The first time I ate at Piccola Italia was years before I became a restaurant critic, so I don't have any written notes about the meal. But, for a reason that will soon become obvious, I can tell you the exact date of that visit -- Friday, Dec. 19, 1986 -- and I still vividly recall the details of the meal.
My first wife and I had moved to the Triangle a few weeks before. Our first (and, as it turns out, only) child was due any day, but we were young and in the mood for pizza. We decided to check out Piccola Italia.
As luck would have it, our waiter that night was the restaurant's owner, Frank Amato. Nowadays, you'll find Amato most nights in the kitchen, but in the restaurant's early years he frequently popped out from behind the pizza ovens to help wait on tables. That night, on seeing my wife's condition, the affable Amato immediately said, "You gotta have anchovies." He went on to explain that anchovies help ensure a quick and easy labor. I'm not sure whether he had any scientific evidence to back up his claim, or whether his theory was based on an old wives' tale from his native Sicily. Either way, we took his advice and ordered a large pizza with pepperoni and anchovies.
Long story short, a few hours later, in the wee hours of Saturday morning, I was holding a beautiful baby girl. Days later -- or so it seems -- my daughter is all grown up. She just graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill and is about to embark on an exciting new life in Tampa.
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Piccola Italia has thrived, too. The menu and wine list have grown over the years, and the dining room got a complete makeover in 2005. The pizzas are as good as ever, though, and I still stop in for an occasional pie. Just a few days ago, I took my daughter there for one last visit before she leaves for Florida. I got artichokes and Canadian bacon on my half, and she had plain cheese on hers. Maybe someday she'll come back home to visit with a husband, and I can take them to Piccola Italia and order a pizza with anchovies.