When you just have to have…


In Cranston, Rhode Island, there is a restaurant called Uncle Tony’s Pizza & Pasta.

Don’t go looking for it.

Actually, that isn’t really fair.

I’m not saying that because it’s not there. It is. Been there for decades. Seems to do good business at that location. It’s a traditional place for parties and celebrations. Lots of families have eaten there now for generations. In Rhode Island, there are even other Uncle Tony’s restaurants in Johnston and East Providence. If you want, please, go ahead and look for it.

That offered, please allow me to clarify my statement a bit.

Don’t head out to Uncle Tony’s having read this from me as some type of endorsement or enthusiastic recommendation. It’s a fine restaurant. Prices are good. Food is ok. Can’t think of time when anyone on the staff was anything less than friendly. It’s nice. It’s… well… it’s fine.

It is not awesome… stupendous… or any other adjective suggesting the greatest pizza and pasta available. It isn’t aesthetically beautiful or vintage or classically elegant. It isn’t the best of anything in any way.

It’s not.

It’s fine.

Just fine. And there isn’t much wrong with accomplishing fine consistently.

But there is a funny side note that goes along with the pizza at Uncle Tony’s. And it is based upon this fact… which is a fact… if you find yourself craving their pizza, there is absolutely nothing else that will come close to satisfying that craving. It has to be pizza from Uncle Tony’s.

They have a very unique and identifiable sauce. Maybe it’s tomatoes. Maybe parsley or oregano or basil or salt or pepper or sugar, or more of some or less of others, or maybe none of the above, or perhaps a dash of something else. There is nothing like it.

And when you find yourself thinking about their pizza, and the flavor of that sauce, and you really want some… yes… at that moment you may begin ushering in those previously dismissed adjectives of delight and satisfaction that express a special experience.

I suppose, in many ways, that does in fact become a recommendation of sorts. After all, I just told you that Uncle Tony’s offers up a pizza that cannot be replicated at any other establishment. Sounds like a solid referral.

Again though… no. Probably not.

I can’t stand behind it and guarantee you a good experience.

You may rest comfortably at this point making the assumption that I am not a frequent visitor, nor their target customer. I wish them well. I’m happy they’re in business. I’ll likely head back again at some point. But not because I’m looking for great pizza… it will be for no other reason than I’m looking for that pizza.

That idea… fulfilling cravings… is what has my mind wandering a bit today. Cravings come in all shapes and sizes and moments. And right now we’re approaching a funny run of holidays when it comes to food, ranging from the big things of spring and Easter, to much more specific traditions and celebrations.

Like zeppolas.

Around our current home, I have absolutely no idea where to go when St. Joseph’s Day comes around and the conversation turns to finding zeppolas worthy of passionate thoughts and the highest praise.

A fair number of places across the country claim to offer up these culinary delights. Most fail. Honestly, many should be fined for fraudulent advertising. My friends around here offered three responses… in order of frequency…

    (1) “What’s a zeppola?”

    (2) “Where would you look for a zeppola?”

    (3) “I think fill-in-the-blank is a bakery that might have some Italian pastries?”

So far… a few years… no zeppolas. At least none that look worthy of purchase. (I will continue looking.)

It’s not just zeppolas though. There’s no Chinese food near us either. Much as I nodded toward Uncle Tony’s earlier, I point in the direction of P.F. Chang’s now. If you are looking for a nice meal with flairs of a Chinese-food-influenced menu, then setting out in search of an entrance with a marble horse is certainly a way to go. Food is usually good. Service usually attentive and kind. I’ve enjoyed my visits to several of their restaurants in multiple states. I would go back again (and again) in the future. However, if you are saying P.F. Chang’s offers by far and away the best Chinese food around you, then… I’m sorry. I wish we could fix that for you.

But it’s not like states such as Rhode Island, or even cities like Boston and New York, are perfect culinary hosts providing leadership and excellence in all areas just because they have amazing zeppolas and tremendous Chinese food. I’ve had Cuban food in Florida… eaten meals and items with southwestern inspiration in Arizona, Nevada and California… and I will readily admit that in many ways, the northeast United States is severely lacking.

Often when you find yourself looking for something, a lot of it can be traced back to the place (and even places) you call home. For that’s the place where experiences and tastes and preferences and expectations begin.

A few years ago, I was working on a collection of travel material that eventually led to three books… the Strange and Unexpected efforts covering Florida, California, and Las Vegas. While asking a question about travel, Mike came up with a great answer: “Find the ethnicity of the region, and the food that follows is usually top rate.”

I like that thought. There is a lot of truth in it. There is some great travel advice in it. But I think there’s also a bit more that could be added, often involving the options available from local sources. Seafood is pretty much without exception going to be better in coastal villages than landlocked places hundreds of miles from the ocean, where it is abundant and fresh and right from the water… expand that concept wherever you may be to fruit and vegetables and so much more.

And when looking toward that community you love… the food is going to be a part of making it home. It might be the gravy your grandmother made from scratch for the family Sunday dinner… it could be the rolls and pastries from the bakery down the street… perhaps it’s the wings, chowder, and assorted specialties created only a short drive from your front door.

Take an assortment of people from Seattle, Anchorage, Sedona, Tulsa, Savannah, and Buffalo, and then start a survey. The favorite foods… the staple dishes… the must-do places… the cravings… they will be beyond what any description of different can truly capture.

Ah… but when you absolutely have to have it… then nothing else will satisfy.

A few weeks ago, Terry and I were visiting my parents. The talk turned to a quick lunch, and specifically pizza. This led us down a path we have all journeyed: “You know what I haven’t had in a long time?” Which resulted in a craving for a meatball and mushroom pizza from Uncle Tony’s. Simple as that.

Chances are good that I will visit my parents dozens of times or more in the next few years and I may not bring up Uncle Tony’s on any of those trips. We stopped in Rhode Island for a few days, I mentioned the pizza and we ordered, and the craving was satisfied (and will remain so for quite some time).

Now… does anyone know where I can find some decent Chinese food in upstate New York?


If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at Bob@inmybackpack.com