A Woman, A Man, A Pizza

May 30, 2014 · 28 comments

Delancey_cover In 2004, Susan and I had just left Harwinton — a small town of 3,500 in rural northern Connecticut — after living there for three years. We first met in the chilly autumn months of 1999, began seeing each other in January of 2000, and moved in together almost a year later, after twelve months of long weekends and weepy Monday morning goodbyes. This was it for me; I knew it was, pretty quickly. And leaving Manhattan — where I was born and raised and where I returned after college — for love was something that didn’t need a whole lot of mulling-over. Some of my friends thought I was out of my mind; my mother didn’t take it well. But love is love, and when I closed the door to my East 57th Street apartment behind me, I could only look, and move, forward. It’s the right thing, my father said to me. It’s love, and love is love. 

Two years after I left New York, on a murky Sunday wet with humidity, my father and his longtime companion were in a car accident that was ultimately fatal for him. I was grief-stricken — am grief-stricken, even now; grief has no time limits or cut-offs, despite the earnest nudgings of well-meaning family members to move forward, to get on with things — and I turned to writing as a way to breathe again. It was all I could do; that, and build my new life together in another state, with my love. Eventually, after three years in a charming small town that had just gotten its first stoplight in 1996, we decided to move closer to New York; Susan had begun working at Random House and couldn’t make the commute from so far away. I was writing for anyone who would let me: newspapers, magazines, websites. I worked as a ghostwriter, a travel writer, a political writer, a restaurant reviewer, a cookbook writer.

You should try food blogging, one of my friends said. There’s this woman out in Seattle who just started doing it.

I looked at her blog; I was instantly captivated by her sense of fun, her bravery, her way of writing about food that was utterly immediate and elemental. I loved her honesty and kindness. She too, I learned, had recently lost her father, and had turned to blogging as a way through her grief. And, in the scores of readers like me who waited for her next post to go up so that I/we would be compelled to cook something that I/we ordinarily wouldn’t (a flan; an egg and tomato gratin; a walnut cake) was a guy — a curly-haired musician who lived on the other side of the country. They found each other on line, as it were, in the way that Susan and I had, years earlier. Mostly. MW by Kyle Johnson Molly Wizenberg and I met, eventually, when we were both speakers at the Professional Food Writer’s Symposium at the Greenbrier. At this point, I was already a dedicated reader of Orangette, and when we said hello I turned into a yammering, stammering, blithering idiot; she was gracious and kind, and a little shy, and she smiled a lot. I thought about her name, Wizenberg—probably, I guessed, from the German, Weisen-berg — and that it translates to mountains of wise men. I read her first book, A Homemade Life. And then I read it again and again, over and over, crying like a damned fool every time. And then laughing, and smiling. And cooking. This, I realized, was life: crying and laughing and smiling. And cooking.

When my late mother-in-law and I were at one of the lowest points in our relationship I baked her Molly’s Hearts and Minds Cake. There was nothing else to do; it saved us, and we moved forward.

Molly’s story is now well-known; she blogged brilliantly, long before blogging was a household word. She met a lovely, kind man, and he left the east coast for Seattle, and they married. But I don’t think anyone would have predicted that, all these years later, she and Brandon would have opened up a pizza restaurant that they were going to call Delancey. I remember her telling me about it in its earliest days.

A pizza restaurant, I thought. How nice. 

I’m from New York — Manhattan by way of Forest Hills, where I grew up with the best pizza in the city literally across the street from my apartment — and so when Molly told me about this place that she and Brandon were opening, I smiled and quietly wondered what the hell they were getting themselves into.

Opening up a restaurant, like love, is a romantic notion, until you do it; instead of cranky exes hovering in the wings waiting to pounce, you have to deal with permits and ovens and tiling and payroll systems and dishwashers and sous chefs and front of house and food deliveries and the one enigmatic character who invariably shows up in the kitchen and turns it, literally, upside down. The act of opening up a restaurant is like giving birth to a baby with an anger management problem; you never know when it’s going to rage, or coo, or rip off its diaper and hurl it at an unsuspecting passer-by. With luck, the end product is so gorgeous, so delicious — so stunning — that the crazy process grows misty and faint, and all you can do is look back at it and know that every drop of sweat and blood that went into it made it what it is.

One weekend shortly after Delancey opened, I flew out to Seattle and Molly fed me Brandon’s pizza and I stopped rolling my eyes. I stopped talking. Here was this man — not a trained chef — who, together, with his wife and against all possible odds, created the best pizza I had ever tasted; his process was honest and pure, his ingredients were honest and pure, and he sourced them as though they were worth their weight in gold.

To this day, it is the finest pizza I have ever tasted anywhere — including New York — produced with focus and attention and a level of integrity that, in a world crawling with poseurs, is hard to find. Sitting at the front counter at Delancey next to Molly, with Brandon in the kitchen sliding gorgeous pies into a blazingly-hot oven, I looked around on my first visit and realized that this was it; this was Molly and Brandon in their life together, moving forward, stepping into their next phase as a couple and a part of their community, in love with the food and the process and everything they had built together. Delancey was their pre-June baby — with all its ups and downs and twists and turns.

It was the right thing, like my father had once told me; love is love.

I was deeply honored to read Delancey-the-book in its earliest inception; Molly’s newest memoir, and the story of the birth of the restaurant during the freshest days of her life together with Brandon is not only the tale of one couple building a dream. It’s the story of building a dream when you don’t even know that that dream is, in fact, your dream; it’s about risk-taking and trust and what it means to put one foot in front of the other and walk through the next stage of your life with the person you adore.

Back in 2004, swimming through a sea of grief, looking for a toehold and something to hang on to that was fast and true in the face of the unknown, I found Molly’s work; her writing, her story, and her food steadied me then, and I still turn to it now when I’m out there, flailing around, unsure of what’s real and what isn’t. Delancey is the delicious tale of Molly’s next chapter; my copy, dog-eared and already falling apart, is a joy to read and re-read.

Thanks Molly, for sharing your world with us. x

{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

1 mimijk May 30, 2014 at 3:42 pm

Once I am done writing this, I will download “Delancey” to my Kindle. Your love for her, her writing and the story of the romance of a restaurant make the prospect of reading it delectable. What a lovely – and loving – testament to your very talented friend Molly..

2 Molly May 30, 2014 at 3:45 pm

Oh, my friend! Oh oh oh. Thank YOU.

3 Linda Laird May 30, 2014 at 4:07 pm

Ordered the book! Subscribed to the blog. You’ve made my day again.

P.S. We are still eating lemon chicken with olives at least once a week. Pure comfort food every time. That’s what my family says. Thanks for being you.

4 Elissa May 30, 2014 at 4:42 pm

no, Molly, YOU! xx

5 Elissa May 30, 2014 at 4:42 pm

Thank you Linda–So glad you’ve found Molly. She’s wonderful.

6 gluttonforlife May 30, 2014 at 5:01 pm

That is not faint praise. Your writing inspires.

7 Elizabeth May 30, 2014 at 5:48 pm

It’s already on my bookshelf waiting for me. School is almost over….!!!!

8 Wendy Read May 30, 2014 at 6:00 pm

Oh Elissa, what a beautiful tribute to Molly 🙂 I must, must purchase her latest book then. I want to write just like you to when I grow up too. XO

9 Wendy May 30, 2014 at 6:02 pm

So much enjoy reading both you and Molly – food is so woven in life and love and you both have such an unpretentious flair for describing the connections. Delancey was a great read. I really didn’t want to put it down.

10 Carol Penn-Romine May 30, 2014 at 6:26 pm

I had the good fortune to meet both you and Molly during that same week at the Greenbrier, and I treasure the conversations we had. I find that your (your as in second person plural!) writing helps restore me when my creative energy is flagging and I need to be reminded of the power of good writing.

In a lovely and amazing coincidence, I was in San Francisco the week after Delancey hit the shelves, and I stopped into Book Passage, my fav bookstore there, to see if I could pick up a copy. Not only did they have huge stacks of her book, but at the moment I walked in, Molly herself was there, talking to a standing-room-only crowd. What a treat it was to witness the love and regard her readers have for her.

Molly’s one-in-a-million, and so are you, Elissa.

Thanks & huge hugs to you both,
p.s. We ate at Delancey last fall, and yes, that’s the best pizza I’ve ever had.

11 Elissa May 30, 2014 at 6:43 pm

That was a fun Greenbrier Carol, and it was great to meet you too! And yes, Delancey is extraordinary; the preserved Meyer lemon ricotta pie makes me weep.

12 Carol Penn-Romine May 30, 2014 at 7:21 pm

Alas, we didn’t leave room for dessert. But next time I’ll pace myself better…

13 Kathleen May 30, 2014 at 11:57 pm

I live in Seattle and first ran into her at the zoo, with June. i was a complete idiot. I didn’t even introduce myself as a reader, I think I just said something like, “OMG! Molly and June!” She was smart enough to figure it out, I’m sure. I mostly just swooned and stammered.

I agree about Delancey’s pizza, too. Best I’ve had in Seattle! Also, I never leave without dessert. The Meyer lemon budino makes me wish I had a giraffe’s tongue. If it were closer to my house, I’d have a hard time not being there weekly. As is, I feel thankful to get to partake somewhat regularly. (Another high compliment- my brother’s an officer on a ship and when he gets back from sea, Delancey is where he wants to be.)

14 Bette May 31, 2014 at 8:40 am

Because I love YOUR book and YOUR writing so much, I’m thrilled when you recommend others — I trust your judgment! Really looking forward to opening this new box of presents — Orangette, A Homemade Life, and Delancey.

15 Gail May 31, 2014 at 11:36 am

This is such a personal, beautiful post about a magnificent book.
I love how you write about your Susan, Elissa.

16 Valeria May 31, 2014 at 4:47 pm

I also read ‘A Homemade Life’ in a difficult time in my life, and it brought so many things into perspective, and helped me externalise my emotions by leading me to the kitchen. I never had the luck to meet Molly in person, but her writing has the power to reach people and make her readers feel like they have known her forever. What a gift she has – and yo do, too. Thank you for this beautiful read about Delancey, it is on its way to my home right now and I am truly looking forward to holding it in my hands. x

17 Elissa May 31, 2014 at 5:00 pm

Thank you Gail – x

18 Melissa Bujtor June 1, 2014 at 1:40 am

A beautiful post written by one of my all time inspirations about one of my all time inspirations. I have ordered my copy of Delancey and am waiting, impatiently!

19 Liz June 2, 2014 at 9:49 pm

Thank you Elissa, I love your writing and can’t wait to take your advice and pick up a copy of Delancy and start reading Orangette!
Is there another book in your future? If so can’t wait.

20 Elissa June 2, 2014 at 10:40 pm

Hi Liz, yes, my next book, Treyf: A Love Story of Hunger and Transgression, is coming out in 2015! Thanks!

21 Deb Futa June 4, 2014 at 4:58 pm

You’ve said everything I might have ever thought to say about Molly’s blog and books and her writing in general. I discovered her blog before I found yours.

But yours is right up there with hers. Thank you for such lovely work.

22 Elissa June 4, 2014 at 5:20 pm

Thanks Deb-

23 Anitra June 5, 2014 at 7:00 am

Here in Oz (australia), food blogs are a great way of connecting with the world & I have been avidly reading yours & Orangette for a long time. I was lucky reading you guys before other blogs- I thought all food blogs were so well written, inspiring, from the heart & full of fabulous food. I have loved reading your books (just ordered Delancey to sit on the shelf with my copies of a Handmade Life & Poor Man’s feast)- books to reread , ponder & cook from! Thank goodness for ordering books by the internet. Look forward to reading your next one!

24 Elissa June 5, 2014 at 9:34 am

Thank you so much Anitra—It’s funny, I feel the same way about the books and blogs coming out of AU and NZ- I just ordered My Darling Lemon Thyme and it appears to be arriving by the slowest boat possible. Sigh. Oh well! Thank you again and I’m so glad you’re enjoying PMF and Orangette!

25 Evangeline June 13, 2014 at 1:06 am

I look forward to each new post you put up here; it’s always a highlight for me when there’s a new one, which is oddly enough why I don’t subscribe–for the feeling of unexpected happiness when I check in several times a week, and once in a while there’s something new.
I was deeply touched by this post, particularly what you wrote in the second paragraph about your father:
“I was grief-stricken — am grief-stricken, even now; grief has no time limits or cut-offs, despite the earnest nudgings of well-meaning family members to move forward, to get on with things — and I turned to writing as a way to breathe again.”
This is the place I am at right now, though some days I feel even my ability to write has failed me. It’s so hard when people think you should be over it already, even if they don’t say it in so many words.
Thank you for the encouragement, the hope, and I will dig out Molly’s first book, which I bought last year but have not yet read. I think I will love it.

26 Elissa June 13, 2014 at 7:35 am

I’m so sorry Evangeline—So sorry that you’re going through this. Will ping you privately. x

27 Mallory June 13, 2014 at 3:59 pm

Both you and Molly are who I turn to for honest, straight from the heart writing and recipes that are always winners. Thank you.

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