I sat the square box on my dining room table and took a deep breath. Tentatively, I pulled the cardboard top away from the base.
A classic Margherita. A few, straggly pieces of basil. Another gut-wrenching disappointment.
It never used to be this way. A year ago, I never would have questioned the contents of the box in front of me. But things were different now. The pizzas at La Grande Orange, the ones I had been ordering for the past eight years, had started a descent into a kind of oven-baked schizophrenia, bouncing around from spectacular to sketchy to downright shameful.
The night I received another near basil-less Margherita from LGO was the last straw. As Paulie says to Henry in Goodfellas while frying up the best-looking sausages in cinema history, "Now I gotta turn my back on you."
I had my first LGO pizza in 2005, the year my husband and I moved to Phoenix and a year after the comfy-cool pizzeria opened next door to La Grande Orange Grocery at the intersection of Campbell and 40th Street in Arcadia.
Like everyone else, I fell in love with the light and puffy, tangy sourdough crust followed by fresh toppings like house-made mozzarella, sauteed mushrooms, and spicy Fresno chiles. I thought about LGO pizza a lot, bragged to my friends about it, looked forward to the evenings the two of us would meet.
It wasn't long before my husband and I had more or less become regulars, eventually trading the sit-down experience for the pick-up option at what was arguably now one of the hottest hangouts in Arcadia. At least two or three times a month, our tiny Toyota would fight what seemed to be every Cadillac Escalade in town for one of a precious few parking spaces in order to score one, or a combination of, the only two items we felt were worth the hassle: the pizza and LGO's killer wings.
Those were the salad days, or in this case, the pizza days. And they were beautiful. But after eight years, things started to change.
The crust, at times unpleasantly chewy, dry, and too thin around the edges, was the first to falter. Next came the toppings -- or lack of them. The Mushroom Party, one of my favorites, had become more of a casual mushroom meet-up, with a few patches of toadstools passing for what was once a beautifully brown-hued carpet of fungi. The roasted corn creation followed the same frugal format. And if I thought the Margherita would be the path of least topping resistance, its barely there basil proved otherwise.
I did what most people do in relationships they don't want to see end: I made excuses. Maybe it was a busy night or an off-one; maybe LGO's efforts were being stretched too thin given their newest ventures happening just across the street; maybe if I just were a little more patient things would go back to the way they used to be.
Sadly, they didn't.
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But perhaps severing my relationship with my first pizza love in the Valley when I did helped to keep intact the memories of what made it so special to me in the first place. I'm not sure going back now -- even if things were different, better -- would feel the same.
But, hey, eight years is a hell of a run.