Do you ever do that?
You know. That thing.
Where you open the medicine cabinet in your bathroom, notice that a couple bottles of nail polish are mixed in with all your contact lens care products on the second shelf, so you shift all the perfumes on the third shelf to the left and line up all your nail polishes on the right side from lightest pink to darkest vamp and then six hours later you realize that you’ve completely emptied the medicine cabinet, scrubbed every exposed surface with 409, put contact paper on the shelves, and reorganized the whole cabinet, along with your dental hygiene drawer, your hair-styling utensils drawer, re-folded all the towels in the cabinet under the sink, scrubbed the toilet and removed the mildew from your shower.
When you first opened the medicine cabinet, all you wanted to do was grab the Visine, but you ended up with an immaculate, perfectly organized bathroom that could be the cover shot for Real Simple.
Do you do that? Go to weird extremes?
Yeah, me neither. ;)
So I’m not quite sure how a “quick stop” in Berkeley turned into a two hour detour. We were just going to let me re-live the glory days of my Freshman Fifteen driven by Durant Avenue dining by downing a Hot Link bathed in Russian mustard at Top Dog. We ended up racing down College Avenue with a Chicago deep-dish bee in my bonnet, eating a second lunch of deep-dish stuffed Chicken and Pesto Special, then leaving with not one, but two, half-baked Spinach and Mushroom pizzas, making our drive down the I-5 the longest pizza delivery I’ve ever done.
Oh, alright. I knew all along we were going to do that. I just pretended like it was “spontaneous” so I wouldn’t get blamed if we couldn’t find our way back to the freeway from Zachary’s Pizza.
As we were speeding along College Avenue, I could hardly contain myself. I was so excited about eating Zachary’s again, but I was trying my hardest not to build up expectations only to be disappointed after all these years and memories. Maybe it only tasted good back in the day because I had nothing but instant ramen as a baseline. Maybe it only tasted good to me back then because I didn’t know any better. Maybe it was good, but hell, that was ten years ago, and a lot of bad can happen in ten years.
But it’s Zachary’s. It was college. Sometimes the memory alone is good enough.
Parking in the area around Zachary’s isn’t easy. There are a few meters along College Avenue, but during the lunch rush, meters are hard to come by. There’s an Albertsons (remember when it was Lucky?!?! I do. Damn, I’m old) across the street that has a generous parking lot, but there are warning signs about “parking while shopping at Albertsons” posted everywhere, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Albertsons has plain-clothes parking Nazis patrolling the grounds. Luckily, we squeezed into a spot on one of the side residential streets and headed toward the green awning.
It wasn’t even high-noon, and already Zachary’s was crowded. Every table in the dining room was taken, a few parties waiting to be seated, and several people in line at the register ordering by the slice. We were there to just grab a quick bite so I could throw my head back, close my eyes, and remember the good ol’ days, so we jumped into line. I was giddy and I’m sure I was smiling like a total geek.
Not 20 minutes earlier, we had eaten a very filling Hot Link and Lemon Chicken at Top Dog, and yet, I wanted to order everything. I gazed up at the menu board over the register and wanted to order everything! I wanted to order the Stuffed Chicken that was my much-needed source of *ahem* healthy protein when I was preparing for finals. I wanted to taste again the Spinach and Mushroom that cheered me up every time my scores were on the tail end of the bell curve in organic chemistry. I wanted to order my personal date-repellent, anchovies, black olives, and jalapenos, just to remind myself that yes, at one point, I actually needed a date-repellent. I yanked myself back into the present and we decided on their special for the day – Chicken, Artichoke and Pesto.
We also ordered ou half-baked pizzas to take with us. I had called Zachary’s the day before. Do I need to order half-baked pizzas in advance? “No.” So, you have half-baked pizzas every day, right? “Yes.” I called Zachary’s from our hotel in the city earlier that morning, with the realization that I might have to stop and purchase a disposable cooler. Are the half-baked pizzas frozen? “No.” I called Zachary’s from the car as we left Top Dog. Can I take half-baked pizzas to LA? “Yes.” I asked the guy behind the counter as we placed the order. Will the half-baked pizzas make it all the way down to LA? In a car? Under the heat of the central California sun?!?! “Yes.” Can I see them? He gave me a strange look. He must have been the same guy who answered the phone every time I called.
He pulled the half-baked pizzas from the shelf to show me. They were beautiful. I marvelled at their diametrically circular perfection. I admired the tomato sauce that was like a Monet – made of tiny herb specks and individual tomatoes in slightly varying shades, but from a distance, were a perfectly balanced deep dark red. I leaned over to inhale, then was promptly nudged to the side for the line of customers behind me. The counter guy attached the “Paid” receipt to the boxes and put them under the register for us to take later. If I could have, I would have peeked over the counter to make sure they were comfortable down there. Are you babies doing alright down there?
Our Chicken, Artichoke, and Pesto slice was taking a little longer than normal, and if it weren’t for the young lady back in the kitchen spooning pesto onto something behind the raised counter, I would have sworn that the counter guy was making us wait on purpose.
The entire slice was almost two inches deep, though the top couldn’t for its life maintain its modesty. At the tip, the heavy layer of tomatoes, chicken, artichokes, and pesto pinstripes had suggestively slipped off to one side, exposing just a hint of the soft, smoothness of the melted mozarella inside
. Though it certainly doesn’t need it, I couldn’t resist the habit of lovingly spanking crushed red pepper all over it. Zachary’s deep dish stuffed pizza can’t be done with hands – we attacked it with a fork and knife, and after lingering over the first bite, inhaled the entire thing. It was over in minutes. Only a double layer paper plate stained with grease spots and red-tinged scratch marks was left.
More and more people were filtering through the front door for lunch and looking for a place to sit. We couldn’t stay there much longer, though I was starting to feel the effects of a food coma. We tossed the plate in the trash, picked up our half-baked pies from the counter, and headed out.
We had left San Francisco two, maybe three, hours before. We were just going to stop for a quick Top Dog, and we ended up with half-baked pizzas from Zachary’s. By now, we could have been long past the windmills.
Zachary’s Chicago Pizza
5801 College Avenue
Oakland, CA 94618
** a year ago today, northern cal was my culiterary inspiration **