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Giant Statue of Liberty sculpture in the corner? Check.
Blinged-up, chunky NY necklace covered in fake diamonds around said statue's neck? Check.
Sopranos memorabilia? Check.
8086 W. Bowles Ave.
Littleton, CO 80123
Region: Southwest Denver Suburbs
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Shelf full of New York tchotchkes? Check.
FDNY keepsakes on shelf? Check.
Overtly patriotic pictures of the New York skyline, sans Twin Towers but full of screaming eagles and waving flags and majestically rendered beams of sky-reaching light; subway signs, completely indecipherable to anyone not intimately acquainted with New York public transit (but obviously fake because they're not marker-tagged, covered in spit, boogers or worse); photos of Giuliani, photos of Brooklyn subway stops, photos of street-side hot-dog carts, in artful black and white; and license plates — lots of license plates — in New York blue and white?
The place has everything. It hits all the requisite marks, setting itself up as one of those straight-outta-the-boroughs New York pizza joints the minute you walk through the door, and even before that, the minute you hear the name: Brooklyn M.C.'s Pizzeria. Like a fat kid picked on his whole life, suddenly coming back, junior year of high school, wrapped in a puffy coat and pants hanging off his ass, aching to look gangster enough to be left alone, M.C.'s has got the look: studied, practiced, dime-a-dozen. You've seen the place before. You've seen it a hundred times. Every pizza joint trying to get a little of that New York magic to rub off on it (including about half of those operating in the Big Apple itself) goes for exactly the same costume, which could have been picked up at some massive clearinghouse for last year's Big City souvenirs: 9/11 tribute posters in aisle three, artfully distressed photos of the Empire State Building at night on clearance, three for a dollar. The look is like a little piece of New York right here in Colorado. Or Boise, San Francisco, Little Rock. If not for the fact that M.C.'s lives in a strip mall in Littleton, next to a used-computer store and a Honey Baked Ham Company, you could walk out the door and right into Times Square, right onto Union Street, Brooklyn. That's the illusion.
And it's bullshit, a gimmick I recognize the second I duck in on a Saturday afternoon. I instantly dismiss Brooklyn M.C.'s as just another strip-mall joint in a long line of strip-mall joints shooting for that flavor-of-the-old-neighborhood shtick, copycatting a style that's a real style, but feels instantly false the minute it's mimicked on the wrong side of the bridges and tunnels.
And then, almost as quickly, I'm second-guessing my dismissal.
Sure, M.C.'s has the pictures, the shlock, the skyline painted huge along one wall, an impossible view of the city that exists only to someone standing on the docks down by where the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel hits Cobble Hill — in Brooklyn, sure, but not somewhere anyone would go looking for pizza. But there, on a wire rack by the register, are the chips. Wise potato chips, with the little owl eye logo on the bag. And it occurs to me that, even in this day and age of everything being everywhere, when I can get TastyKakes through the mail and Japanese fish market bonito on South Pearl Street, I haven't seen a bag of Wise potato chips in, like, forever.
"Wise chips," I say, mostly to myself. "Jesus, I haven't seen a bag of these in forever."
"Yeah," says the guy behind the counter — young guy, wearing a goofily oversized Southie hat in the colors of the Italian flag. "We been trying to get the barbecue, but they're sold out."
Everyone who knows anything about Wise chips knows that the barbecue is the best.
The pizzas under the glass, laid out on the flour-dusted expanse of the counter, look right, too — thin as a dream and with cheese that has melted unevenly, curdled with tiny bubbles like real mozzarella will do and the awful, cheap stuff shredded off the block will not, looped with swirls of red sauce. And the smell is definitely right: charred flour, slightly yeasty like a whiff of spilled beer smelled from behind a bar, sour tang of hot tomatoes and baked air on a hot, still afternoon. All of a sudden, I am really, really hungry.
I take a seat. There's only one other occupied table (couple of kids, him in a tracksuit, her in significantly less) so service is fast, casual, incredibly friendly. The two guys working the place look like brothers — like figures included with the New York Pizzeria Action Playset — and while one handles the floor, the other jockeys with the pizza stick, shifting this, turning that. The music playing is some kind of generic Italian playlist: bouncy and full of accordions, a little light opera.
I order a pizza, served, and a box for whatever I can't finish. Plain cheese, no bells and whistles, the classic New York red-and-white. The crust is thin and crisp, flashed fast and hot in the stone oven. I pick up a slice, and the bone snaps where I fold it with a sound like breaking a wrist. Almost immediately, I am swearing under my breath: grease burn, running in a track over the fat pad of muscle between my thumb and first finger, all the way back to my watch band.