Sunday, July 20, 2008

The local grub

The was a good book a few years back (ok, I checked and it was 23 years ago. That's my new standard for "a few years" I guess) titled The Accidental Tourist. Anne Tyler wrote a character who was a travel writer for people who don't like to travel - the kind of people who always stay at a familiar hotel chain where there are no surprises, and seek out McDonald's and Applebee's so they're not confronted with culinary uncertainty.

I'd like to think there are fewer risk-averse travelers out there these days, due to the relentless promotion of "close to the ground" travel by people like Rick Steves, and "authentic experience" promotion by the Lonely Planet crowd. We are all expected not to stay at Ho Jo's when overseas - better to rent a spare room in some local's house - and seek out the local cuisine. With all those Food Network shows with Rachel Ray or Bobby Flay chowing down in every wide spot in the road - how can there be any local secrets anymore when it comes to getting some lunch?

And so I am adamant about looking for a neighborhood restaurant whenever we go traveling. Since as a tourist you inevitably end up in the most touristy places, the strategy is to walk four or five blocks in any direction away from the throng (farther if you've got the energy and time) and start letting your intuition guide you. In other words, hope you get lucky.

Our best success on the recent East Coast swing was in Boston. Having mastered the grueling 2.5 mile Freedom Trail (which wasn't really grueling but I thought this story needed some punching up) we had seen dozens of North End joints that looked good from the outside, but knowing there was a river of tourists passing through I was suspicious. So we wandered off into the neighborhood. Down on the next corner, we saw some guys sitting in chairs out on the sidewalk, looking like extra from The Sopranos. As we get closer we see the place is "Jimmy's Men's Club" or something like that. A good sign that we are off the beaten track. Instinct said not to walk right through these guys, so we make a quick left turn and the next thing you know we have entered pizza heaven.

I figure I have eaten pizza maybe 2,000 times in my life. I've eaten pizza in probably a dozen different states, three or four different countries. I've eaten pizza in Italy and on the street in New York. I've eaten deep dish in Chicago and vegetarian in California. Frozen, take and bake, home made, leftover cold for breakfast - I've has every permutation. So I can with authority say we found the best pizza in the universe on Thacher Street in Boston. I think this picture says it all - that is the face of ecstasy. Regina Pizza - how is this not a national brand?