Even the legendary pizza of doom has a beginning. In Athens, Ohio there used to be this pizza joint called “Big Red’s Pizza”. The railroad used to go through the college town; past a train depot that is now only a run down old building (if it even is still there at all). When the folks and me were in town, we would stop there, get a pizza, and eat down at the depot on the concrete steps near the tracks. Sometimes, a train would pass through and we’d eat in the rumble of the cars and shout out, “box car”, “tank car”, and “flat car” while we munched on pizza and drank RC Cola straight from the glass bottle. If the train car had a Chessie System emblem on it, with the tell tale kitten doing a lie down on the pillow, we’d call out “Chessie System” as an override.

The guy who ran the joint, “Big Red” as I remember him, made what must be the greatest pizza I have ever had the pleasure of eating. I’ve eaten good pizza, I’ve eaten pizza that sent you to other universes of ecstasy, but nobody could do it like this guy. His Kung Fu was beyond any comprehension. The Spartan layout, the smell of his goods cooking in the ovens, every morsel of detail about his pizza, the guy’s unassuming and plain demeanor; these things are imprinted on my brain like a stain that won’t come out. One thing I remember was a large cardboard, full-color poster of a man in a top hat, with an umbrella in a suit. His torso was a huge red beefsteak tomato.

One day, making the best pizza in my reality came to be too great a burden, and Big Red left the business to get into computers, and I never saw him again. The joint closed, and was empty for a while, but has since reopened as something else. But before he left, he passed on a few secrets to my folks, and when I was old enough, they trained me in the ways of Pizza Kung Fu. Since then, I have strived to meet the challenge and find the secret formula for myself. I’ve come close, at times, either to the crust or the sauce, but never in enough combinations to match the flawless, complete, bountiful flavor, texture and ineffable magic that radiated from Big Red’s effortless gifts. While it is perhaps my greatest recipe in my bag of tricks, and is indeed legendary, with the power to cure minor ailments of moodiness and depression, still it is not “the one”.

So I raise a toast to Big Red, wherever he may be. To the inspiration of my quest, and the creator of unforgettable experiences.