WZZM13 in West Michigan, is taking votes for best pizza. I wasn’t surprised, but I was gratified to find that Fricano’s Pizza Tavern, where my son works, tops the list. Pizza preference is very personal. How do you find the best local pizza joints? Ask a local.
Along with Fricano’s Pizza Tavern of Grand Haven, Mich., best pizza front runners include Fred’s Pizza in Plainfield, Mich., Palermo Pizza of Grandville, Mich., Frankie V.’s Pizzeria Sports Bar in Wyoming, Mich., and Vitale’s Pizza of Holland, Mich. Needless to say, the contest is generating opposition, controversy and campaigning. It’s mostly good-humored, but this is pizza we’re talking about.
Choosing the best pizza is a classic exercise in sociological research. We experience individually, but evaluate globally. We react subjectively but generalize objectively. We assume that our experiences are universal. For example, I whole-heartedly endorse Fricano’s Pizza, even though I’ve only tasted two of the other competitors’ pizza. I unashamedly insist that I won’t like their pizza as well, even if I do.
We like and dislike what we do based on subconscious variables. First, two of the other pizza joints are chain restaurants. I think, and yes, I’m very biased, that nothing as good as mom and pop restaurants ever comes from a franchise. Second, it’s ambiance and Fricano’s Tavern has it in buckets. I’m not talking plush trappings ambiance. Those are often just smokescreens for less-than-average food.
I’m talking genius loci ambiance. Fricano’s is housed in an old house in a somewhat derelict area of town. There is no air-conditioning. They don’t take credit cards. Our son tells of a ghost purported to live upstairs. We locals don’t want it to. The decor hasn’t changed since 1950. We like the old bar, faded wallpaper, basketed Chianti bottles and red-checked tablecloths. We like the antique Italian cart, brought over from the old country by the owners’ grandparents and displayed on the wall.
We like that the one-size-fits-all recipe that never changes. The sausage is made fresh. The cheese, purchased from the same vendor for decades, is grated fresh daily. Some don’t like it because Fricano’s doesn’t use onions. So bring your own. The bakers will add them for you.
Fricano’s is about family. Our son worked there for four years until he moved to college. There are few former employees at Fricano’s. Most are welcome to pick up hours any time they come back. The staff are all friends. It’s like Cheers, we like to go “where everybody knows our name and is always glad we came.” Occasions are marked at Fricano’s. We take kids there for graduation and raise the first round when they turn 21. When my brothers come back to town, I take them to Fricano’s and send a pizza home to my dad up north. Our parish priest stops by and greets everyone with a hug. How many restaurants boast community like that?
Come to Fricano’s. Even if you don’t think it’s the best pizza (and I think you will) you’ll come away feeling like you’ve visited home.