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City Pizzeria

675 B Street, Downtown San Diego

Nuts and twigs. Twigs and nuts. Wabbit fodder. Nyeah -- what's up doc? That's life with Hank, these days. Guy's determined to lose the cholesterol. And weight. Down 30 pounds so far. Me, I'm still swimming in de Nile. Why ask for worries? "What the eye doesn't see, the heart doesn't grieve," as my ol' grandma used to say.

But now Hank has to have salads or he goes AWOL. That's how come we hop in to this place, here on office workers' Lunch Row. It's an old brown and gold tile-covered building next to the swank Cafe Cerise. Copper sign above the entrance says City Pizzeria. "The City's Finest Pizza." Hey now. Sounds like a challenge to me.

It passes muster with Hank 'cos it's also big on salads. They have a couple of tables outside. Inside's a long barn with green Formica tables, cream walls, and two mirrors in gold frames.

"Salad, salad," Hank says, like we'd just crawled in from the desert.

"No problem," says this cute gal, Vicky. "Garden? Caesar, chicken Caesar, Greek, antipasto?"

Hank asks for the large Caesar chicken ($5.00; small is $3.00), but he wants extra veggies: green peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms, onions.

"No problem," Vicky says, which makes me feel kinda pro-salad myself. I end up ordering a large Greek ($5.00). Always had a feta fetish. "But, uh, does this come with chicken?"

"No, but we could add it, no problem."

"How much extra?"

"Nothing extra."

Whoa. I'm definitely warming to this place.

Back in the kitchen guys are grabbing dough, flailing it around, pounding it, jacking big pizza-oven doors open, yakking, joking, clouds of flour dust everywhere, reminds me of someplace...oh, yeah. Bronx Pizza, up in Hillcrest.

But no way is the pizza slice selection here pure East Coast. "Ranch chicken" pie has garlic chicken, basil, and ranch dressing. The BBQ Chicken has chicken, pineapple, red onion, BBQ sauce, and mozzarella. They have eleven "specialty pies" in all ($3.00 a slice), plus cheese or pepperoni ($2.50 per slice).

The best-looking pie I'm seeing right now is on the bottom shelf. And it has only one slice left.

"That's the 'San Diegan,'" says Vicky.

I check the board. "Pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, onions, green peppers, black olives, red sauce, and mozzarella cheese." Three bucks a slice.

'Course I'm umming and aahing. "Winter's turning to spring, dude," Hank mumbles. Then a guy with -- wow -- stretched ear lobes and mini dumbbells stabbed through the top of his nose arrives. Looks like he's ogling the San Diegan.

"I'll take the San Diegan," I say. Monkey-in-the-cookie-jar reaction, right?

"And a soda?" says Hank.

"Sure," says Vicky.

Suddenly, I'm panicking. Totting up the bill. Two five-dollar salads, three for the slice, that's thirteen...

Vicky must be a mindreader. "Sodas are free from the fountain."


"If you get two slices, or a slice and a salad."

And to think I've walked past this place a zillion times. So we sit down with our salads in plastic boxes, and Vicky brings my slice on a paper plate. Hank lunges into his salad. "Oh, God," he says. "I've got yours. Greek, right?"

I open my box. Find Hank's extra tomatoes, peppers, croutons, two pots of Caesar dressing.

"That's all right, dude," he says, like he's doing me a favor. "Actually, the Greek's pretty good."

Jeez. By way of compensation, I pick up my pizza slice. Still hot. Open wide...

I'm here to witness, this is the most delicious slice I can remember since, well, Bronx Pizza. Maybe not even them. The two meats, oozy cheesy mozzarella, a sea of olives, mushrooms, cheek-flicking onion. Rich ain't the word. And I'm no crust expert, but this is puffy, not chewy or doughy. The Caesar salad goes great. Hank shares some of the oil-and-vinegar mix he got with mine. Man, what a combo.

The other thing is, everybody talks here. Not just lonely, heads-down chewers. Thomas, the guy who's stretching his earlobes, is scarfing a slice of "Meat Lovers" pizza (with pepperoni, sausage, Canadian bacon, and meatball, $3.00 per slice) and showing everyone his tattooed right arm. Alice in Wonderland, the Cheshire cat, the Mad Hatter, a dream sequence from shoulder to wrist. "You only live once," he says.

Kevin and John, the partners, do all the work. Kevin's from New York, escaped from a pizza place in Queens called Bada-Bing. John is a West Coaster. The recipe for this dough has been a family secret for 75 years. But the East-West battle for ingredients continues. Kevin says, "We're always trying to get the balance."

A guy named Robbie pops his head in. Used to be a cab driver in New York. Now he's a lawyer. Figures. "These guys are up there with Bronx. They're that good," he says. Except today he's got a takeout hamburger from someplace else in his mitts. "Oops," he says.

So what's the difference between these guys and The Bronx guys?

"They're Yankees," says Kevin. "We're Mets."

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