WHEN I RECEIVED THE ASSIGNMENT for Chow's Wallingford pizza bust, I figured I'd been granted the key to gastronomic paradise. This was carte blanche to inhale as much delicious pie as possible in a single night, on a single avenue: the swank, fiercely middle-class stretch of N.E. 45th Street which runs like the Vegas strip between I-5 and Stone Way N. When it comes to rampant pizza consumption, I've got the pedigree all right (during my adolescence, Dad was Vice President of the Totino's Frozen Pizza Franchise, and Rose Totino herself once served me a meatball as big as my head), and I've got the desire too (a penchant for low-grade pizza is tattooed directly into my genetic code). But do I have the stomach?
My journey commenced at Nikolas (1924 N. 45th), where my companion and I were seated in a remote corner of the smoking section. After an inordinately long time, our waiter arrived. From an impressive array of choices, I selected the 11" Greco ($9.95): olive oil, garlic, basil, (canned) olives, oregano, and both feta and parmesan. The pizza (of the thick-crust persuasion) was extremely cheesy, salty, and loaded with fresh garlic. While the pie was not especially noteworthy, it was decent enough to seduce me into my first fatal error of the evening: I broke my one-slice-per-establishment rule, and ate two slices. This transgression would prove the seed of my undoing.
I made my second mistake up the street at Olympia Pizza & Spaghetti House II (4501 Interlake Ave. N.), where I ordered a small meatball-and-mushroom combo ($8.65), which my companion would later refer to as the "shit and fungus special." The pizza was thick, chewy, and portentously meatbally. I rather enjoyed the shameless Chef Boyardee-like sauce and mounds of melted cheese; it reminded me of my college years, when the finer points of cuisine were routinely sacrificed for bulk and economy.
Next we made our way to Al's Tavern (2303 N. 45th), where we ordered a simple French bread pizza for $3. The piping-hot loaf was a serviceable version of old-fashioned pub grub--carbohydrates geared to fill the stomachs of drunks. The real attraction of Al's, though, is not the pizza, but the cozy, convivial atmosphere, with pool tables, cheap-ass pints ($1.60), and a delightful all-vinyl jukebox (with selections ranging from Black Flag to Neil Diamond).
It was nearly 10 o'clock as we made our way to Pudge Bros. Pizza (269 N.E. 45th St.), and my once-cherished assignment was beginning to make me feel truly icky. My tongue seemed swollen to nearly twice its normal size, and I was experiencing a painful cramping in my upper intestine. Still, I had a job to do--we trudged our way in just as the cute woman behind the counter was getting ready to toss out a basic tomato-and-cheese pie which had been forever warming in the display case. I pointed to the case and nodded woozily, and she handed me a large slab, refusing to charge me even the usual 92 cents. When she asked if I wanted two just for the hell of it, I almost screamed. I took a nibble. The crust was mercifully thin, and the sauce was hot and tangy. Under normal circumstances, I believe I might have greatly appreciated its merits, but I was in far too much discomfort, and my critical faculties were almost kaput.
It was now just a short walk to our final destination: Pizza Eleni (405 N.E. 45th). Eleni offers strictly take-out and delivery. This meant purchasing yet another whole pie. As our car was already ripe with the stinky perspiration of multiple pizzas cooling in sodden cardboard boxes, we opted to have our anchovy-and-pepperoni delivered home as we raced back to meet it.
By now I was sick. My pores oozed grease. Noxious gases stormed about my insides as I squirmed on the living room couch, and I realized I wouldn't poop for days. Suddenly, there was Eleni delivery man, standing in the doorway grinning. They'd run out of anchovies, so he cut us a deal--$6 as opposed to the regular two-topping price of $10.20. I paid, then set the box on the floor and gazed at it.
Gluttony is a sin with immediate, earthly repercussions. As I lifted the lid on the pizza box, staring at the steaming wheel of dough and toppings which so perfectly symbolized the American tendencies toward overindulgence and waste, I became immeasurably sad. Burping, farting, I bent down to take my last bite. It was possibly the best slice of the night, which made not a lick of difference. It was all the same to me. I never wanted to see the stuff again.