- Do you guys serve beer?
- Only to ourselves.
- — From the Bronx Pizza FAQ on the back of the to-go menu
It’s a good, pithy answer, entirely in keeping with the feel of the place. A good answer — but not the whole answer.
If Bronx Pizza has a mascot, it is the statue of a pizza chef occupying one corner of the back patio. Potbellied, smiling, and proud, dusted with gray city grime instead of white unbleached flour, he stands, apron around his waist and kerchief around his neck, offering up his handiwork. This is it, he assures you. This is the real deal.
So what to make of the mannequins up on the balcony, the ones seated at the table with the red-and-white checked tablecloth? Between her bobbed hair and scarf and his preppy hair and Navy jacket, they look as though they just got off the yacht. Who are these people?
They’re not me and mine, that’s certain. We’ve been going to Bronx since it opened — our family expanding right along with the restaurant’s seating capacity — and we’ve got it down to a routine: call in the order as we leave the house, drop off the wife and kids in front, circle the block looking for a parking space, head inside, get sodas poured and kids seated, pick up pies, cut slices into bits for the little ones. Yes, it’s a routine, but one forever teetering on the edge of chaos. We don’t look at all like the couple on the balcony. Except for the wine.
Bronx Pizza doesn’t serve wine to customers, same way they don’t serve beer. But there’s a bottle of red at the table between those mannequins, and you can bet that there’s a bottle of red — most likely Spanish and definitely cheap — between my wife and me. Years ago, an earlier version of that Bronx FAQ allowed as how it was legal to bring a bottle onto the premises. That was all the encouragement I needed. I sometimes wonder if the sidelong glances I get from my fellow diners are because they’re afraid my horde of children will overrun the place or because they’re amazed to see someone pull a bottle of wine out of his pants pocket.
If it’s the latter, a word of explanation: for me, as for many, wine completes a meal. Wine’s basic combination of tangy acidity and fruity sweetness, together with the structure and texture provided by alcohol, make it a fine companion to whatever’s on the plate. If it’s worth it (and it is) to drive from La Mesa to Hillcrest for pizza, if it’s worth it (and it is) to shepherd my kids onto a crowded patio so we can eat pizza crisp from the oven, then it’s worth it to bring a bottle and an opener.
Unlike the couple on the balcony, however, my wife and I don’t bother with stemware; Bronx’s clear plastic water cups work just fine. This isn’t a matter of reverse snobbery. I believe in stemware — a good wine glass will help you appreciate all the elements in your ’61 Cheval Blanc that led you to buy such an exalted bottle in the first place. Nor is it a matter of ordinary snobbery.
Rather, it’s a matter of proportion. Pizza night with the kids is not the time to swirl, sniff, and swoon. It’s the time to drink wine because it tastes good with what you’re eating and because it gladdens the heart of man while he’s getting refills on root beer, corralling the three-year-old, and discussing brand management with his wife and firstborn. It’s the time for cheap Spanish red — maybe tempranillo, maybe mourvèdre, most likely grenache. It depends on what’s on the shelf at the store. There’s always something. It started back in 1998 with Protocolo for $4.50 a bottle at the Wine Bank. There have been so many since then: Borsao, Tres Ojos, Casa Castillo, Vina Alarba (so very much Vina Alarba)… Just now, it’s Crucillon from San Diego Wine Co. Thanks to the weak dollar, it’s up to $6.99, but it’s still a bargain.