Border Cantos is a timely, new and free exhibit now on view at Crystal Bridges.
During my high school years, my best friend worked at the local pizza joint in our humble town. At the time, we all thought he had one of the greatest gigs in the world. Our city’s residents tipped well, so financially he was much better off than the rest of his slacker cronies. Even better, he was allowed at least one free pizza per shift, unlimited toppings, any size. Additionally, any incorrect orders or slightly marred pies were fair game to the employees. Fortunately, for myself and the rest of our motley crew, these pizza blessings had a fairly regular trickle down effect, and we were treated to just about as much cheap pizza as our young tummies could contain. It was not necessarily the finest quality pizza ever created, but to a young, overflowing sack of hunger and hormones like myself, the greatest pizza in existence is the kind you don’t pay for. Any sort of palate progression I made from those mozzarella covered years is definitely in question, but I did eat a lot of free pizza during those years, and I do feel fairly confident in grading a cheap, neighborhood pizza joint. This week, my Little Rock pizza quest brought me to Grady’s Pizza and Subs, where I was immediately reminded of my teen years camping out in the local pizza establishment.
Feeling rather gluttonous on this particular day, my dining companion and I decided to tackle one of Grady’s large 16-inch pies. As were rather torn as to which of their eight or nine specialty pies to order, were we grateful when Grady’s offered to split the pie halfsies, allowing us to sample two of their more popular combinations on a single pie.
Unfortunately, the second half did not sit so well with me. The “North St. Louis Special” is composed of large chunks of “Italian” sausage, green olives, bell peppers, and red onion. The principle offender on this pie was the pitiful sausage. Clearly this was no artisanal pork product. After its short jaunt in the pizza oven, the sausage came out chewy and dry, more closely resembling bits of dehydrated turkey jerky than anything that should be allowed on a self-respecting pizza pie. The pie was also overwhelmed with the flavor of briny, salted, sliced green olives, freshly fished from the bottom of a jumbo-sized can. Lastly, the rather odd choice of sauce for this pie, a mix of alfredo and marinara, forced me to stop eating this half all-together…not an easy feat for any pizza to accomplish.
I wouldn’t visit Grady’s expecting any sort of authentic Italian experience…its no closer to Rome or Naples than a can of Chef Boyardee beef-a-roni. But it still fills a place in the American food culture that will surely fit the bill for many in the neighborhood. While Grady’s was only partially successful in my experience, a fifty percent success rate is certainly not something to be ashamed of. Heck, if this were baseball, we’d be talking about an all-star batting average here.
Grady’s Pizza and Subs
6801 W 12TH St.