Nostalgia Tastes Like Pizza

Tom and I were born, raised, met, married, and had our son in Marshall County, West Virginia, in the northern panhandle of the state, the “upper Ohio Valley,” though we haven’t lived there since 1984.

For those who grew up in the area, one thing is deeply ingrained in our culinary culture.  DiCarlo’s Pizza. This small local chain was a staple of date nights, before or after sporting events and dances, weekend parties, or anywhere hungry people happened to be.

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It’s hard to explain to non-natives. It’s simple, plain, and doesn’t appear to be anything special. If you feed it to a friend, they’re likely to reply, “Yeah, it’s okay. Um…it’s pizza.” They just don’t understand why we rhapsodize over this no-frills delight.

Though the hometown restaurants and the franchise locations now starting to pop up outside the Valley have seating and various menu options, I’m not kidding when I say the DiCarlo’s of the 1970s and 80s was no-frills. The building in Glen Dale, the location we frequented, looked like this. This photo is a different location (couldn’t find the original Glen Dale building…it’s since moved to a slightly larger brick building next door to the old location), but this is what it looked like.

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Cement block and metal siding, narrow customer counter across the whole width, no seating, most of the work space taken up with the wall ovens and tables for cutting the huge trays of pizza into squares. On a Saturday night, the front of the store was packed solid with people waiting for the next tray to come out of the oven.

And forget having a wide variety of toppings from which to choose. Aside from sauce and cheese, there were a total of two options. Pepperoni…or no pepperoni. Easy-peasy. Back in the day, it was 35 cents a slice, meaning a guy and his date could easily fill up for under $4, which was critical, because you definitely didn’t want to cut into your beer budget too much.

Now, this is the part where we lose most outsiders. This pizza is made “Ohio Valley style.” The crust and sauce are baked–without the cheese on it. When the piping hot trays come out of the oven, they’re placed on the work table and the cheese is scattered over the whole thing, and pepperoni added after. Your chosen number of slices are put in the cardboard boxes, and by the time you get to your car or home or other designated pizza-eating location, the cheese has mostly melted and the pepperoni is warm.

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That is DiCarlo’s.

So, why is this delicious nostalgia on my mind today? Well, a franchise recently opened in Myrtle Beach, by an Ohio Valley ex-pat, and Tom was down that way visiting family on Friday, and he brought home two trays.

Let me be clear. He brought home the baked crust and sauce slices, and separate bags containing the signature cheese blend and pepperoni. Any other way would be blasphemy. Whenever his parents come to visit, they almost always bring us a tray or two in a cooler, but since this new location is not too far from his brother’s house, whenever he goes to see them, he can detour and get it for us himself.

Yesterday we had pizza, beer, and era-appropriate movie day. At first, I couldn’t figure out why he kept telling me “not yet” whenever I went to put the pizza in the oven, but it turned out it was because he bought beer, and didn’t want to start beer-fest too early in the afternoon.

He posted this picture, saying we were being 17 again. Yes, at 17 in West Virginia in the early 1980s, beer was most definitely part of the picture. I make no apologies. 😉

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So, I made the pizza, and it was perfect. We had beer. I forgot how much work it is to drink beer, being more a mixed-drink-with-kick person. You have to drink…a lot of it. And this results in frequent bathroom visits, which makes me think how much time I must have spent peeing in the bushes in my youth.

We started the movie portion of the day with The Jerk. Then, in honor of the royal wedding, moved on to King Ralph, and wrapped up with Shaun of the Dead, which isn’t exactly the right era, but neither was King Ralph, and it’s too funny not to watch when you have beer.

It was a great way to spend a rainy Saturday. Though if we wanted to be 100% authentic, we should’ve probably headed out and had the beer and pizza parked on a dirt road somewhere.

Do you have a hometown food that makes you feel like a kid again every time you have it?

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