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Alas, those negotiations proved too complicated. And opening the pizza place involved plenty of other hurdles, such as creating light fixtures out of steel ductwork and old helmets, arguing with soft-drink vendors and ripping up a big chunk of the 112-year-old building's wooden floor in order to lower an 1,800-pound dough mixer into the basement.
That industrial-strength mixer churns out some excellent dough, though. I've eaten at Grinders four times, and my favorite things on the tiny menu (an 8-inch-by-5-inch card, really) are the chewy, delicious specialty pizzas, particularly the inexpensive small ones -- such as the Hippie, with green peppers, black olives, spinach, tomatoes, artichoke hearts and almonds -- which are great appetizers for a trio of friends.
One of the six pies is a culinary homage to the late pizza maven Larry "Fats" Goldberg, though I quickly discovered it's one of the less-requested numbers. The recipe boasts pesto, smoked salmon, capers and cream cheese. The only time I ordered it, there wasn't any salmon in the house, so they made it for me with crabmeat. That substitution idea wasn't bad, but the pizza turned out to be a gloppy, tasteless mess.
If you're going to go artsy-fartsy in the pizza department, a better option is the Bengal Tiger, which throws together pesto, tandoori chicken (baked in the Grinders pizza oven), crabmeat, cilantro and hearts of palm. I confess, I've eaten two, and I'm crazy for it. I also pigged out on the Hog, which is so crammed with bacon, Canadian bacon, ham and meatballs that it practically squeals when you bite into a slice.
Stretch dubbed his restaurant Grinders because it was an umbrella term that represented "art, sculpture, skateboarding, fucking and, of course, the sandwich." Strangely, though, the namesake dish was the one I liked the least. My copy of The Food Lover's Companion defines grinder as a huge sandwich. Stretch's version is hefty enough, and it's laden with the traditional meatballs, melted cheese and tomato sauce. But the meatballs were obviously the prepackaged variety, and that had me grinding my teeth. Bogus balls never taste as meaty or flavorful as the real thing.
"Tastes like the Costco version," Bob said, wrinkling his nose. That was the night we ate with Patrick, who gulped down two martinis and started babbling on about all the famous New York artists he'd had sex with, back when he was young and thin. Stretch, who had stopped by the table in time to hear that monologue, seemed impressed. But I was far more interested in the South Philly Cheesesteak, an honest-to-God crusty Italian roll piled with lots of shaved beef and grilled onions but only a hint of melted provolone and Cheez Whiz. What the hell?
"We mix the cheese in with the meat when we cook it," explained the Philly-born Stretch, noticing my scowl. I sent the sandwich back for more of that neon-orange Whiz, which some prissy patrons find too vulgar for words. But it's what they serve at the high temple of cheesesteaks, Pat's King of Steaks on Philadelphia's East Passyunk Avenue. I prefer my culinary art to be the real thing, not a reproduction.
Plastic ashtrays on every table are among Grinders' delightfully politically incorrect touches. (Stretch originally put out some fancy ones he got in Paris, but patrons ripped them off right away.) Similarly, servers look like they just rolled out of bed, food comes on paper plates, and mounted on the wall by the cash register is the official Grinders thong, available in black with the words "Show Me Pie" silk-screened on the front.