The other day my inbox “pinged” and I saw a message from an old friend who was outraged. His message said, “Can you believe they closed your restaurant and for nothing?”
Below the message was a link to a newspaper article about Stewart’s plans for the old Smith’s Tavern property in Voorheesville. Now I of course didn’t own Smitty’s, my friend only said that because for the last 20 years they had a pizza on the menu named after me. Before I get to what’s happening with the property, let me explain how the pizza came to be.
When I was a young reporter in the early 90’s I did a weekly TV segment called “John on the Job.” Each week I’d go out into the community and try to do a job I was not trained for. It became quite popular because more often than not I was terrible at whatever I tried and there was the serious chance I might hurt myself. Viewers love it when TV people fall down and go boom. I recall falling off a garbage truck as one of my greatest moments.
Over the course of a couple years I tried my hand as a firefighter, a high-rise window washer, a hockey player and I even got up at 3 a.m. to help make the donuts at Dunkin. That job went so badly the manager asked me to leave before my shift was up; something about my donuts looking deformed. It’s the only time I was ever kicked off a job site. I also decided to learn how to make the perfect pizza, which leads us back to Smith’s Tavern.
I called around to a few restaurants seeing if someone would be crazy enough to let me near their stove and the folks at Smith’s said “sure.” I tossed the dough around like the chef does in the movies and used that long handled spatula to put the pies in and out of the hot oven. It was all good fun. When I thought I was done the owner told me to make up a pie with all my favorite toppings and if it wasn’t too disgusting he’d put it on the menu for a week as a kind of gag for the customers.
So I stretched the dough, spread the sauce and cheese and then put the following ingredients on top- pepperoni, sausage, garlic, peppers, onions and broccoli. Why broccoli? So you could tell your doctor you were trying to eat healthy of course.
The owner was true to his word and put the pizza on the menu with my name on it and then something unexpected happened. People loved it. A week turned into a month and eventually a year and for the next 20 years or so the “John Gray Pizza” sat on that menu and became one of their best sellers.
Jump ahead to more recent times and many in Voorheesville were upset to learn that Stewart’s was buying up the property and Smitty’s would close. I didn’t speak to the owners at the time but I think they were ready to relax and retire and Stewart’s made a financial offer stronger than the garlic on my pie. The plan was to knock Smitty’s down and put up a brand new Stewart’s shop with gas pumps.
The latest news is Stewart’s couldn’t get permission from town officials to do all the things they wanted to do so they are cutting their losses and moving on. Now my friend who sent the email was mad because in his mind the “John Gray Pizza” would still be around had Stewart’s never come along. I told him two things. First, there’s no guarantee that’s true. And the second, all good things must come to an end. Tom Brady will eventually retire, Elvis had to leave us and even my gourmet pizza had to go to that big cardboard box in the sky.
I’ve noticed a lot of places I went to as a kid are no longer around, replaced by chain restaurants or tumbleweeds. One of my favorite places sat on the east side of Troy and was called the “Apple Knocker.” And before you ask, NO, I did not make that name up. I remember my mom and dad taking us kids there if we were extra good and there was money left over after paying the bills. It was a rare treat. Same was true with a place called “Jamie’s Fish Fry” on Second street in South Troy.
Two of my favorites from childhood are still around thank goodness; Jack’s Drive In and the Red Front. No summer is complete without a slider and fries at Jack’s and I just recently had lunch with my brothers at Red Front where we chowed down on their famous COB pizza. If you have no idea what that is you are missing out on one of life’s little treasures. So Smitty’s is gone but the COB pizza lives on. I suppose we take life’s little pleasures as we find them and try not to think of all that is lost. Even the ones that reek of fresh garlic.
John Gray is a news anchor on WXXA-Fox TV 23 and ABC’S WTEN News Channel 10. His column is published every Wednesday. Email him at [email protected].