For a whole lot of years, the only pizza ordered at my Grandmother’s house on Leonard Street was Minnitti’s. One reason was convenience because Frank Minnitti’s grill was located on West Main Street just around the corner from her house. The key reason though was because that little basement-based business turned out one of the best-tasting pizzas in town. But it was a thin crust pie, like those served at the rest of all my favorite Amsterdam pizza makers back then; Tony’s, Pepe’s, Russo’s and Bottisti’s.
Change came hard in my Grandmother’s house. They usually did things the same exact way every day of their lives until forced into modification by events or nature. So on this particular Friday night I was shocked when I heard my Dad suggest that we order something called an “Old Fashioned” pizza from “Gabe Centi’s” place. I expected my aunt to protest and was surprised when she agreed.
That decision set up two memorable encounters for me later that same evening. The first was meeting today’s Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant, Gabe Centi. My Dad actually had known him for years so when we walked into his original bar on Lyons Street to pick up our pizzas I can remember him being happy to see us. I instantly liked the guy. After him and my Dad talked for a while, Gabe handed over two steaming hot flat paper-bag wrapped Crystal Bar Old Fashioned pizza’s.
The first thing I remembered was how heavy the one I grabbed was as I carried it back to the car. The second thing I remember was getting back home and tearing one open and realizing for the first time, that it was a thick crust pie. The third and most important thing I remember was the amazing taste of my very first bite. I had discovered the perfect pizza and for the next twenty years of my life, I honestly believe that I ate more pieces of Gabe Centi’s Old Fashioned pizza than anyone else in this town. The only thing that stopped me was a belt size that was expanding faster than my property taxes.
In addition to creating one of the world’s great pizzas and one of Amsterdam’s classic eateries, Gabe Centi and his lovely wife Theresa created a great family too, six children and a whole bunch of grandkids. He passed away in 2010 and I originally wrote this birthday post back in 2015 just after Gabe’s sweet granddaughter Dominique Morini tragically fell victim to cancer. Theresa passed away two years later. If Heaven is what I hope it is, chances would be pretty good that the three of them are running their own restaurant in Paradise and you can be sure that Gabe’s Old Fashioned pizza is a hit up there too.