The neon light beckons, and the three of us follow. It's post-snowstorm Parkdale, around midnight, minus 14 degrees outside, streets empty, just about everything closed. Bleak like a melancholy Charles Mingus tune. We're a few beers in, and we want carbs and meat. The act of walking sucks, but the shining vermilion boot, the contour of Italy — the sign outside Amico's Ristorante — is our star of Bethlehem.
Amico's has been around since 1978. It is simply a restaurant. That is to say, it is not an extension of someone's soul, or the grand artistic vision of some failed painter or musician or chef who cites "passion" as his M.O. It exists solely to stuff people with decent pizza until 4 a.m. (half price on Wednesdays) and to give local middle-agers a place to twiddle their thumbs, get blasted, and listen to wafts of rock 'n' roll.
The small space is nearly full: Older folks at the bar, younger, borderline hipster-types up front. The place feels like a suburban family's living room from the '80s. Items have just sort of accumulated over the years; weird pink-and-grey floor tiles, terrible murals of the motherland, store-bought art (including a print by Will Rafuse, don't you know). There's something resembling a clock on one wall, fashioned out of a ship's wheel and forks and spoons. On the tables, pink and white carnations chill next to the salt and peppershakers, the chili flakes and the most crucial of all pizza enhancers, pre-grated Parmesan.
"It's been the busiest fuckin' day," our wizened waitress says as she hands out menus.
More beer is in order, plus an extra large pizza to start. We get the Amico's Special: pepperoni, mushrooms, green peppers, olives, bacon, ham, onions: About $13 on this glorious cheap day. El Beardissimo (so dubbed for his too-good-to-be-true beard, a being of its own) sits across from me in his Bass Pro Shops baseball cap. He knows what's up. He's the one who's brought us here, and he tells us it's going to be a while. This isn't Pizzaiolo or Mama's Pizza or some other grab-and-go joint. Pizzas here are made to order, and they take a long time. Amico's is a commitment.
Waiting for food is not a wholly shitty experience, even late at night. It allows hunger to ferment, to gain nuance. It's time to fully recollect, for the billionth time, that The Beatles really are that good. Then the pizza comes, nearly half an hour later. The waitress carries it on a metal stand. She sets it down and divvies up the first few slices.
This pizza is what children refer to when they talk about pizza. It's what they want to eat at Chuck E. Cheese's. It's thick dough with solid fistfuls of crap thrown on top. It's salty, and it's guaranteed to burn your mouth. There's so much of it that you leave the crusts, like you're five. You blanket each slice in crumbly white cheese, because you can. Because nobody will look at you like you're a jerk.
It's gone in seconds. "I can't believe how fast we just killed an extra-large pizza," one of us says. We order another one, medium-sized, a little more grown-up this time, with prosciutto, basil, portobello mushrooms and gorgonzola. Roughly half an hour passes. The waitress returns with the stand thingy and the pizza.
"The boys are hungry," El Beardissimo says.
"Boys always are," she responds.
We eat. Pain accumulates in our abdominal regions. We toss uneaten crusts onto our plates like watermelon rinds. We become consumed by fatigue as our bodies attempt to process what we've just put into them. The thought of bedtime becomes not a buzz-kill or a cop-out, but an utter necessity. I grab one last crust and push it into my mouth for no apparent reason.
Welcome to Wednesday night at Amico's. — Jon Sufrin