DJ Badger:  The News and the Journal

Entry Fifty-Eight.
Saturday, 2007.12.01, 10:54 PM CST.
Farewell, Mike from Mario's Pizzeria.

Here in Tulsa, we have a massive variety of pizza places.  That would probably surprise outsiders who would think that we just have a huge bunch of barbecue joints.

I love pizza.  It's not good for me, but I love it.  Being a vegetarian (not a vegan), I usually just order a cheese pizza with extra cheese.  Mmmm; artery-clogging goodness.

My favourite pizza joint in Tulsa is an amazing little place called Mario's NY Style Pizzeria, located on the north side of 51st Street, slightly east of Harvard.  They serve up huge pizza pies with a beautiful thin hand-tossed crust (the type that you can fold), and, if asked, they will throw on an obscene amount of cheese.

The first time that I ever walked into Mario's was at least twelve years ago; if I'm not mistaken, it was December 1995, but it very well could have been November.  One of my best friends from the early EKG days, Kevin, was having one of his rare hometown visits, so we headed around Tulsa to do some shopping.  I specifically remember going by Media Play (oh, how I miss that place!), Mohawk Music (it should go without saying how much I miss that place, but I'll say it anyway:  I miss it so much it makes my soul hurt), and Vintage Stock.

At one point in the day, as I was driving, Kevin told me that he was really, really hungry.  Although he wasn't what I would consider a diabetic, he said that he was getting "the shakes," and he needed to eat pretty quickly.  So, as I drove around, I just happened upon Mario's NY Style Pizzeria, and we both agreed that pizza sounded like a good idea.  We went in and ate a pepperoni pizza (this was back when I was carnivorous), and we talked a bit with the owner, a New York-to-Tulsa transplant* named Mike Selvaggi.  He seemed to be a nice enough guy, and he looked a bit like Al Pacino in Carlito's Way, with the beard and all.

*(I know what a lot of you must be thinking here...  Why would anybody move from New York to Tulsa?  In Mike's case, I was given the answer long ago... but I've forgotten it by now.)

So, anyway we tried the pizza... and I immediately noticed that it was the best pizza that I'd had since Godfather's Pizza closed down.  Heck, I then realized that this was probably better than Godfather's, and in fact this was quite possibly the best pizza I'd ever eaten.  Mike came by the table and asked how we liked it.  I made the mistake of very respectfully and honestly telling him something like, "It's wonderful...  A little bit greasy, but it's still great."

I was then served a quiet, quick, and blunt-but-still-friendly lecture about how the grease came from using real cheese, and Mario's used real cheese.

Over the years, though I am not sure that he ever recognized me by name (only by face), I saw Mike many, many times.  He was definitely a hands-on, involved owner.  Not only would I often see him at the pizza shoppe (right in there taking orders and preparing food with the rest of the staff), but sometimes he would even run deliveries.  I never got to know him extremely well, but I always had a lot of respect and admiration for him.  It really seemed that he loved his station in life, and even with very little "commercial" publicity, his little pizza place had sprouted into an enormous word-of-mouth success.

Earlier today, after taking X to have pictures taken with a Santa look-alike, Lanna and I decided to run by Mario's so that she could get a couple of pizza slices and I could get one of their mindblowing eggplant parmesan subs.  (Imagine the best eggplant parmesan sandwich you've ever had.  Now, imagine it being as big as Terri Schiavo's head.  That's a Mario's eggplant parm sub.  It's one of my favourite meals in the world.)

As we walked up, we both noticed a big sign next to the door:  "Contrary to gossip, we are NOT CLOSING."  Rumours of their demise had been going on for a while, mainly due to the impending expansion of nearby Highway I-44 and the fact that Mario's had recently opened a new location in Broken Arrow.  So, even though I already knew they weren't going to be closing anytime soon, the sign was still comforting.

We went in and placed our order, and I made small talk with the familiar young fellow who rang us up.  I asked him if Mike was still managing the Harvard location, or if he was mainly concentrating on the Broken Arrow location.  I wasn't expecting the answer I received.

Mike Selvaggi, the best damn owner of the best damn pizza shop in Tulsa, passed away on November 27th, the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, following a lengthy health issue.  He was only 59 years old.

I am still in a bit of shock about it, and although they don't know me at all, his family is in my thoughts tonight.  I can only imagine what they're going through, and I wish them as much peace and comfort as God is willing to grant them, especially during this holiday season.

My world is changing too, too quickly.  Somebody, please make it stop.