An epic search for a slice includes eating some humble pie
A few years ago I wrote about how I was pro-gentrification in Southie, and boy did I hear about it from the townies. I thought that my position—nice things are nicer than crappy things—was unassailable, but I see now that I was wrong. Because it is now impossible to get a cheap slice of pizza in this city after 9:30 pm on a weekday.
Yeah, sure, your neighborhood has a pizza place that’s open till 2 am and the slices cost 50 cents and the sanitation rating is 120 percent. Well, I wasn’t there, OK? I was wandering between the Seaport and the North End like a hungry zombie, except looking for pizza instead of brains. Although if I found some brain pizza, I’d probably get it and then just pick the brains off it and hope they didn’t make the rest of it taste too brain-y.
So here’s the situation: I disembark from the Lexington paddlewheel boat at 9 pm hungry for a snack, as one is after a paddlewheel cruise. I’m staying at the Harborside Inn near Faneuil Hall, so I start walking in that direction. I hustle through the Seaport District because all of that was built in the past two weeks, and I’m looking for the kind of place that opened around 1976 and has burned down twice since then.
I head for Faneuil Hall but get sidetracked in the Financial District due to the helicopter attack. OK, maybe it’s not a helicopter attack. But something really strange is going on. A fleet of blacked-out helicopters is flying a pattern from the harbor to the top of a building near the Custom House. Everyone on the sidewalk is staring upward, which is hardly ever a good sign, when you think about it. Every 30 seconds or so, a chopper will blaze in, pause just above the roof of the building, then turn and head back out over the harbor at 150 mph, or however fast helicopters go. Who lives in that building? Are they practicing an emergency rescue? Why would they be doing that? Could there be a pizza place on the ground level of that building? So many questions.
Since this is Boston, even a nighttime black-ops helicopter raid is met with salty so-over-it annoyance. “Every three months they do this,” says a guy standing near Broad Street, gesturing toward the sky with his lit cigarette. I ask if there’s some VIP in the building near the Custom House. “No, it’s not about the building,” he says wearily. “It’s the harbor! They’re practicing protecting the harbor.” I don’t know how this guy knows this or why I believe him, but his blasé attitude is infectious. Suddenly, I don’t care about the helicopters, either. What I want is pizza, and luckily there’s a place right next to the hotel.
And… it’s locked up for the night, closed 20 minutes early. “Stupid helicopters made me late for pizza,” I mutter, hopefully out of earshot of any fellow pedestrians.
Now, the Harborside Lounge, right there at the hotel, also has pizza. But I want a single slice, served on a paper plate, and I’ll mop the grease off with napkins and then give it three shakes of crushed red pepper. The pizza here is probably not like that. They probably use fresh mushrooms. And I’m not in a fresh-mushrooms kind of mood. I want the kind of pizza that you wouldn’t mind throwing at someone outside a Bruins game.
And that’s hard to find. The Faneuil Hall Marketplace is closed for the night. The Hong Kong beckons, and I consider going for some teriyaki sticks, but I think you’re required to down those with a scorpion bowl. And the last time I got into those, one of my friends went swimming in the harbor. Which wouldn’t have been an awful idea if it wasn’t January. So I keep walking.
And walking. If I wanted a $16 cocktail, I’d have no shortage of options. But I’m striking out on down-and-dirty slices. So I cross into the North End, where the tomato sauce flows like wine and the streets are paved with pepperoni. And you know what I see? A guy walking out of a store with a pet duck. I mean, I’m assuming it’s a pet. I’m pretty sure there wouldn’t be an unaffiliated duck strolling Hanover Street. Normally I’d stop to find out what’s going on with this duck, but I’m on a mission. A mission that finally ends at the Cobblestone Cafe, where I buy the last two slices of pizza. Which are of much better quality than I was looking for, but any port in a storm.
Perhaps there’s a lesson here about gentrification and the downsides of upscale developments, about the relentless squeeze of rents and the attendant block-by-block economic homogenization. Or maybe the lesson is that if you’re hungry outside the Hong Kong at 10 pm, stop walking. And start making friends. I don’t think you’re allowed to order a scorpion bowl by yourself.