On my way home from work today, I stopped to get a pizza (and a couple of Peroni’s while I waited). Sidetrack for a moment … you do realize that when eating Italian food, you should drink Italian beer. When eating Chinese food, you should drink Chinese beer. The absolute best beer in the world with Chinese food is Tsingtao. It tastes horrible with other, non-Chinese food. Mexican beer with Mexican food. You get the idea I hope. Sidetrack over.
I stopped at Roma’s II. It’s located in one of the most non-descript, almost ugly strip malls that exist. A nail salon, and an insurance office, I think. Maybe something else, but those other places don’t matter. For thirty-two of my forty-eight years of existence, Maria Guerrera has been making the best pizza in the world. This is the real thing — not foo-foo thin crust, no California toppings. Real, thick crust, zesty sauce, and mounds of quality toppings piled on top. A few years after they opened, I moved out of the family home.
I moved in with my friend Jon, who my regular readers will recognize as the friend who passed away suddenly over fifteen years ago. At the time, I was also involved in a relationship with a woman who I now not so affectionately refer to as my ex-psycho girlfriend … and in moments of particular loathing, refer to as my ex-psycho girlfriend from hell .. and in extreme moments of loathing, refer to as the ex-psycho bitch girlfriend from hell. Sidetrack here … actually, a few years ago I realized I needed to let go of all that. I don’t refer to her that way anymore. She has a name. She deserves to be called that. She had her issues just like everybody else. So, Jon, Rosie and I … well, there were times when we lived on the pizzas from Roma’s II.
Another sidetrack … Roma’s II is on Folsom Boulevard near a Raley’s, between Watt Avenue and Howe Avenue, right on the edge of the neighborhood where I grew up and where I spent a couple of years living with Jon. The original Roma’s is on Fruitridge south of Franklin Boulevard As I recall there was some kind of family spat and Maria took her pizza-making skills to Roma’s II. The original Roma’s is under different ownership, even if the menu is almost the same. Back to the story …
For a couple of years, pizza from this little hole in the wall fueled me for days at a time. Not sure why, but the order of choice was pepperoni, mushrooms and extra cheese. I think the mushrooms were to keep Rosie happy.
Once I moved out of Jon’s house, I moved further away from the neighborhood. Here and there. The wifey entered my life and we moved there and here. Eventually we settled near Elk Grove. Not far away, but still not, well, convenient. As well, somewhere around twenty years ago, I started making my own pizza. The lure of Roma’s II just wasn’t there so much anymore.
But, I remember this … some time after Jon passed away at far too early of an age, I went to Roma’s, probably to pick up a pizza or two to take home. Maria was behind the counter. OK, need to sidetrack again.
You ever been to a place often enough that the owner knows your name? Roma’s II is that place for me. I don’t know that any other restaurant or place of business fits that for me. It’s the only place I can think of where when I walk in the door, the owner, Maria, says, “Mark, how are you tonight? For here?”
My name, after all these years, she still remembers me. Shaved head and all.
OK, off the sidetrack …
That day, some point after Jon’s passing, I went in to pick up some pizza. Maria was behind the counter, I placed my order, she asked “Where’s Jon? I haven’t seen him.” You see, he still lived in the neighborhood. He and his girlfriend, and her son, continued to frequent Roma’s II. “He passed away,” I replied. She expressed appropriate condolences and I moved on. But, it’s a memory I’ll never forget as I won’t forget all those pizzas Jon and I got from Roma’s II.
It was Roma’s II that helped fuel one of my most favorite of benders. While I lived with Jon, I came home one evening. Jon was there. He was not happy. He looked at me, “I need to get drunk tonight. Zonker’s dead.” Zonker was his cat. Run over by a car.
That night, we ordered a pepperoni and mushroom with extra cheese. Rosie left us and went out with a friend. We ate the pizza and shared four pitchers of … ready for this … peach margaritas. By midnight, I was worshipping the porcelain god and Rosie was standing over me asking me when I was going to marry her.
Well, the easy answer to that question was never. It just took me a while to get there.
But back to my point. Roma’s II is one of those places that has provided a thread through so much of my life. I remember this. My oldest at the age where he didn’t take naps anymore, but at the right time of the day, if he was in the car on a drive, he fell asleep. We met the wifey’s family at Roma’s for dinner, the kiddo fell asleep in the car on the way there. I carried him in to Roma’s and then spent a half hour bouncing him all over the place … and he slept through it all. Kind of like he sleeps now.
I remember this. My wife planning a birthday get together at Roma’s for me, with her family and mine. I had such a great time, I sprung for the whole thing. Do you get it yet? This is the place … memories and comfort fill me when I walk in the door. You see, there are these places like this. They represent continuity, tradition, value. A place that feels like home — not the place you live, but where you are welcomed. The things that matter.
I stopped there tonight on my way home. It’s one of those evenings when we’re scattered. No planned dinner. Take care of yourself. I ordered a pepperoni and canadian bacon and sat at the bar with a Peroni. Got some work done. Had another Peroni.
When I paid for my pizza, Maria was there and we had a conversation about the pizza business, about this, about that. Thirty-two years later. She’s still there. And she still greets me by name when I walk in the door. I can’t even begin to put into words how cool that is. How much I value that. It’s a little bit of love. I wish I could bottle it and spread it across the world. This feeling I have when I walk through the door.
A little bit of love. You know what they say … love will find a way.
If you live in Sacramento or ever visit, stop by Roma’s II, tell Maria I said hello. She’s good people, you know what I mean?