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Bob Keyes

Bob Keyes has written about the arts in Maine since 2002. He’s never been much an artist himself, other than singing in junior high school chorus and acting in a few musicals. But he’s attended museums, theaters, clubs and concert halls all his life, and cites Bob Dylan as most influential artist of any kind since Picasso. He lives in Berwick.

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Posted: November 28, 2017

It’s not Italy, but Westbrook House of Pizza gives reason to imagine the possibilities

Written by: Bob Keyes
The Westbrook House of Pizza: Better on the inside. Photos by Bob Keyes Photo by Bob Keyes

The Westbrook House of Pizza: Better on the inside.
Photos by Bob Keyes

After a week in Italy, I learned to appreciate the art and craft of slow food, of savoring pleasurable bites and turning the obligations of lunch and dinner into daily sacred rituals.

If I could bottle anything from that vacation and bring it home to Maine, it would be the Italians’ attitude toward food. In my experience, food there is a simple pleasure and an opportunity for social interaction with the people you are with, the people nearby and the waitstaff. The restaurants served pasta al dente with fresh, simple sauces, chewy loaves of bread and modest salads of leafy lettuces, tomatoes and olives. It wasn’t fancy or pretentious, but celebratory in its basic goodness, wholesomeness and blessedly slow pace.

We were never hurried and always had to ask for the check — and felt guilty doing so.

All of which brings me to the Westbrook House of Pizza on a blustery late-fall day, when I had, at the most, 25 minutes to grab lunch before heading to downtown Portland for an early-afternoon appointment.

Against my better judgment and conflicting with my newfound appreciation of relaxing with my food, I needed anything but slow. I needed fast, and I craved something wholesome and hearty. Westbrook House of Pizza was a perfect spot, under the circumstances.

It’s a fairly nondescript place from the outside, facing Main Street with a cookie-cutter brick front and green awning. I noticed the halal market next door.

The meatball parmesan grinder, $7.25.

The meatball parmesan grinder, $7.25.

I went in to the pizza place with the intention of ordering pizza – a large half pepperoni, half cheese – and knew I would have enough time to eat a couple of slices for lunch and take the rest home for dinner. But for reasons that can only be explained by the temptation of the moment, I ordered a meatball Parmesan grinder – a meatball sub, with melted cheese ($7.25). I was mindful of the time, and a sub seemed easier and quicker than a pizza.

I had limitless choices of things I like: Italian dinners, hot subs and sandwiches, gyros, cheeseburgers and, on this day, a Thanksgiving-themed turkey plate.

I sat at the bar, admired the array of decent tap beers (including one of my favorites, the Sebago Frye’s Leap IPA) and noted the sports-bar theme. There are three TVs. One was turned to NESN, the other two were on ESPN and ESPN2. Championship banners of the Patriots, Red Sox, Celtics and Bruins hang on the walls.

There are tables and booths, and few seats at the bar. It felt comfortable to me, and I would have gladly gathered there with friends to watch a game had the hour been later. Like most good small-town pizza joints, much of the business here seems to come from take-out customers. While I waited 10 minutes or so for my sandwich, the phone rang steadily and several people came in to place orders and pick up food they had ordered by phone.

It was very busy. I ate my sandwich at the bar, quickly.

It was served in a plastic basket, lined with wax paper. The sandwich was cut in two, each half with three meatballs in a piping hot red sauce. The bread was warm and chewy, and the sauce tasted tangy and homemade, but was very hot in temperature. While the sandwich cooled, I ate a meatball with a fork, and appreciated its slow-cooked tenderness and spices. It was moist and mild. The cheese was melted with stringy perfection.

I enjoyed my sandwich very much, even though it was a bit of a mess. The roll didn’t hold up to the six meatballs, and the sauce never really cooled enough, at least not in my hurried time frame. I ate most of it with a knife and fork, which helped me slow down and consider every bite. It didn’t quite take me back to Italy, but it did make me appreciate the efficiency of this sandwich — a single, simple transaction in the midst of a busy day for the pizza place and the customer, well executed and appreciated.

Westbrook House of Pizza

WHERE: 1 Westbrook Common, No. 4, 591-0577; westbrookhouseofpizza.com
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. daily
WAIT: 10 to 15 minutes
PARKING: Parking in nearby lot and on the street
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes

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