I didn’t know when I walked into Eddie’s Pizza on Hillside Avenue in New Hyde Park that the place was some sort of Happy Days throwback. Gerry was at the bar, alone, sipping vodka and watching ESPN. The bar area was dimly lit. There were framed photos on the walls of Long Island celebrities like Boomer Esiason and a poster of the HBO series Entourage. The bartender was certainly a throwback — big frosted blonde hair, a brassy nicotine-ravaged voice, and a kiddingly friendly demeanor, in that old-school kind of way.
For the first time in the almost 10 years we have been convening, we were in Nassau County. This was Rick’s pick and he had taken us to the area where he grew up, where, as he told us later, he and a few other friends, known as the Valley Stream “Fat Boys,” would cruise the strip malls in search of whatever place would satisfy their insatiable food cravings. That meant usually diners, but also included Eddie’s Pizza.
Rick was stuck in the inevitable traffic on the LIE and Eugene was a late scratch, but Zio and Mike from Yonkers made it, and after we all had a drink at the bar, we moved to a table in a much more brightly lit area surrounded by posters from 1950s teen rebel movies like Elvis’s King Creole, Rock Around the Clock, with Alan Freed, and of course, Rebel Without a Cause.
There were two televisions tuned to ESPN, but the sound was muted, and the soundtrack instead included a stream of oldies. At first the music was just background noise, but soon it became intrusive, not because it was too loud, but because there was something just not right with it. We were familiar with the songs, but they were off — like remakes that were meant to sound exactly like the originals.
Though Rick was the man we needed at Eddie’s, we couldn’t wait much longer and ordered appetizers, and by the time the sweet potato gnocchi and fried calamari ravioli arrived, so did Rick. The gnocchi was a nice balance of sweet and salty, but the fried calamari ravioli was an enigma. It was something deep fried stuffed with something else that had a briny, seafood flavor — more like the stuffing of a baked clam than anything reminiscent of calamari. We ate it anyway.
Our waitress, a brunette version of the bartender, suggested three pies. “They’re thin crust,” she said. “Kind of pizza on a matzoh.” The connotation was not the most appealing, but we tried one tomato cheese pie, another white clam, and a third tomato with anchovies. All three were regular-sized pies as opposed to the restaurant’s famous “bar pies,” which were really just smaller, individual-sized pies that were said to fit perfectly on the bar. While we waited, glancing occasionally at the televisions, the music began to take over.
“Johnny Angel,” was the title of the female weeper about a teen rebel’s early death. Who was the singer?
“Lesley Gore?” Mike from Yonkers offered.
“No, not Lesley Gore,” Zio, the senior in our group, said adamantly.
“Connie Francis?” I tried.
Zio shook his head again.
Where was Eugene and his usually useless oldies’ knowledge when we needed him?
“I think it’s Shelley Fabares, but it’s not really her,” Zio said.
The pizzas arrived. The clams on the white pie were a bit tough, but the clam juice flowed through the grooves of the cheese, which I thought was a good thing. The anchovies on the tomato pie gave it much needed flavor, while the standard tomato and cheese pie was a disappointment.
We could hear “The Great Pretender,” playing in the background.
“That’s not The Platters,” Gerry said.
“That’s someone singing ‘The Great Pretender,’ I said. “Pretending to be The Platters.”
I poked at the matzoh-like crust to see if it would break. It didn’t. The sauce held to it. At the moment I couldn’t decide if that was good or bad. There was one clam slice remaining. No one wanted it. Not even Zio.
The waitress returned with espresso. There were lemon peels with each demitasse cup. Zio was impressed. “They never give lemon peels anymore,” he noted. “You gotta always ask.”
“Here we always bring them,” the waitress said proudly.
“But what do you do with it?” Zio wanted to know as he tried to squeeze the thick peel, hoping to extract some juice from it.
“You rub it around the rim,” she said. And this she proceeded to do, working over his shoulder to show him and then spilling half his espresso. She returned with another espresso, but after two super-sized diet Cokes, more caffeine was something Zio did not need.
“Come Go With Me,” a doo-wop made famous by the Dell Vikings played, but this wasn’t the Dell Vikings. Zio was listening closely.
“The scream’s off,” he muttered in disgust. “They couldn’t even get the scream right. Let’s get out of here.”
So went our Long Island strip mall experience at Eddie’s Pizza, Home of the Bar Pie.