A drawback with Macouns is their short shelf life. You really should eat them while they’re crunchy. When they turn soft, they’re almost ordinary. During that brief period when crunchy Macouns are available, I'm as excited about them as Seinfeld's Kramer was when the Macanaw peaches arrived at a neighborhood fruit stand. ("Macanaw peaches, Jerry! Macanaw peaches!!")
So even if our supermarkets sold them for a week or two in October, I probably wouldn’t buy them. Who knows how long since they were picked? Or how they were cared for in the meantime?
For the best Macouns, you have to go to an apple orchard, such as Beak and Skiff, which sits high on a hill off US-20, in the apple country south of Syracuse.
This is not to imply Macouns are a Central New York exclusive. There are apple orchards and good Macouns throughout the Northeast, though Macouns aren’t as plentiful as other varieties. It was developed at the New York State Agriculture Experimental Station in Geneva, NY, in the early 1920s. It's a mix of the MacIntosh and Jersey Black apples, but was named for Canadian fruit grower W. T. Macoun.
Why this apple didn’t catch on until recently is a mystery. I had my first one about twenty-five years ago in Rhode Island, which has wonderful apple orchards, as does Massachusetts.
But Beak and Skiff remains my favorite. And I can count on the crunchiness when I order Macouns during those few fall weeks they are available via beakandskiff.com.
AND THEN there’s pizza, a sore subject with any Yankee who relocated South. Maybe’s it’s the heat, maybe the humidity. Whatever, Southern pizza is limp.
And tasteless, a whole other problem. Maybe the water's to blame, which I mention because some people believe water is the key to great pizza dough. Like the New Yorker I saw on a TV program. He'd moved to California and started a pizza business, but was sure the best water was in New York City. Mind you, he didn’t say this was good drinking water; his only concern was its effect on dough. Obviously, he couldn’t import enough New York City water for his purposes, so he did the next best thing – he had it chemically analyzed in order to duplicate it on the West Coast.
The problem with Southern pizza goes deeper than water. Like maybe the intense heat and the uncertain soil . . . because another sad truth about the South is you can’t grow tasty tomatoes here. Fact is, you have a difficult time growing any kind of tomato. I was taught that tomato plants need plenty of sun, but I guess there’s such a thing as too much sun because in Bluffton I’ve seen tomatoes just give up and die in the relentless summer heat. And early in the season there's another problem here in what they call The Lowcountry. Too much water. It has no place to go, so it sits just inches below the surface. (This area might be better named after that fictitious George Clooney group who lip-synched "A Man of Constant Sorrow" in "Brother, Where Art Thou?" They were called The Soggy Bottom Boys.)
Another reason South Carolina pizza is so . . . uh . . . bland may be the influx of Midwesterners who grew up in towns where their only choice – besides frozen – was Domino’s.
Bluffton offers no mouth-watering, memorable pizza topped – but not overwhelmed – by a flavorful sauce. When it comes to that kind of pizza, many people believe New York City sets the standard.
(Some misguided souls also rave about Chicago pizza, which for my money is best served as a detour on "The Amazing Race," which once used it to separate those with steel-lined stomachs from the rest of the pack. Clearly, deep-dish pizza is an acquired taste.)
Central New Yorkers know the very best pizza was created in 1956 at a restaurant on the western edge of Syracuse, across the street from my hometown of Solvay.
Twin Trees Restaurant now has other locations and is the perennial winner in the annual “best pizza in Central New York” competition, which, I know, is like mentioning Miss Fargo in the same breath as Miss Universe, but trust me, Twin Trees pizza has everything going for it – great crust and a flavorful sauce that blends in with the other ingredients, best of which is the sausage. Twin Trees pizza also is a great leftover – cold or reheated.
(An unusual feature of a Twin Trees pizza is the way it is cut, not in pie-like wedges, but once down the middle, with each half then crosscut in pieces about two inches wide.)
It came as no surprise to learn my three-day high school reunion would begin with an informal gathering at which the main attraction will be Twin Trees pizza. That is so Central New York.
OBVIOUSLY I remain a Central New Yorker at heart, though I actually spent a larger chunk of my life in Rhode Island, from 1969 to 2002.
Relocated Rhode Islanders – if you can find them – likely spend even more time than Central New Yorkers reminiscing about food because the Ocean State is a foodie paradise. If you like to dine seven times a day, skip the cruise and vacation in Rhode Island. Enjoy the ultimate delight – eat your way through Providence, which may have more great restaurants per capita than any city in the country.
However, Rhode Islanders are notorious for seldom venturing beyond the state border (except for trips to Foxboro and Fenway), though I've been told a few of them have retired to Florida. All I know is I've seen only five Rhode Island license plates here in five years, four of them on cars headed for Hilton Head. The fifth belonged to my daughter Laura, who has since settled in Atlanta, one of the Rhode Islanders who got away.
Naturally, Rhode Island has several wonderful pizza places, my favorites being Tommy’s, Pizza Pie-er and Alforno, though no one else refers to Alforno as a pizza place because it’s an honored, nationally known restaurant. However, what I remember best about my meals there was the grilled pizza, served as an appetizer. It's one of those foods you can’t stop eating. It also prompted me to grill the dough I buy here at the Publix supermarket because this puts the crunch into a South Carolina pizza. (If you attempt to make pizza on your gas grill, be sure you've got one that allows you to adjust the flame. I do mine with the control set halfway between medium and low.)
Caserta’s is probably Rhode Island’s favorite pizza place. One of my Providence Journal co-workers, who picks up a Caserta’s pizza every Friday night, once found herself standing next to Alec Baldwin. He was in Rhode Island making a movie and likely had been told Caserta's made the state's best pizza. It has a distinctive crust, thick and chewy, and an unusually spicy sauce. Things may have changed, but the two knocks on Caserta's used to be the often-unfriendly attitude of their staff and a tendency to overcook their pizzas. (Another Seinfeld reference: My fear at Caserta's was if I complained, the waitress would snatch the box from my hands and yell, "No pizza for you!")
My love affair with pizza actually began in Ohio in 1959 while I was a graduate student at Kent State University. A roommate introduced me to Montoni's, which became a famous name in the Funky Winkerbean comic strip, created by Tom Batiuk (rhymes with "attic"). Batiuk graduated from Kent State and later taught art there before he launched Funky. Various websites say Batiuk patterned his strip's Montoni's after an Akron pizza place called Luigi's; all I know is there was an actual family-run Montoni's in downtown Kent, at least through the 1960s, and it bore a strong resemblance to the restaurant in the comic strip. A Batiuk family member emailed me to confirm that the comic strip Montoni's indeed was inspired by the one in downtown Kent.
Should you think I'm inconsistent, tracing my pizza history to Ohio after chiding Midwesterners about their taste in pizza . . . well, let me say this about that: My sense of geography always made me resist the popular notion that northeast Ohio is in the Midwest. To me it's America's Near East. Besides, there's a world of difference between Cleveland, which dominates the congested northeast corner of the state, and the rest of Ohio, which is decidedly more rural.
But back to Rhode Island . . .
Among other things, the Ocean State may well be the our doughnut capital. People there joke the state has a Dunkin’ Donuts on every corner, only a slight exaggeration.
That's why I was surprised – dismayed even – when I arrived in Bluffton and discovered the nearest Dunkin’ Donuts was in Savannah where there were only two of them – and both closed within a couple of years. (Since then two Dunkin' Donuts have opened in Beaufort County, SC, where I live – one in the city of Beaufort, about 20 miles from my house, the other in Hardeeville, about 12 miles away.)
But as popular as Dunkin’ Donuts is in Rhode Island, the state's ultimate doughnut place is Allie’s, in North Kingstown. An Allie’s doughnut, which looks and tastes homemade, is to a Rhode Islander what a Heid’s-Hofmann’s snappy is to a Central New Yorker.