Friday, September 7, 2012

Arrivederci (already) Summer - oh - Carmela's, Too

I don't know about you, but I'm happy that summer is drawing to a close; both on the calendar and in the air. It's happening and not a minute too soon.  Because? You know, it's been kind of a crappy summer for us, with the low point the passing of a good friend - my cousin Steve.

Also, what is it with every time I go back to where I grew up? Seems like it’s always a sad occasion - the death of an old friend’s parent or maybe even an old friend himself, which happened a couple of year’s ago.

Earlier this summer, one of my childhood friend’s dad passed after one of those all-too-familiar long struggles. There was a funeral and a shiva to attend. A shiva, for those who don’t know, is the Jewish mourning period during which the family in mourning receives visitors. So the day after the funeral another old friend (also, what is it with the old friends?) and I paid a visit to our buddy and his family – at the same house in which he grew up…significantly, a house where we spent a lot of time as kids hanging out, listening to too-loud music, doing a few less than appropriate things, and getting the eye-rolls from knowing parents who let us get away with more than we deserved to.

One of the things I try to do when I go out to my old stomping grounds, maybe in order to balance the sadness with some good memories, is to visit a place that was important and fun to us. A favorite hang out, perhaps.  Interestingly enough, many of those places involved food.

For instance, there was the Lantern, the local 24-hour diner that we boys used to go to late at night, after doing god knows what. Remember the movie Diner? We were like those guys, except no one in our crowd ever ordered their French fries with gravy; I think that's a Baltimore thing.

I digress. My buddy and I had decided, in a NY Minute, that we were going to stop for pizza at one of our favorite childhood pizza places on the way to the shiva call. You have to realize that there were any number of places where you could get damn good pizza back in our hometown of Franklin Square. I mean, the Square was probably 50% Italian, so there better have been. Let's see - there was Poppy’s, on Franklin Avenue and now a Ralph’s Italian Ices, at least sticking somewhat to tradition. There was La Stella, in a shopping center across from “the temple” on Dogwood Avenue, and I don’t have a clue what that is today. That shopping center also had Lox Haven – our own little Russ & Daughters, but with hot dogs, too. Man, those were the days..

But the best, the really best, was the pizza at Carmela’s, on Hempstead Turnpike just east of New Hyde Park Road. It was a classic joint too, with a counter, a couple of tables and a double Bari deck oven – none of that fancy wood or coal burning stuff needed in the Square. And really, it was great. Any time of day or night you could pop in for a slice or two and be supremely satisfied, with the beautifully balanced sweet and tart sauce and just-right-amount of cheese on top of a nicely baked, tasty crust; char was most likely non-existent, because back then everyone would’ve complained that the pie was burnt, wouldn’t they?

Today (or for the last 20 years, I’m told) Carmela’s is triple the size it used to be, with a full service restaurant added to the still existing pizzeria. Since we wanted to relax, restaurant it was. We ordered up a large pie, along with an order of baked clams, something said friend seemingly has to order in any pizzeria that has ‘em, including the places I warn him off of, like Arturo’s, where the pizza is exemplary but the baked clams are incinerated. At Carmela’s, no way – these little necks came out tender and juicy under their crispy, garlicky bread-crumb topping. If Long Island is good for anything, it’s the seafood – from clams to scallops, tuna to blues...
Carmela's Baked Clams
And then the pizza arrived, hot and bubbly, immediately bringing back those taste memories from a long time ago. We smiled knowingly as we tucked in – yeah, it’s still good...
Carmela's Plain
Then we were off to the shiva call – to pay our respect and offer our condolences. Mr. L. put up with a lot from us kids…and he always seemed like a cool pop to us – I mean, the guy drove a freakin' Corvette, for chrissake. From the boys – RIP, Mr L.'s time. Fall. Please.


  1. As Bob Hope used to say, "thanks for the memories!"

  2. My Father owned ,operated and was Chef at La Stella for over 20 years.I still judge all pizza against his today.As a small child, I would walk into Lox Haven and eat hot dogs all day like I was The Don of Dogwood avenue.
    Thanks for a Great Post.