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January 5, 2009 at 9:13 AM

Love letters and snow job: our trek to Abruzzi’s

It’s been a month since Rick Sakoda wrote to tell me about the re-birth of Abruzzi’s pizza in Normandy Park — news I shared on the blog and in print. Since then, I’ve received numerous love letters and reminiscences about the place (see below), including this 80s-era photo of All You Can Eater Ty Graham holding a heart-shaped Abruzzi’s pizza from back in the day (Ty! Love the glasses!):

What with all the good word from those who adored the original — and others who’ve since hightailed it to the reincarnated storefront owned and operated by the late pizzaman Nick Finamore’s ex-wife Mary Lou Sigette and their daughter DeAnn, my family made the trek ourselves last night, driving an hour in each direction in the snow for pizza. Too bad the place is now C-L-O-S-E-D on Sundays!

I thought Mac was going to blow a gasket when we showed up at 5:30 p.m. to find the doors locked and the Sunday-hours sign on the door (recently) annotated to show that Sunday’s now a no-go. He got all cranky (after all, he was driving, in the unexpected snow!) and said he’s unlikely to venture back there anytime soon. But after re-reading the following correspondence from old-time Abruzzi’s-fans — and noting the year-old pizzeria’s proximity to Sea-Tac Airport, I, for one, have vowed to make the pilgrimage again, sooner if not later. Meanwhile, thanks to all of you “oldtimers” who knew Abruzzi’s when, for sharing these heartfelt reminiscences. Anybody else want to weigh-in? Feel free.

Ray Horton: Yes, Abruzzi’s was always a favorite with pizza dough being spun in the window. I took a “first date” there in February 1960. She had attended a program at the Moore Theater and I met her there afterwards. I had reluctantly forgone attendance at a hockey game. Her former husband had died in the service. My wife had left for other pastures. We were both very lonely. We have now been married over 48 years and are still very much in love. Abruzzi’s will always be special. Thanks for your article.

Shirley Beppler: In the 50’s, I was at that time referred to as a “stewardess,” aka flight attendant (in today’s vernacular). I was flying a NWA Stratocruiser out of Sea/Tac to Chicago. I first met Angelo “Papa” in Chicago in 1955 and was absolutely thrilled in 1956 when he brought his family to Seattle and opened the original restaurant on Pine Street. I was feeling pretty special, having recently moved downtown to the newly opened University Towers (now a retirement facility) and having this great pizza place at our fingertips.

If you recall, this was before delivery was a common practice in this area, and one of the things that made Papa so special was that he would allow us to call in late and then have “Little Joe” deliver our pizza out to the car (double parked and usually in PJ’s). How wonderful to know that the recipes have been saved and are alive and well in Normandy Park. We will look forward to a visit soon and a stroll down memory lane. My, my. Has it really been 53 years since my first encounter?

Stephanie Mudgett: Wow. What tears you brought to my eyes. My mom’s sister Mary Noel was married to Nicky’s brother Joe, who owned the Italian restaurant in Bellevue called Giuseppe’s. I grew up eating meatballs at their dad’s (Angelo’s) first place by the Market, I think it was Joe’s, then watching Nicky spinning/flipping pizzas. But since Joe Finamore was my uncle I spent more time with him. He died a few years ago and I still have pizza pans and other cooking “stuff” that his second wife Chris let me have after Joe died. Your article was wonderful and I can’t wait to go to Abruzzi’s….we’ve lost touch with Mary Lou but looks like it’s time to get back in touch and eat the best pizza ever.

Diane Campbell: Great place! My first job in downtown Seattle (early 80’s), my fellow workers and I would have lunch at Abruzzi’s, about 2 blocks from our office. I remember lots of old dusty Chianti bottles hanging from the ceiling, a guy throwing pizza dough in the window, and yummy pizzas at a bargain price (3 for the price of 2 or something like that). The very best part was the waiter. He was so amazingly rude, (taking orders: “Hurry up, I don’t got all day!”) and really colorful. Don’t know if this was an act or not but I loved it!

Lori Lunsmann (Orecchio): As an “almost” lifetime resident of the Seattle area, I grew up with Abruzzi’s pizzeria. My very Italian brother-in-law and my sister used to take my other sister and I there as the beginning to a very fun Friday or Saturday night back in the late 1960’s to early 1970’s. It was always the first stop we would take before seeing a movie or just walking around the city to see the colorful sights. Abruzzi’s to me is extremely fond memories of great smells, great food and enjoying the company of my sisters and her husband. Since I lived on the Eastside, stepping into Abruzzi’s was always like experiencing something just a little more worldly than anything on the Eastside could offer. Again, I was so happy to hear that the tradition is being carried on and I look forward to experiencing Abruzzi’s once again with my husband and son.

Dennis Karn: The article on Abruzzi’s brought back a lot of memories, and not only of Abruzzi’s, but of the whole Pike St. area and food. In 1959 I was 9 years old and I was old enough to ride the No. 7 bus downtown from our house in Rainier Beach to visit my dad who was a cook at a cafe called the Rainbow Club Cafe, it was just across the alley from Abruzzi’s at 614 Pike Street . . . I would wash dishes for my dad through lunch then hang around and help him, then he usually gave me a little cash and I would go to a movie down at the Coliseum Theater, or one of the many others downtown. But I used to stop sometimes and buy a slice of pizza at Abruzzi’s.

I can picture the cook in the window tossing dough. He was always the same New York-looking Italian guy, even into the 70’s. It was great pizza. The crust was always thin and crisp, and it had a decent amount of sauce on it. It wasn’t all cheese like some of the pizzas today. There was a lot of really good food in that area, just across Pike Street there was the Canton Garden restaurant. They served a wonton soup that was fabulous — it was a meal in itself. If you wanted a great French dip, go down to 4th Avenue across the street from the Bon Marche to Ben Paris. It was wonderful and I think it was only $1.25 or $1.75 I think.

But if you wanted the best hot corned beef on rye in Seattle you went to the Rainbow Club Cafe. My dad cooked the briskets fresh daily, sliced it by hand (no portion control in those days), and piled it high on Brenner Brothers rye bread. He always got his cured briskets from Sam and Mike Akrish at, I think it was called Market House meats up on Olive Way. As I remember they were quite famous in Seattle for their corned beef. I remember going there with my dad sometimes, and I recall if I was too slow closing the cooler door after we went into the work area one of them would cuss me out! They didn’t give a damn about a kid’s self esteem back then. I could go on for hours about all the things for a couple of 10 year old kids to do on a Saturday afternoon. Seattle was so much different in those days. It was wonderful!

Maytha and Lael Kilgore: Imagine our surprise to read your column that Abruzzi’s Pizza was once again! When my husband and I began dating in 1958, we became regulars at Abruzzi’s until the mid 1960’s after our daughter was born. There were two brothers doing most of the dough throwing and pizza preparing in those days, one known as Little Joe and neither of us can remember the other, perhaps it was Nick?

We were there every other Friday night for many years — in fact when our daughter was born in 1964, my husband went for his Friday night pizza after visiting us in the hospital only to be greeted by being asked “where’s your wife”? For some time, we continued this routine by taking our daughter in her stroller. That is, until Pike Street became a popular hangout for the streetwalkers, ending our jaunts into downtown except for an occasional phone-in order. We moved from Seattle to Sequim in 2002, but will be making a trip down memory lane by going to the new Abruzzi’s next week while visiting Seattle.

Vic Palazzo: Read your very interesting article about Abruzzi’s Pizza. I remember it very well when it was on Pike Street. I had just come out to Seattle in 1957 and couldn’t find a decent pizza place. I grew up in New York and was very accustomed to great Italian restaurants and pizza places. Well, one day, when I was shopping in Frederick & Nelson’s with my wife, I saw these chefs tossing pizzas through the window facing Pike Street. It looked very entertaining, so I went in the restaurant. I started to talk to the owner. He introduced himself and told me he was from Chicago, I believe. He had recently opened this place. Well, I tried his pizza and it was the best pizza that I had since leaving New York. I was in “pizza heaven.” From then on, I patronized this place and told my friends about it. When our children were young, we use to take them there many times.

Christine Martin: Twas a true hole-in-the-wall and I very much lamented its passing when “progress” came. My absolute favorite place to go to lunch for pizza with friends or by myself. . . I held hope for a time that they would reopen, and remember a somewhat cranky yet friendly waiter who seemed to always have the same striped shirt on — he was related to the owner.

Gary Altaras: Years ago I worked downtown and would eat at the old restaurant at least once a week. Sol, the cranky old waiter, would reserve a spot and have my order ready for me and my co-workers when we arrived. I miss the old place and have not been able find a pizza that good since then until I happened to spot Abruzzi’s by accident in Normandy Park about a year ago. I went in and introduced myself to Mary Lou as an old customer, ordered the house special pizza, and almost cried it was so good. It was exactly the same if not better than the original. There is no other pizza that is that good. I bring home the leftover slices and hide them from the rest of the family! I hope your article gives Mary Lou the exposure she deserves — we want her to stay in business for a long time.

Charles Holmes: I moved to Seattle in 1979. At that time Abruzzi’s had THE BEST pizza in town. I always went for lunch when Grampa Angelo was cooking. He was the best !! I almost cried when they went out of business.

Terry Benish: I had to have been four or five and that was 58-59 and it was the first pizza I ever had. My dad began bringing them home once a month or so. He’s right. Their version is nothing like what goes for pizza around here. Brooklyn, maybe!

Carolyn Tow: I too am thrilled to have Abruzzi’s back! AND it is in my neck of the woods! I live in Des Moines and work downtown and have since 1983. Boy was I thrilled to have Abruzzi’s pizza again over the Thanksgiving weekend. I had out-of-town family and they adored it. Please help get the word out. We want them to do well and stay in Normandy Park. Let’s not keep them a best kept secret. The pizza is too good!

Unsigned e-mail: If they have the same meatball sandwiches on the menu I am definitely there. I worked two blocks away in the late 60’s-early 70’s and loved everything on the menu. There was plenty of Longacres handicapping going on as well. It was a joint, but a great joint.

Larry Doak (Burke, VA): In the early 1960’s, me and my buddies ended up at Abruzzi’s nearly every weekend after going to a movie or a hockey game (Seattle Totems). Today, it’s the stuff of legends. I’ll be back in Seattle next week and Normandy Park is now on my list. Great!!

Warren Guykema: Abruzzi on Pike was my favorite pizza house long ago. Any details would date me. My daughter, who lives in Normandy Park, mentioned this new pizza place, not knowing my attachment. My grandchildren mentioned the historic photos on the wall. They showed me the takeout menu. We’ve ordered a lot of Abruzzi since then, and its number is in my Dayrunner. I live in Olympia, but it doesn’t matter.

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