 pounds, but he’d hit a backhand like it was shot out of a cannon. When finished, we’d go to Sabatini’s, where he would order a large pie and eat the whole thing himself.
We drank red birch beer on draft at Sabatini’s, but that was not the case at Arcaro and Genell in Old Forge, where the draft choices included Lowenbrau, the legendary German beer, which was still brewed in Munich at the time and a rare find in an American bar. If I learned to drink beer anywhere it was at Arcaro & Genell. I had good teachers.
I was writing sports then and Scranton was a big boxing town. Promoter Paul Ruddy would send me two complimentary tickets to the fights and I’d go with photographer Kenny Fenney and our buddy Moe Mullarkey. We’d chip in for the third seat. After, we’d all be hungry. And thirsty.
Arcaro & Genell, right on the way home, became our regular stop. Our first time there, we ordered three frosted mugs of Lowenbrau. I was savoring my first sip when I heard two thuds. It was Kenny’s and Moe’s empty mugs hitting the bar. I knew right then and there I had to get with the program.
I don’t drink Lowenbrau anymore (it’s not the same since we Americans took over), but I still consider Arcaro and Genell’s my favorite Old Forge pizza.
I want to go on record that I’ve never met a pizza I didn’t like. I also have a story to go with most of them. But I’ll close with just one.
Bernie Foglia was not necessarily known for his pizza at his Italian restaurant Villa Foglia in Exeter. His steaks, veal, chicken and pasta took precedence. But for those of us in the know, Bernie’s pizza was the best we ever tasted.
His cooking aside, it was Bernie that made regular visits to Villa Foglia a must. Bernie could accurately be described as “love personified,” and a recipient of much of his love was his younger brother Dick. Bernie would do anything for that kid, but at times, Dick could get under Bernie’s skin. On one of those occasions, Bernie actually placed the following classified ad in a newspaper: “For sale. Encyclopedia Britannica. Don’t need it anymore. My brother knows everything.”
Bernie retired a few years ago and I miss him dearly. There are plenty of pizzas around, but there’s only one Bernie.
Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online during the week at pittstonprogress.com.