Thursday, October 28, 2010

Old (Liberian) History/New (Belmont) Pizza

Since we're about to receive a head of state visit from Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (she's speaking at the Forum) next week, I was curious about today's Banner Lecture at the VHS on the history of Liberia.

Author Marie Tyler-McGraw was speaking on the subject of her book, An African Republic: Black and White Virginians in the Making of Liberia. Frankly, I knew not nearly enough about Liberia and its history (which is always the draw of the Banner Lecture series), but given its ties to our own, I wanted to know more.

I wasn't surprised to hear that the race card was a motivating factor behind the American Colonization Society's attempts to convince free blacks to emigrate to Liberia. In the lead-up to the Civil War, it wasn't hard to see where many people would have believed that even free blacks could never be able to reach their full potential in this country due to race.

Learning that 3700 Virginians emigrated (more than any other state) there and that 60% of Liberian emigres were from Maryland and Virginia was highly surprising. This is not stuff that was in American history books when I was going to school. Would it be overly naive to hope that it is today?

A secondary reason for the push was the always-unfortunate efforts to Christianize the heathens of Africa (not that it was our business, much less right). So much for the hypocrisy of freedom of religion.

Just as offensive were the Virginians who objected to emancipated slaves going to Liberia. Why would they care? Well, naturally they didn't want to encourage emancipation and its resulting uppity emancipated class. Truly we are a state that has produced the very best and worst of men.

Tyler-McGraw's talk was highly informative and she left time for questions from the audience, usually an interesting proposition at the VHS because the audience is so informed on all things historical.

There was one attendee today who clearly had an agenda on behalf of James Madison and Lafayette and persisted in making her points rather than asking questions. I don't think I was the only one who wanted her to put a sock in it.

But as is always the case with a Banner Lecture, I left with new information, the sense of an hour well spent and a growling stomach.

So I met a friend at Belmont Pizza, over in my long-time former neighborhood, the Museum District (except back then it was just called West of the Boulevard).

The cheery little place was warm (ovens and all) but welcoming and we decided to eat at the window-side counter and take in the local passers-by, always a varied show at Patterson and Belmont.

Despite the hoopla, I couldn't commit to the potato pizza on the specials board, although my friend got a huge kick out of seeing french fries listed as a topping (steak, too). Actually he'd have tried a fry-topped pie, but it wasn't speaking to me.

Instead we ordered a white pizza with sauteed spinach, sausage and onions and sat down to wait for our pie. Our server told us that most of the trade is pick-up (no doubt neighbors), despite that they do delivery, and that we were welcome to eat in.

Despite differences in opinion as to what the optimum crust thickness should be, the flavor of the crust is sure to appeal to almost anyone. Our server had mentioned the extensive pizza-making resume of the two Italian guys creating the dough and it showed in the golden, chewy crust.

Pizza is such a personal thing so I wouldn't presume to know whether Belmont's would suit others as well as it did friend and me. But I would guess that if you like good bread, you'll probably like the crust.

If you can't put together a decent combination to go on top of that crust out of the 32 toppings offered, well I'm sorry about your bad luck.

And if it seems too daunting, just go with a fry-topped pizza for the novelty value.

For some guys I know, that would cover two entire food groups.

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