I’ve been eating pizza for over sixty years and I’ve had the opportunity to do so in the very best pizza parlors of Brooklyn, Chicago and Florence, Italy. Per capita, no other City on the face of this Earth had as many excellent makers of Pizza as Amsterdam, NY has had over the years and the dean of them all was a wonderful guy everyone knew as “Baldy”.
That was the famous nickname of today’s Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant, Angelo Verderese, and also the same name he used for the restaurant and tavern he opened in 1954 at 10 Reid Street. That’s right, Baldy Verderese opened an Italian food restaurant smack in the middle of the biggest Polish section of the city and despite the evident contradiction in ethnic culinary traditions, it was a smash hit from the start.
Baldy was born on September 19, 1922 in Amsterdam. He grew up on Forbes Street, attended public schools and when World War II came, he joined the Navy and served on the crew of the U.S.S. Massachusetts. He saw plenty of action in both the Atlantic and Pacific on board that battleship and then came back home to Amsterdam, and began his career as a chef and pizza maker.
For the first ten years of that career, Baldy rolled his dough and ladled his sauce at Boggie’s Fourth Ward Hotel, the East Main Street eatery that used to be located on the old Lou’s Supermarket block of that Rug-City neighborhood. Everything about Baldy’s pies was just a bit different than any other pizza sold back then and the entire city noticed and loved that difference. Boggie’s proprietor noticed too and began featuring the fact that Baldy was making the pizzas there in all of their newspaper ads. That exposure helped make the name “Baldy” synonymous with “the best pizza in town.”
Baldy married Virginia Campochiro in 1950 and they had a son, Angelo Jr. the following year. By 1956, the need to take care of his growing family helped him make the decision to open a place of his own. When he could not secure the financing to buy a building on James Street, he turned to a second option, leasing the space at 10 Reid Street.
Baldy’s Tavern & Restaurant opened just before the 1956 Holiday season and he was welcomed and well patronized by Reid Hill residents from the start. Many had been Boggie’s patrons but once he moved uphill, dialing VI 2-9652 and ordering a Baldy’s pie became almost as popular a neighborhood activity as playing a number at the corner store or attending mass at St. Stan’s.
Verderese’s friendly personality and kind heart made it easy to fall in love with the guy and the Polish community of Reid Hill quickly adopted him as one of their own. In fact, they made him the first non-Polish voting member of the Polish American Veterans.
A second son, Rick had been born in 1959 and by 1964, the stress of running the business was wearing on him. Baldy got a job at GE and worked there for the next twenty years. The Iarusso family took over the Tavern and kept its name Baldy’s. That proved to be a wise move.
When he retired, Baldy finally had some time to enjoy himself. Always an avid bowler, he took up the game of golf and fell in love with it too. Losing his wife in 1992 was a terrible blow but he thoroughly enjoyed being a grandfather to Angie Jr.’s two girls and Ricky’s three. But just four year’s after he lost Vergie, Baldy lost his own battle to cancer and passed away at the age of 74. He left behind his pizza recipe with his son, my good friend Angelo. So I still get to enjoy a Baldy’s pizza every now and then. Guess what? It’s still the best in town.
Baldy shares his birthday with this legendary Amsterdam educator.