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Restaurant Love Letters: Pizzeria Faulisi
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Restaurant Love Letters: Pizzeria Faulisi

In this new column, contributors, readers, fellow chefs, and casual diners share their “Restaurant Love Letters.” It’s our hope that this series highlights the spirit of hospitality, the importance of restaurants and dining culture to our economy, and more critically, to the fabric of our daily lives. This is our way of saying thank you to the industry, we appreciate you, and we’ll be waiting here for you when you get back.

APRIL 22, 2020
BY NICOLE GULOTTA

We’d been driving back and forth through unfamiliar streets for four days, trying to get our bearings. When we walked into Pizzeria Faulisi one Thursday evening in November of 2018, it was less than an hour after leaving our realtor’s office, where we hovered over a mound of paperwork and frantically signed our names to submit an offer on a house.

It was a stressful afternoon—a competing offer, a rush to the bank, phone calls with our lender—adrenaline was starting to wane, making way for tired limbs, emotional swings, and of course, hunger. Pizza sounded perfect. 

Where are we? How did we get here? Did we just buy a house on the other side of the country? After glancing at the menu and spying the gleaming Italian pizza oven behind a glass wall, there was little to do but chuckle at the existential questions coming to light while we waited for our glasses of wine to arrive. And although we wouldn’t know it until later that night, the answer was yes: we did just buy a house on the other side of the country and commit to redefining what home means to us in the process. 

First out of the fire was a wedge of roasted cauliflower, charred by the embers and drizzled with creamy caesar dressing. The pies were stacked in front of us—speckled black bubbles lined a thin, tender crust spread with crushed San Marzano tomatoes and topped with Pecorino and black olives. In between bites, we recalled the chain of events that led us to board a plane in Los Angeles, where we lived, check into a hotel in a North Carolina suburb, and eat dinner at a restaurant that was poised to become part of a new family routine.

That night, we barely understood where we were in relation to anything else. It was too early to know of the expansive patio at Bond Brothers Brewery at the back of the courtyard, or kid-friendly Chatham Street Wine Market down the street (complete with crayons to occupy future oneophines), or FRESH, where we’d stop by for a scoop of birthday cake ice cream (with extra sprinkles) on a whim. 

Our last few weeks in California were a disorienting whirl. By late January we were helping settle our son into his new pre-school where he became fast friends with another newcomer who turned out to be the son of Zach and Amber Faulisi, owners of the pizza restaurant that welcomed us to town. I took it as a sign that everything would be okay. 

Not long after we moved, we started going to Pizzeria Faulisi as a family because it was one of the few places in our new town that felt familiar. After we’d seen each other enough times at school drop-off and made the connection, Amber started coming by our table to say hello, and one night she generously gifted us a plate of three cannoli stuffed with sweetened ricotta. Our son ate it with a grin on his face, licked his fingers clean, and now asks for the dessert by name whenever we visit.

In the year and a half we’ve called Cary (and nearby Raleigh) home, we’ve been on a quest to eat our way through the Triangle, getting to know its heartbeat in the process. 

When COVID-19 hit and schools were closed and businesses began enacting indefinite work-from-home policies, we watched as practically overnight our favorite restaurants began announcing take-out menus, deliveries within an eight-mile radius, online ordering, and contact-free pick-ups. Boulted Bread encouraged its always-sprawling line to maintain social distance down the block, and Brewery Bhavana hosted a one-day ordering extravaganza to clean out its inventory. Sister restaurants Jolie and Crawford & Son joined forces on a comfort food-inspired menu, and seasonally-driven Postmaster started flipping burgers as the temporary pop-up, Gov’t Cheeseburger

We started buying gift cards and calling ahead to place orders, but I couldn’t stop the rising tide of grief from swelling. My mind has been constantly thinking of all the local establishments suddenly forced to rethink everything about their business as a matter of survival, and owners and employees experiencing sleepless nights on account of an invisible virus none of us can see. 

The night we ordered pizza online for the first time, I sent my husband alone. Seeing our names printed out on the ticket, our son’s friend was waiting behind the counter to say hi, but I’d purposely stayed behind. In truth, I was too scared of bursting into tears when we picked up the boxes.

I knew early on that Pizzeria Faulisi would be one of the restaurants our son would grow up going to, imprinted in his memory. There are the times we drive over on a Wednesday night just because, or for lunch on Saturday before grabbing a beer at Bond Brothers. I know these carefree days will return eventually.

We’ve planted some roots here, that much is certain. So this is a love letter not only to the first restaurant in our new town to leave a mark on us, but to all the eerily silent dining rooms waiting to be filled again. To the latex glove-wearing servers placing paper bags in our trunks. To the chefs making us feel cared for, even in our own kitchens. To the bakeries, breweries, fish stands, and food halls where we’ve enjoyed so many globally-inspired meals and regional favorites from the Piedmont and beyond, you’ve helped a family of West Coast transplants write a new story of home. For that, I will always love you. 

Have a restaurant love letter you want to submit of your own? Reach out to us.

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