Taking Pizza Personally at Mickey's Deli - Hermosa Beach
Have you ever had a moment that drew you back to when you were young? When everything seemed larger than life? I had one of those moments on Saturday.
I recently discovered that October is National Pizza Month. Not that I needed another excuse to go all out on a few slices, but ‘tis the season to indulge! It also turns out to be Italian-American Heritage Month (among many other things to celebrate in October).
This got me reminiscing about my childhood growing up in the East Bay Area. I’m a European mutt with roots in England, Ireland, Germany, and Italy. The latter had a large part to play in the cuisine of my youth. It was easy to get quality Italian food with such a large population making their home in Oakland and Berkeley over the last hundred years. I remember wandering the aisles of authentic delicatessens, looking at the colorful imported packages and the smell of finely cured meats. Everything seemed so big and bright. Especially the pizza with sizes that left me in awe.
Finding quality pizza is a trial and error process. We all have our preferences in toppings and style. Pepperoni and black olive has always been a personal favorite. My mother craved it when I was in her womb so I figure it was kismet. But the hunt for good pizza mirrored that of finding a quality Italian deli that could live up to those of my youth. Luckily for me though, it’s National Pizza Month.
I discovered that in celebration of such a delicious occasion, Mickey’s Italian Delicatessen in Hermosa Beach was offering a 20” slice of pizza all month long. How could I resist? This is the inaugural year they’re offering the enormous piece to anyone willing to take it on a slice measuring four times that of their regular ones. I was hopeful. Would I be lucky enough to finally find a delicious local deli?
I walked up from along The Strand to 1st Street. A family sat by their bikes in the shade of umbrellas on the adjacent patio eating sandwiches before continuing their ride under a hot October sun. I briefly peeked at their food but moved along to get out of the heat. It was evident as soon as I entered why Mickey’s Deli has been a staple in the South Bay since it first opened in 1953.
Mickey’s serves a dual purpose as a delicatessen and a liquor store. A long line of swimsuited customers waited at the cash register picking up quick goods while waiting on orders of pizza, sandwiches, and pasta. I made my way through the shop as I waited for my order along with the laidback locals filling up on fresh Bona Fide Brewing Company’s Nitro Coffee on tap and snacking while watching college football. Typically I judge a liquor store on their beer selection. Rows upon rows were filled with premium choices of local brews from the likes of Three Weavers, Strand Brewing, and Golden Road. Needles to say, I approved.
Looking at the menu made my stomach rumble along with overhearing some of the other orders being placed. I’ll definitely be back for the pastrami, a local favorite as I discovered. Freshly packed jars of their signature sauce lined the display case featuring a variety of meats. This is the same sauce that goes in much of their menu items (including their famous Sauce Sandwich) and upon further tasting brought memories back of authentic Italian family dinners long past.
My heart skipped a beat when I saw the XL-sized pizza box. I sat along the outside of the shop on of one of the benches looking out to Hermosa Ave. The teenage skateboarders next to me silently looked in envy as they ate their slices and watched as I lifted the enormous piece like a fisherman with a prized catch.
Life doesn’t prepare you for eating a 20” single slice of pizza. How do you even start? Do I get a knife and fork? What had I gotten myself into?
My approach was to just dive in and rip off the tip. Starting from the bottom up seemed as good as any other option. The bottom crust crackled as I tore off a handful. I stretched my arm upward watching cheese stretch longer than I’d ever seen before. This required the biggest bite I could manage. In that first taste I recalled those giant slices of real Italian pizza I remembered so fondly. The pleasant blend of cheeses. The spicy of the pepperoni. The hint of saltiness in the black olives. The homemade brilliance of the sauce all came together in 20 inches of love.
It’s true what they say: any pizza is a personal pizza if you try hard enough. My belly was full and my heart was satisfied.I headed back into shop to give my kudos to the friendly staff and said a big thank you to Mickey. He and his family brought back fond memories that only good food can conjure.
It was time to head back out in the heat. Nothing beats a long walk on the beach to work off a big meal.
What is it about giant food that attracts us? Is it a reminder of our youth from when everything seemed larger than life? Or the challenge of indulgence? All I know is it was my lucky day to find a proper local Italian deli with delectable pizza to match.