Gone – But Never Forgotten …
By Stephen L Doherty
June 4th, 2023
“Everything that has a beginning … has an ending.
Make your peace with that, and all will be well.” -Buddha
There was a particularly poignant scene in Staying Alive, the sequel to Saturday Night Fever, where Tony Monero (John Travolta) in a spate of melancholy, walked past the old dance club that had made him famous. Now, rife with weeds and graffiti, run-down and dilapidated – it was a grim requiem of glory days come and gone and a stark reminder that all things that begin … will someday end. Few of life’s axioms are more definite.
I was reminded of this recently as I ate my last 10″ luncheon pizza at Piccolo Italian & Mexican Restaurant. I had my first luncheon pizza there in 1981, while attending the University of Denver. In between? Too many to count! All I know is that this restaurant was the luncheon joint, MY luncheon joint – for the ages. No other restaurant came close to becoming this second home for me over five decades of “stopping in for a bite.” Any occasion to frequent this neighborhood icon was like huddling-up at the warm kitchen table of a close pal while their mom served up all of our favorite dishes.
While the food was fantastic, throw in the warmth and familial embrace of the owner, (and Maitre D extraordinaire) Vince Canino – and you had a perfect confluence of fine food, warmth, and friendship, all tucked away in a neighborhood “joint” that became the meal stop of choice for so many generations of Denver families and patrons. Five-decades. Fifty years. A half-century. While nothing lasts forever, stuff that lasts a half-century usually does so for very good reasons. For Piccolo, I honestly believe the “vibe” was the secret sauce. You can’t explain it. It’s rare. You know it when you see it.
The pandemic and much of the response to the pandemic forever destroyed a huge array of American mom-and-pop businesses that couldn’t survive the madness. What a loss for all of us. Future generations of Americans will never know the quaint beauty and quality of businesses run by dedicated sole proprietors and their families. In their wake will be the sterile and soulless corporate chains that have all the character and warmth of a bus ticket kiosk. It won’t be long before new generations of Denver’s kids are breathlessly begging for a hot dog from a Target concession stand – never knowing the tasteful delight of a Piccolo luncheon pizza.
As I paid my check and headed for the door on what would be my last visit to my favorite restaurant – I glanced into the kitchen and saw the owner, Vince Canino, doing what he loved – making pizzas! Whatever sadness I felt for the end of this particular culinary era was offset by that final, unforgettable moment and I couldn’t help but smile and be happy.
The recent passing of Jim Brown, the greatest football player of all time, had something in common with the final dimming of the lights at Piccolo’s. They both went out on top – by their own choice – doing something that they deeply loved and cherished. That’s the stuff of legends and that is what I will remember as I drive by the deserted remains of Piccolo … well played, Vince Canino. And thank you for the friendship, memories, and great food enough for a lifetime!
“As long as we live, they too will live; for they are now are a part of us;
as we remember them.” – Jewish Prayer