On a cold, dark December weekend a few weeks shy of the yuletide, my wife and I looked into our cupboard and it was bare.
Or almost bare. A jar of pickled onions, a half-empty box of lasagna noodles and a can of lima beans defied my companion's culinary capabilities, and while I might have been able to make short work of the onions, I didn't think any of the ingredients would satisfy our five-year-old's voracious appetite. We'd spent the day shopping for gifts and preparing for future festivities, and our spirits were taxed.
Earlier that day, listening to Valley Free Radio, I'd heard some radical mention in passing that his larder was packed floor to ceiling with canned supplies for the upcoming collapse of society as we know it. He was ready. Surveying the shelves of our pantry, I reflected that we wouldn't do well if the end came at that moment.
"We'd be over at our neighbor's pretty fast," my wife said.
"Not before we called Antonio's Pizza."
Antonio's Pizza in Amherst has won the Advocate's Best Of awards for Best Pizza for several years recently, which I've always found a little mystifying. I'd eaten pizza there and enjoyed it, but pizza in Northampton, here on the other side of the river, has several luminaries, too, such as Joe's, Pinocchio's, Pizza Paradiso and Mimmo's.
Recently, when Antonio's opened a branch down the road from me in Easthampton, I learned the difference. As fine as those other places' pies are, they're all best enjoyed on location, or if you go out and pick them up yourself. That's fine if you're out and about, but what if the situation is desperate and you're in no mood to face the public? Three out of the four restaurants listed above don't deliver and the other offers uneven results.
Call 527-8383, though, and provided you're within range of their headquarters, the pie-slinging cavalry will arrive at your door half an hour later, relief and warm creature comforts in hand. Better yet, when you call, even during peak moments, their phone manner is courteous and efficient. Ordering your meal and appetizers, you feel as if these pie purveyors really hear you.
The pizza's pretty excellent, too. It has a thin but stable crust with a good balance of toppings and a well measured ratio between sauce and cheese. Our five-year-old surprised even himself by devouring three slices in a sitting.
The best thing of all about Antonio's pizza, though, is that those who cut the slices don't appear to be afflicted by a geometrical disability apparent in many of their New England pizza delivery colleagues.
Why do we, as a pizza-loving people, condone square slices? Surely an effort to reform this deviance and insist on the simple elegance of the wedge-shaped slice would make our world a better place. Square pan, square slices—fine, I get that. But the same logic turns ugly when applied to a round pie. Yet somehow enough of my fellow eaters appear to be fine mowing down a cube of 'za that is all cheese and sauce—with the bubbly, crunchy crust nowhere in sight—that this abomination continues. It's just not right.
Antonio's understands this.
It might not seem fair to judge a fast-food delivery service on the occasional order, but on that dark and dreary December weekend, our need was dire. So dire, in fact, that for the first time in my four decades on this planet, my family ordered take-out two nights in a row. Please withhold the letters to the editor shaming us for our indulgence. We know what we have done, but I ask you: how else could we confirm that their prompt, friendly service was no fluke?
In an attempt to trip Antonio's up and reveal weakness, we changed our typical order, and it included not a hint of melted mozzarella. I got American cheese on my steak sub and my wife had toasted cheddar with ham for her sandwich. Instead of a Greek salad we ordered the Caesar, and for my son, we got a small order of wings (he'd eaten earlier).
They met our challenges unfazed. A half-hour after we called, our doorbell rang.
By and large, Antonio's came through, again, with shining colors. The one deficiency--and it was minor--was that the Caesar salad dressing appeared distinctly similar to the dressing for the Greek salad. Perhaps identical, my wife suggested, but I have my doubts. I've come to trust that Antonio's will always be there for me; why would they ever let me down?