Menuplease: Celestino’s is Real New York Pizza

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It had been a bad summer for Ronny Cammareri Jr. 2010 had started out good: he was living at home rent-free. There was a fine looking chick he’d met at the candy store that was a definite prospect. He was going to classes at Kingsborough when he felt like it or whenever his old man, Ronny Sr., got on his case. “You’re gonna wind up like your Uncle Johnny! Twenty-two years old and still livin’ at home!” He’d wave that gloved hand at him like an augury of doom. Mostly Ronny Jr. just shone it on. Loretta, his mom, was still, in the words of his friend Richie, babelicious. She wasn’t harsh like his old man. She seemed to understand his need to have a little fun – maybe because she had always been a serious girl with a tragic end to her first marriage.

But then things turned upside down. Loretta came home one day in the spring with big news: her Uncle Raymond and Aunt Rita had franchised Cappomaggi’s Deli and wanted Loretta and Ronny to oversee the California operations from the west coast headquarters in Chico, California. It was a new opportunity – get out of that crumbling house on Cranberry Street, move to California, get a tan, maybe have a swimming pool. It would be good for Ronny Sr. to move out of the basement of that bakery. And since Ronny Jr. wasn’t exactly overwhelmed with prospects for living on his own, he moved with them.

If it had been L.A., he could have dug it, speeding down Sunset Boulevard in an open-top convertible, a gorgeous blonde beside him, waving to Brad and Charlize. He could have gotten a job as a trainer to the stars – after all, he worked for a while cleaning the Gold’s Gym in Brooklyn Heights, so he knew a thing or two about lifting weights. But no: here he was stuck in this place no one ever heard of – at least, no one he knew ever heard of Chico.

It depressed him to walk around. People here were so cheerful. “Have a nice day!” they’d chirp, and they seemed to mean it. They were all into yoga, or jogging, or Pilates – whatever that was. They rode bikes and wore bright clothes. Nobody sat on the stoop in the evening. And nobody here spoke his language: on the second day in Chico he asked a hot babe where the candy store was and she directed him to Shubert’s Ice Cream and Candy.

God, did he miss New York.

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One hot night, Ronny Jr. was stumbling downtown after two too many at the Town Lounge: a date with the babe who sent him to Shubert’s turned ugly when she wanted to go to Monk’s Wine Bar, then got pissy with him for making fun of the ambiance and the crowd. He was just having a goof but she took it all wrong. He headed up Salem toward the campus, then stopped abruptly. Something in the air…. smelled like home.

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There was a line out the door of Celestino’s. Ronny’s nose drew him closer to the crowd. As soon as he got inside the door he could see the pizzas in the display case. If he had been drunk before, he was now intoxicated with the pizza aroma. “Gimme a schlish oof scheese,” he garbled to the Amy Winehouse wannabe at the counter. She rolled her eyes but took his money, dispensing a little ‘tude too. For the first time in two months, Ronny felt comfortable.

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In a few minutes Ronny was outside on the sidewalk clutching what looked like the real thing: thin-crust pizza on a cheap paper plate, scattering of melted cheese, patina of olive oil glowing on top. He folded the slice in half and took a bite. He staggered against the wall. Tears came to his eyes. A miracle had occurred. In this yuppie enclave, in this stinkin’ hot valley town full of smiley Californians all having a nice day, God had set down real New York pizza. It wasn’t that overstuffed pillow with gobs of cheese and broccoli and artichokes that passed for pizza out here. This was the real deal.

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He shoved the last bites into his mouth and wiped his oily fingers on his jeans. Amy Winehouse was out on the sidewalk taking a smoke break. “How youse like the pizza?” Youse! He’d already been called Joe Pesci for saying youse. And this chick said youse too!

“Yeah, it’s real good.” Ronny furtively felt his face to brush away strings of cheese and pizza crumbs. “It’s just like home.”

“Try the Godfather,” Amy said, pronouncing it Gawdfodda. “It’s real popular.”

“Eh… where you from?” She looked suspicious. “I mean… you’re not from here.” Her face lit up, as much as Amy Winehouse could.

“Fresh Meadows,” She exhaled a fug of smoke. “I was going to St. John’s but I got sick of my family raggin’ on me so I came out here to go to school.” She extended her hand. “Hey… I’m Tina.”

Oh thank you Saint George Steinbrenner, Ronny thought.

Celestino’s Pizza, 101 Salem Street, Suite 1, Chico, California 95926, 530-896-1234,, also 1354 East Street, Chico, and locations in Oroville and Rocklin. Open seven days a week. Vegetarian and vegan options. Website and menu at http://www.celestinospizza.com/ (click on Rocklin location for menu listing).

Femme de Joie’s first culinary masterpiece was at age 4, when she made the perfect fried bologna sandwich on white bread. Since then she has dined on horse Bourguignon in France, stir-fried eel in London, and mystery meat in her college cafeteria, but firmly draws the line at eating rattlesnake, peppermint and Hamburger Helper. She lives in Shasta County at her country estate, Butterscotch Acres West. She is nearly always hungry. Visit MenuPlease for more.

A News Cafe, founded in Shasta County by Redding, CA journalist Doni Greenberg, is the place for people craving local Northern California news, commentary, food, arts and entertainment.

Femme de Joie
Femme de Joie's first culinary masterpiece was at age 4, when she made the perfect fried bologna sandwich on white bread. Since then she has dined on horse Bourguignon in France, stir-fried eel in London, and mystery meat in her college cafeteria, but firmly draws the line at eating rattlesnake, peppermint and Hamburger Helper. She lives in Shasta County at her country estate, Butterscotch Acres West. She is nearly always hungry. Visit MenuPlease for more or send her an email at femmedejoiefood@yahoo.com.
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16 Responses

  1. Avatar Liz Merry says:

    Cele's is a haven for all of us NY ex-pats. We had Sbarro's in the mall and it was closer than anything else in town, but Cele's is the real deal. Now if we only had a REAL sub shop (there's a Jersey Mike's is in Lincoln) and a White Castle, we'd be SET!

  2. Avatar ambercita says:

    Mmmm, Celestino's! That place was a regular lunchtime spot when I was in school. The place is busy most of the time – and with good reason. A little stroll past Taylor Hall and…ahhh, the day was about to get a little better. A slice of New York in a little college town in the valley…that's amore..!

  3. Avatar jenni middleton says:

    Cute! I will have to try it…..

  4. Avatar Matt Grigsby says:

    It's a shame Celestina's wasn't there when I was a student at CSUC! Now I'm craving pizza for breakfast, just like in college.

    Another slice of perfection from MMe de Joie!

  5. Avatar Chris Bennor says:

    Ha! We ate at Celestino's last week when I was visiting my new house in Chico next to PV High (about 3 blocks away from their East Avenue location). The kids and I have decided to try a couple of new restaurants a month – any other Chico suggestions are appreciated!

    • Femme de Joie Femme de Joie says:

      Dear Chris,

      Femme de Joie has it on good authority that the best hamburgers in Chico are at Burger Hut. She has not personally tried them, but her source is unimpeachable.

      Cordially,

      Femme de Joie

      • Avatar Chris Bennor says:

        Femme de Joie's source is right on target. When I lived in Chico (back in the 80s/90s), Burger Hut was always the best. The boys are going to love it that they can get as many pickles as they want!

        • Doug Cushman Doug Cushman says:

          I traveled 6,000 miles from Paris JUST to have a burger at the Burger Hut last month. No. Really. One of the things miss I CA. Whoever your source is, Madam Femme, I tip my chapeau. You MUST try one.

        • Avatar Adam Mankoski says:

          Best sushi we have eaten is at RAW in Chico. Amazing!!!

  6. Avatar Kim Hanagan says:

    very fun read. thank you. My son dragged me to Celestino's (not pizza again!) and it was super yummy.

  7. Avatar Mary says:

    I'm not into NY style, but Chicago style. The closest thing I've had since moving to CA was Zach's in Berkely. Anyone know of any other authentic Chicago style places in the North State?

    • Femme de Joie Femme de Joie says:

      Dear Mary,

      Gironda's in Redding claims to serve Chicago-style pizza, but it is the thin-crust type, not the stuffed type. In San Francisco, Little Star Pizza (one store on Divisadero in the Western Addition, one on Valencia in the Mission District, plus a branch in Albany) serves Chicago-style stuffed pizza; Yelp reviews of Little Starare almost unanimously enthusiastic.

      Cordially,

      Femme de Joie

      • Avatar gamerjohn says:

        When I lived in Oakland, my phone number was almost the same as Zachary's. Every weekend drunks calling to place an order. If the pizza was heaven I would have messed witrh the callers by pretending to take their orders and make them show up an hour later at Zachary's to find out no pizza. Maybe if it had been anyplace else.

        Their Chicago style is heavy and layered like a five skinny pizzas stacked. A couple slices fills me up and I could eat a whole large Dominos by myself in those days.

    • Femme de Joie Femme de Joie says:

      Dear Mary,

      Michael Bauer, food critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, has a column today about Chicago-style pizza in the Bay Area. If the link works, follow it. If not… head to SFGate and then search for Michael Bauer.

      Cordially,

      Femme de Joie