In world that's constantly changing, Gianni's Pizza is comfortingly consistent.
Thursday, August 2, 2001
There''s a battle raging on the Monterey Peninsula. No blood is being spilled, no bullets are flying (usually), no tanks are rolling. There are casualties, although human lives are not extinguished. However, human lives are being affected. Traditions are questioned and sometimes abandoned. Careers, even lifetime commitments, lay smoldering on the battlefields, festering wounds on the skin of human endeavor.
The war is between the forces of what was versus the forces of what will be.
The battlefields are everywhere that someone who is trying to bring about change or create something new encounters someone who remembers it like it always was. Carmel old-timers resist the Highway 1 expansion. Dam advocates line up against dam detractors. Marina expansionists oppose their opposite. You know what I mean. We all face it every day.
The same conflicts exist in the restaurant world, where long-standing restaurants have carried on, year after year, in spite of, or maybe even because of, the constant changes in trends and styles that bombard their status quo.
Thankfully, there are demilitarized zones where yesterday and tomorrow coexist peacefully today. It is within one of those zones that Gianni''s, the venerable old Monterey pizza joint, barrels along, feeding the masses good pizza and Italian standards like lasagna, spaghetti, and ravioli.
725 Lighthouse Ave., Monterey
Mon. thru Thurs., open at 4pm. Fri.,
Sat., Sun., open at 11:30am.
Prices: average for pizza; around $7 for the pasta dishes.
To witness this operation, which was originated by Carlo Vito Costa 27 years ago, is a thing of beauty. It cranks out food at a steady pace to countless diners and take-out artists. This is a no frills, straight up pizza joint. You approach the counter, place your order, then go find a table and have a seat. When the food is ready--and it gets ready fast--someone brings it to your table and you''re off.
For this assignment, Chickie Boom, myself and my golfing buddy, the Colin Montgomery of Monterey, hit Gianni''s after a 36-hole golfing orgy on two different area courses. Colin and I were famished from all the golf. Sweet Thing was famished from waiting for us. I wanted to order everything in the building but discretion became the better part of valor, plus we couldn''t have afforded it. We ordered two different pies. Miss Thing had a mini "Super Veggie" and the two linksmen went for the "Gianni''s Special."
Soft drinks are available at the counter. If something stronger is desired, a walk toward the back brings you to the bar. There you may order your beverage of choice. Colin and I chose a frothy pitcher of Sam Adams. Chickie Boom went with a glass of chianti. We made our way to a table to delight Sweet Thing with our tales of heroism and skill on the golf course. Needless to say, she wasn''t buying any of it.
Before we could even make a decent dent in the pitcher of beer, our pizzas arrived. They looked good, always a promising thing, and smelled like pizza should. We dove in. Happily, I can report that the pizza was good. The crust, always the most important part of the whole, was tasty and had the all important textural evenness that allows it to cook through. The toppings (on ours: Italian sausage, cheese, pepperoni, onions, mushrooms, black olives and green peppers; Sweet Thing''s had mushrooms, onions, green peppers, black olives, tomatoes and artichokes) were fresh and plentiful. The flavors were good, making the overall taste and feel of the pizza a success.
Part of the table conversation revolved around the recent passing of the pizzeria''s founding father. Although Carlo Costa died in May, his son Chris has kept the place running. Apparently Chris and his father were extremely close, and even though he has been in charge for some time, his father was a constant source of advice and counsel. So if you pay the place a visit, drop a word or two of condolence to Chris while he steadfastly continues the tradition his father began in 1974.
The following day, Sweet Thing, who really is the sweetest thing in the world, and I revisited Gianni''s for lunch to try out a couple of the pasta dishes. We were the first ones there, but not by much. The place had just opened and in no time was jammin'' with lunchtime omnivores. I had the meat lasagna and Chickie Boom had ravioli with meat sauce. We also ordered a regular salad to share beforehand. It was while we sat eating the salad, which could use a makeover--especially the dressing--that I thought about the clash between old and new. As we looked around it was as if we were in a time warp. Everything, the tables and chairs, the fixtures, the wall hangings all look the same as they have for years and years. I imagine that the only real things to have changed over time are the folks who pass through the doors. I sat and watched as a representative ethnic cross section of Monterey County filed through the doors with expectant faces, anticipating their brief fling with Gianni''s creation.
The lasagna and ravioli both hit the mark for authenticity, flavor and overall satisfaction. It really reminded me of the many solid Italian-American pizza/restaurant operations that are sprinkled throughout the country. Sweet Thing, not really a big eater, continued eating the ravioli well past the point she had tried to stop.
Somewhere the old man is smiling.