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Sicilian Thing Pizza

4046 30th Street, North Park

Is this where Obama won the election? The little pizza shop was a hotbed of political debate for the longest time before the Great Victory. Everyone’s committed, one way or the other. Ivan, one of the pizza-makers, has a tattoo on his left arm of the guy standing in front of the tanks in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. And from the front counter, a nearly full-size cardboard cutout of Barack Obama looks you in the eye. If you sit up on one of the four stools, you’d better be ready to argue politics.

Also, did I mention? Folks come for the food, too. Turns out they bake a pretty awesome pizza pie here. Of the Sicilian variety. That is, square, inch-thick, light as a butterfly. That’s what got me interested when I stepped past here tonight. I saw the name “Sicilian Thing.” Ever since the Hoboken in P.B., I’ve wanted to know more about Sicilian pies.

It’s, well, spare inside, but honest, with cinderblock walls painted cream, Sicilian tourist pix, stools, tables, tall glass jars with Granny Smith apples and pears inside, and a kitchen thrusting out into the room. At the counter stools, you look right into the pizza factory. Oh, and I notice a long mirror, slung from the ceiling. “That’s our feng shui mirror,” says Paul, who’s the owner, turns out. “Some people told us the kitchen fan was blowing all the good luck out the back. This mirror reflects it back into the restaurant.”

Ho-kay. So, what’s with the Sicilian thing? Back East, Paul says, you’ve got the thin traditional pies, then the three-inch-thick Chicago deep-dish, with its heavy, toss-everything-in philosophy. All that came charging west. But not the much lighter Sicilian.

Paul kept thinking about that in the ten years he worked at Bronx Pizza in Hillcrest, this town’s pioneer of real East Coast pizzas. “I suggested it, but Bronx is doing too well with their basic thin-crust to bother with Sicilian. So I decided to start my own place.”

People are piling up behind me. Guess I’d better make a decision. Up on the wall, they keep it simple. “Whole 16-inch pizza,” the menu says. “Choose from Sicilian Square Thick” — and they put these letters in a square box so there’s no doubt — “or Round Thin” (they’ve drawn a circle around this). Whole pizza prices start at $14. The prices of slices, or little squares, go from $1.75 to $3.25 ($3.25’s for “the Thing,” a pizza with everything on board, from meatballs to veggies). I look in the pizza cabinet. Among the three or four regular round pizzas, they have three square Sicilians. A simple cheese one, a pepperoni mushroom, and one they call “Meatda,” with pepperoni, meatballs, and sausage on top. They look delish, but I wonder, does that inch-thick bread tamp down the flavors of the meats too much?

Only one way to find out. I get me a Meatda (Paul says his Vietnamese ex-girlfriend named it that), and a cheese-and-mushroom combo (they come to $4.50), and an iced tea ($1). Ivan takes my two squares out of the cabinet — and scoots them back into the oven.

“That’s how we do it,” says Paul. “When we get the order, we add sauce, cheese, and put it back in the oven to ‘double cook.’ Trust me, we do it right. I put it on the sign for guys from back East who come in: ‘Better Than Back Home.’ I even bought secondhand pizza ovens because they’re broken in. The flavor’s baked in.”

And gosh, when I crunch into it, it’s light, airy, crisp on the outside, and with just the right flavor strength up top. It feels fresh. The Meatda has a nice spicy kick.

“Of course, this is the Americanized version,” says Paul. “Back in Sicily, they put less cheese, less meat, more local herbs and spices, and actually, more bread. Italians from the mainland kinda look down on Sicily, like it isn’t as sophisticated. Yet we have the history.”

Turns out, Sicily practically invented the pizza. It was, like, the fertile crescent, the perfect island climate, the “granary of Rome,” where they developed everything from artichokes (evolved from thistles — true!) and eggplant, and raisins, to couscous, saffron, marzipan, cannoli, sorbet — and pasta. All with the help of the Saracens, Arabs who occupied them for a few centuries. Nice to think about all this as you chomp your way through.

Turns out, Paul graduated from SDSU with a social science degree. “But my family’s Sicilian,” he says. “We love food, family, too much eating on holidays. I want this place to turn into like back home, a kind of family social center. That’s what we’re about.”

“It already has,” says this guy from the Second Stool. Here, he’s known as John the Critic. “I tell you, with a place like this, it’s nice to be part of the neighborhood.”

I dunno. I’d always choked on that whole bland image of the Dominos–Pizza Hut franchise thing. But maybe the real guys, like Paul, are starting something. Like Obama. A revolution from the ground up. Using the old ways to get back a, uh, pizza the pie for themselves, heh-heh.

The Place: Sicilian Thing Pizza, 4046 30th Street, North Park (between Polk and Lincoln), 619-282-3000
Type of Food: Pizza
Prices: “The Thing” pizza, with “everything,” including pepperoni, mushroom, sausage, onion, olive, bell peppers, and meatballs, $23; “Meatda” pizza (with pepperoni, meatball, sausage), $18.50; tomato and garlic, $15.50; slices range from $1.75 (plain cheese) to $3.25 (“the Thing”); “Meatda” slice, $2.50; prices good for round-thin or Sicilian-square thick pizzas
Hours: 11:00 a.m.–10:00 p.m., Monday–Thursday; weekends, open “later,” till around midnight
Buses: 2, 6
Nearest Bus Stops: 30th and Lincoln

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MsGrant Jan. 7, 2009 @ 4:46 p.m.

I used to live in NY as a kid, and the only downside to moving to California at the age of 14 was what passed for pizza here. When we got here, we stayed in a hotel until the moving truck arrived with our furniture. We were hungry, and of course my parents said "let's order a pizza!". Yay!! We grab a phone book, and see Round Table Pizza. "This looks good". The pizza arrives, we open up the box and we all went "yuck". Orange cheese on a pizza? WTF?!? It was terrible. We choked it down, but we went on a quest after that to find pizza similar to NY pizza. We finally found a place, but it took awhile, and they did not make Sicilian. There were no chain pizzerias in NY where I grew up. Just local joints. In Highland, NY, we went to Three Guys if we wanted Sicilian, and Mario's if we wanted a regular pie. It's nice to see guys bringing Sicilian pizza to San Diego!!! To those that have never tried it - DO!!


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