Big Angelo's Place

Will Bredderman
Jennifer Woodard Maderazo

The pizza always surprises people. First off, the sign out- side still says “Historic Stone Taverne,” which was here about two hundred years before we showed up and has been gone maybe a quarter that long. People going home to Jersey or Long Island or the City, they come in and find the back wall of the restaurant twenty feet closer than they expected—dad sealed the dining hall off after a rough Confirmation party back in the ‘90s—and me and my sister standing there behind the case of pies, asking what they’re having.

They mutter to each other, usually loud enough for us to hear, how it’s a waste getting pizza out this way ‘cause it’s so much better supposedly where they come from. They don’t know that my grandpa who started this place was born and raised in the Bronx, has the accent still and everything. You’ll hear it if you wake him up in his chair on your way out to the seating area. He’ll tell you that, even after forty years now, he still gets up every morning at five to make the sauce. That first bite: bright basil, sharp garlic, tingling thyme, all from the planters out back—and, under that, the rich earthy flavor of wild mushrooms plucked from the State Park, which he fries first in the oil he uses to cook everything else—that’s the second surprise you’ll get.

If you’re polite enough, or just bad at ignoring old people, he’ll keep going on about how he first came up here in ‘65 with grandma and my six-year-old dad and my Aunt Angie still a baby to spend a day at the State Park. He found the Taverne going out of business and a view from the parking lot of the big mossy mountain that made the blood sing in his ears like all the angels in Heaven. And so he tracked the owner down and set up a rental deal where he could buy the guy out in ten years, and the pizzeria opened nine months later. Two summers after that, the old neighborhood in the Bronx was on fire.

If you haven’t taken off by this point, he’ll tell you there was even less on this stretch of road then than there is now, and all there is now is three houses and a gas station a quarter mile down. And lot of folks out here still weren’t too hot on Italians in those days. There was only one other family like ours in the nearest town, and all kinds of rumors rustled around about the Mob moving in. A few of those guys did have vacation houses up in the hills, and grandpa always made sure people heard him saying he wouldn’t serve one of them if they ever came in. Those were the types who’d killed his Uncle Sal, after all. So in a couple years grandpa had a steady parade of local customers on top of the tourist traffic, and a park ranger who’d grown up in Brooklyn showed him which mushrooms off the mountain were good to cook with.

Well, sure enough, one of those connected guys caught word that we had a real pizzeria going here, just like in the Bronx, and decided to stop by for a slice. And what do you know that grandpa was out that day haggling with the farmer we bought eggplants from and had Little Angelo—that’s my dad—manning the counter when the big glossy dark car pulled in. The guy and his buddies got out: slick hair, slick shoes, sharp suits and jewelry. No t-shirts tucked into blue jeans on these guys. All the customers with any sense took off.

Now Little Angelo wasn’t too wise to life, he’d spent only a couple years and a few dozen weekends and holidays in the Bronx. But at ten he could read the markings well enough, and he’d heard grandpa swear again and again he’d never serve gangsters. So when they tried to place their orders, Little Angelo just stood there stiff and grinning like a lawn jockey. They repeated what they wanted, but he didn’t twitch.

“What are you, retarded?” The guy asked, and told him the order one last time. He had a huge mole like half a burnt meatball hanging off the side of his face, and the single black hair sticking out of it bristled.

By that point, just enough juice had seeped into Little Angelo’s mouth that he could whisper “no.”

“‘No?’ Fuck do you mean, ‘no?’” Mole-Face shouted. And so a couple of his buddies shoved behind the counter and even the customers who had no sense at all got the hell out. The goons grabbed the spatulas and started shoveling slices in the oven and when Little Angelo latched on to one of their arms they slapped him across the face. He naturally started wailing and his mother— she’d gone through her first nervous fit, and stayed all day in the room overhead she eventually died in, God rest her soul—she came tearing down the stairs completely hysterical. So they slapped her too, took their pizza, and stomped out. They kicked over the chairs and tables out front and one of them even took a tire iron to the windows. Grandpa came back to the floors all splashed with broken glass.

Now, Grandpa knew better than to call the cops, that would cause only more problems. And they wouldn’t ask any questions if some Eye-talian turned up dead. So next morning he hammered plywood over the empty window sockets and drove out to the man- sion in the hills he thought belonged to Mr. Mole. It was huge and new and looked from the high fence by the road like a miniature golf course castle. Gilded vines climbed the front gate. Grandpa hit the button on the radio, gave his name, told them his business, and a troop of goons drove out to meet him. They patted him down, made him open his shirt to prove he didn’t have a gun or a wire on. Then they brought him down to the house.

Inside were all kinds of jangly chandeliers and marble statuettes and acres upon acres of purple carpet. They pushed grandpa into a chair and after about an hour or so Mole-Face came down in a bathrobe.

Grandpa leaned forward in his seat and let out the spiel that’d been spinning round in his head the past twelve hours. He wasn’t rich, no connections, ran a small, simple place to feed his wife and baby girl and little boy. And he was sorry he wasn’t around the day before to wait on the guy properly. But he hoped he would let him make a meal for him and all his friends and he prayed that maybe they could see forgiving his wife and son, who didn’t know no better than to be so disrespectful.

Mole-Face sucked fire into a cigar and said to plan on Saturday night.

Next couple days grandpa really went all out. He drove down to his cousin’s restaurant on the Island and got a case of wine and some bottles of gin and Campari, stopped by a butcher friend’s for pork and cutlets, bought a dozen cans of imported tomatoes. Friday he climbed the mountain and picked the mushrooms in the morning and in the afternoon he put grandma and Angie and Little Angelo on a bus to the City. Saturday he cooked, and around nine the big Cadillacs and hot little Corvettes started sniffing their way into the parking lot and encircled the joint.

He’d made five big pies, plus a side of pasta and gravy and a veal parmigiana. The whole night he spent tipping bottles into their glasses and loading food on their plates. Around one a.m. they told him to sit down and eat himself, and he had a little pasta and some bread and nodded along while they all talked.

Mole-Face even kissed him on the cheek heading out.

Next day round noon, the hospital two towns over gets a call from that guy’s girlfriend. She said he’d been real sick in the early morning and now he was breathing and everything but wouldn’t wake up. They sent an ambulance out but next day he was dead. The others they found in their houses a week or two later.

Apparently, cops said, they’d cooked up one of their big Eye-talian meals and by accident made everything in oil laced with poison mushrooms—Destroying Angels, the worst kind.

If you’ve listened this far, you’ve probably eaten two, three, maybe four slices now and grandpa’s sitting in his chair there laughing his ass off.

Like I said, the pizza always surprises people.

Contributor(s)

Will Bredderman

Will Bredderman is a writer and journalist in Brooklyn— not the most original bio, but it’s his. His reporting appears in The Daily Beast, and his fiction appears any place with excellent taste.

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