Thursday, May 12, 2016

New England Traditions Collide in Somerville Pizza Joint

“Hi there. My name’s John and I’ll be your server tonight.” John is in his late twenties, tall and lean with long hair pulled back into a loose knot at the back of his head, and a scraggly beard just a few centimeters longer that simple scruff. This description could be used for about three quarters of the guys around me. A few are standing next to two massive clay wood-fire ovens with bandanas keeping their long locks out of the stretched dough in their hands. “Think good thoughts, ” “drink local beer” and other sayings are written on the walls in a precise but free style. The Beatles’  Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da comes on over the sound system and John Lennon’s cooing harmonizes with the whoop and hollers coming across the room from the eight lanes of candlepin bowling. This is the Flatbread Company.

Raucous twenty- and thirty-year olds stand around munching pizza and slurping micro-brew beers next to parties of seated retirees with their grandchildren as the smells of burned dough and garden herbs wafts over them. The Flatbread Company began in 1998 with one location in Amesbury, Massachusetts. This company began with the goal to bring organic locally sourced food to its customers, and it relied heavily on the growth of local farms and producers to sustain its own expansion.

Between 1998 and 2016, the Flatbread Company has opened nine more locations in New England, including one at 45 Day Street Somerville, Massachusetts. Located in the building that from 1939 to 2010 was home to Sacco’s Bowl Haven bowling alley—a Boston institution to the hardcore candlepin bowlers—the Flatbread Company made sure to renovate around the candlepin lanes in order to preserve part of Boston’s history and a New England pastime.

Nothing quite yells old-time Yankee spirit like candlepin bowling. Red Sox in the summer, pond hockey in sub degree temperatures in winter, and candlepin bowling all year round. It’s a New England staple that is as much New England as Vermont Maple Syrup or clam chowder. The sport was invented in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1880. Since then New Englanders have been chucking grapefruit sized balls at small skinny sticks sixty feet away. Though at one point the Somerville Historical Preservation Commission says that you could take your pick from four different bowling alleys around Davis Square, Sacco’s was the lone survivor. 

Bowl Haven was a smoky pool hall with ten bowling alleys that had been in the Sacco family for four generations until 2010. At one time there were nineteen Sacco bowling alleys in the Boston area alone, but over time this number dwindled down to just the Davis Square location. This was a place where a shoe rental cost $1.50, and a lane was $3.00 ($2.75 on weekday mornings and afternoons). No food or alcohol was sold because this was bowling for Spartans with a thirst for hitting things with balls.

Sacco's Bowl Haven motto said it all, “we've got small balls, but we're big on fun.”

Nowadays there is a slightly different motto inscribed on the wall. The Flatbread company’s motto “renew their spirit” holds no reference to bowling, but to their organic and locally sourced pizzas and salads, Managing Partner Evan Fetras explains. Free-range chicken, nitrate-free meats and organic vegetables top the wood-fired pizzas offered in organic wheat or gluten-free crusts. New Hampshire’s Peace of Mind Baking Company supplies the gluten-free, vegan crusts, made with *Brown Rice Flour, *Garbanzo Bean Flour, Arrowroot Powder, *Tapioca Flour, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, *Flax seed Meal, *Pure Cane Sugar, *Xanthum Gum, *Active Yeast, * Sea Salt, *Cider Vinegar (*Indicates Organic).

But the spartan bowling continues in this hip establishment that still has eight bowling lanes, where score is kept by hand with pencil and scorecard. The ninth and tenth lanes are no more, but instead there is a full bar where New England distilled spirits are concocted into a variety of seasonal cocktails.

“If I may, I would say that a large is good for two hungry adults,” John said in response to my friend, Nathaniel, and I deciding to split one twelve inch gluten-free pizza. John was quite astute. Both Nathaniel and I were adults and we were quite hungry. John, obviously worried that Nathaniel and I would start eyeing each others less vital limbs in fits of hunger, convinced us to get another small pizza: the Punctuated Equilibrium. What is another $12.25 to “two hungry adults.”

As John moved off I shouted, “Oh hey, how long until a lane opens up?” John looked back with a smile and said, “Oh you can count on waiting another hour.”

I looked at my watch. It was already 9:30 PM on this Sunday and the Flatbread Company closed by 10:30 PM. Oh well, at least the pizza was tasty, but I still want to hurl some balls.

The Flatbread Company Sacco’s Bowl Haven, open Monday through Saturday, 9:00 AM. to12:00 AM, and Sunday, 9 AM to 10:30 PM, is at 45 Day St., Somerville, Massachusetts. Lane rental is $25 an hour; shoe rental is $2. Pizzas range $9.75-$19.75 with gluten-free crust available for an additional $4.50. By public transportation, take an outbound MBTA Red Line train toward Alewife, and get off at Davis Square. Sacco’s accepts lane reservations for groups of eight or more; smaller groups are accommodated on a first-come, first served basis in designated walk-in-only lanes. Make reservations at 617-776-0552.

by Kit Norton