When you work in an office, you learnto fear the pizza lunch: that afternoon when the boss suddenly becomes generous and treats his workers to about four or five thin, cold, disgusting pies. The Weekly’s office manager, thank Vishnu, is a resourceful woman, and she always ordered from Giant Pizza Crazy Chicken, a Fountain Valley pizzeria so amazing it seemingly had two names, as well as an outlandish $30 lunch special that netted us a delicious 28-inch pizza; 2 pounds of moist, spicy chicken; five fluffy garlic breads; and two two-liter soda bottles.
Giant Pizza Crazy Chicken no longer exists, unfortunately, and I worried that I’d never find another pizza of such substance. But one recent Saturday evening at Tony’s Little Italy in Placentia, while my buddy and I twirled through a plate of spaghetti heavy with olive oil, garlic and chicken, we eyed three Cal State Fullerton students munching the fattest pizza I have ever seen. As thick as a Tom Clancy novel; the circumference of a basketball hoop. The size of Tony’s deep dish was so awesome that, in my olive-oil-induced delirium, I thought the ladies were chopping up the table and serving themselves slices of wood.
I made a mental promise to share this deep-dish pizza with my office mates someday. It happened last week. After our regular Thursday-morning editorial meeting, I raced up the 57 freeway toward Tony’s Little Italy, which has occupied the same shopping plaza cubbyhole for 28 years. It’s as quaint a living monument to Chicago as anything since Harry Carey. There are portraits of Walter Payton and Mike Ditka, pennants for the Bulls and Blackhawks, and a mural that re-creates a bird’s-eye view of Wrigley Field. They also sell subs and such Italian-American classics as spaghetti, ravioli and mostaccioli, but the focus is on the pizza—it says so on the window.
There were no customers so early on a weekday morning, but the hustle in the kitchen behind the counter suggested the Manzella clan that owns the tiny restaurant was preparing for a stampede of takeout orders. Like mine.
I knew something was different when I tried picking up the two boxes containing the deep-dish pizzas. Umph. Heavy. I straightened my back and locked my knees to get a better grip. I lugged them into the office and laid the boxes on a table. Some Weeklings gathered around the two pizzas—one chicken-topped; the other Tony’s Special, sausage mixed with green pepper and onion. The hearty scent of oregano and pizza sauce spread across the office, drawing more Weeklings. For a while, everyone stared in silence as if we had found the Ark of the Covenant. Someone brought knives and plates. The feast began.
“I’ve never had pizza like this,” remarked one of the production guys. “I’ve never heard of pizzas like these,” a writer sighed. Investigative reporter Nick Schou, the epitome of the taciturn Norse, said the chicken pizza was the best he had ever had. “Lots of times, you get chicken droppings,” he muttered between bites of his pie and a public records search (be warned, feckless council member!). “But this is fresh and sliced thin and . . .” Schou let the thought taper off as he engorged his cheeks.
The two pizzas were nearly vanquished by the time I could snatch the last two slices. Pizza sauce was splattered everywhere. People who couldn’t take the bounty of toppings on each slice spilled their excess on mine. I could barely distinguish between bread and veggie.
But then I bit into the Tony’s Special slice. The cheese was milky and melted thoroughly, but not clumpy. Even better, it maintained a creamy consistency near the crust, a crust good enough to re-sell as breadsticks. The combination of the fresh veggies with the rustic grace of crust, sauce, cheese and herbed ground sausage was grandiose. I’m used to folding pizzas in half and dunking them in ranch sauce, but a fork and knife were necessary to whittle the Tony’s Special slice.
And Schou was right—the chicken pizza was also great, with large, peppered chunks glued to the bread by cheese. I finished the slice, gathered the boxes and threw them away. The drive from Santa Ana to Placentia (hell, from anywhere civilized to Placentia) is long, but your co-workers will hail you as a hero for bringing them Tony’s for lunch.
TONY’S LITTLE ITALY, 1808 N. PLACENTIA AVE., UNIT B, PLACENTIA, (714) 528-2159; WWW.TONYSLITTLEITALY.COM. OPEN MON.-THURS., 11 A.M.-10 P.M.; FRI.-SAT., 11 A.M.-11 P.M.; SUN., NOON-8 P.M. DINNER FOR TWO, $13-$22, EXCLUDING DRINKS. PIZZAS $11-$18. BEER, WINE.