Growing up we visited my paternal grandparents a couple times a year. For Thanksgiving we usually flew from Albany to BWI, then took a taxi to their house in Silver Spring. Over the summer we would make the six or seven-hour drive from upstate New York to Maryland and spend a week or ten days with them, staying up late, telling stories, playing cards, watching movies, and eating my grandmother’s banana bread (my dad’s favorite) and Dove ice cream bars (my mom’s favorite).
I also always looked forward to poring over my grandmother’s books. She grew up in the Bronx, the oldest daughter of Jewish immigrant parents from Poland and Russia, and finished high school at age sixteen. My grandma never went to college, but never stopped learning either. She took art history classes at Hampton Institute after she and my grandfather, an engineer, moved to Virginia in the late 1940s so that he could take a job. And she read, building up a sizable library of hundreds of works of contemporary fiction, literature, essays, and poetry.
At least once each trip my grandparents would take me out to Vicino, a no frills Italian restaurant on Sligo Ave in downtown Silver Spring. They knew the owner, John, from when he worked at Pines of Rome, an old favorite of theirs where they were regulars for many years. When John opened up his own place, my grandparents started going there. We’d enter, John would greet us with open arms and a big smile (“Mr. and Mrs. Goodman!”), asking after different members of the family and commenting on how much I had grown. I don’t remember what my grandfather would order, but my grandmother would get a pasta dish with shrimp and I would get the spaghetti and meatballs (which was actually just one enormous meatball). And, as an appetizer, we would always get the white pizza, half with cheese, half without, thin crust and square slices—our favorite dish that’s forever ingrained in my taste buds and in my memory.
After my grandfather died, in 1998, my grandmother and I continued the tradition of lunch at Vicino. I last went to the restaurant in 2015, this time without either of my grandparents. My family decided to have lunch there soon after my grandma passed, not wanting to let her go, not ready to say goodbye—even though we had spent three weeks doing just that, sitting by her hospital bed, holding her hand. I hadn’t had the white pizza since then, until I figured out how to make it this past year. (The key ingredients: fontina cheese and high quality oregano.) Now, whenever I do, like last night, my grandparents come back to me and I imagine us walking into Vicino, already knowing what we’d order without having to look at the menu.