NOTE: Please play the following song in the background as you read this. Cue the music!
Today I’m taking you back in time. Back to the early 1990’s. My brother and I were in elementary school in Connecticut.
Something we would always look forward to, which has become a tradition for over 20 years now, is going to what was then known as Pizzeria UNO.
Whenever my uncle and grandfather would visit from Brooklyn, we would ride over to UNO in the car, usually taking the backroads through the scenic woods of CT. The song you’re listening to from the top of this post would play sometimes, on full blast (Especially as one of my good friends from childhood has that name, and it would be played in honor of her).
We would ride to UNO in good old Fairfield, CT. Sadly, this location, and all of the CT locations, are now closed. This restaurant really takes you into a different world. Back then, there were different “theme tables” you could sit at, and see the homage to the Windy City through pictures. Not that I realized it then, but it truly was a history lesson.
When we would get together, there would always be laughs, and stories told. The food order would be pretty much the same: a Chi Town Tasting Plate (pictured: an appetizer sampler consisting mostly of mozzarella sticks, French fries, buffalo wings and boneless chicken “thumbs”), and either one of the pizzas or pasta dishes. I had a tradition, that I still do to this day, of dipping the fries in the buffalo sauce.
For dessert as a kid, I would order the “Smart Cookie” sundae, which was a sundae with chocolate chip cookies in it. My uncle and brother got in on a way to trick me as a child. They would quiz me with these trick questions that of course they would know, and I wouldn’t. My friend Maggie caught on and called them out on it one time. I look back at those days and smile (that dessert is no longer).
Over the years, the tradition has changed. Friends enter and leave your life, along with family.
May my grandfather rest in peace.
Two decades later, fast forward to last night.
My uncle, brother, my best friend and I got together at what is now known as UNO Pizzeria & Grill here in Brooklyn.
To give you a quick background of what I’m about to get into, lets talk about menu changes.
Over the past few years, UNO has gone through changes. Significant changes. An upswing on “brighter”, healthier items. The option of healthier pizza crusts, for instance. This isn’t a bad thing at all. Actually, I applaud UNO for taking those chances.
But last night, I noticed something a very significant change, and we called it out to our waitress.
The Chi Town Tasting Plate, which we have ordered for decades, was gone.
Now sure, the items on the tasting plate have certainly been switched in and out over the years. The last time I had it (a few weeks ago, actually), there was an addition of fresh made guacamole and chips, and a shrimp skewer.
But not last night. There is now an “UNO Sampler,” consisting of buffalo chicken quesadillas, onion rings, fried zucchini, and chips with pico de gallo, guacamole and sour cream.
“WHAT THE HECK?!” was my thought last night.
We asked the waitress about it, and she explained how UNO has decided to switch things up and replace the tasting plate with this.
Well, we tried that sampler, semi-resistant to this change.
Plain and simple: it wasn’t the same. The items on the sampler itself were overall good, except I really think it could really do without the zucchini (which to me, tasted more like zucchini slices covered in big bread crumbs baked in an oven).
We took this trip down memory lane last night with our waitress. We spoke about the menu changes at UNO over the years, and she explained what goes into those menu changes. It could be anything from a corporate decision, to a decision based on the number of sales on a certain dish.
It almost felt like the end of an era last night. Many things were the same, but so many things were different. Change can be good, but this menu change shocked us last night.
As I look back on childhood in the 90’s and as you finish listening to “Maggie May,” I conclude that this post is an ode to that tradition, the Chi Town Tasting Plate. May you cherish your traditions in food, and if they are no longer, look back and smile at them.
We look back on you fondly, Chi Town Tasting Plate. And maybe, just maybe, it will be brought back to life.