Maybe this has happened to you. You make a friend. The kind that would lie to the IRS for you. And would ask you to dance but not complain when you started flailing. Someone you could casually show your tan line. You listen to each other speak and it all makes sense, this common thread, this shared laughter and you can't imagine your life without this friend because somehow they've become woven into this tapestry that is your life, a way in which you identify yourself... I am so-and-so's friend. You pinkie swear nothing will ever come between you. And then something does. Not a fight. Or an affair. Or a suitcase full of money. Nothing quite that HBO. But you grow apart, and that slight, shivery crack becomes a gap, a canyon and then you find yourself, after one too many martinis, wondering "what ever happened to so-and-so."
Passing through Albuquerque, on the way home to the parents, I couldn't resist. I had to find out what happened to one of those friends, who for years was high on the phone tree, part of the first wave of calls for a party or movie night, the guy whose girlfriend eyed me with a mix of curiosity and death threat because, yeah...we were that close.
Turns out, Stewart the Wine Steward has put his money where his mouth is and launched Farina Pizzeria hands down the best pie in Albuquerque or Corrales (yeah, I know there's some marinara snobs out there in the country.) Back when I was a Barfly and Stewart was the wine guy at Artichoke Cafe, he used to polish the Reidel wine glasses and tell me his dream of someday owning a little somethin-somethin of his very own. Well, he must have been hiding a serious set of balls behind that long, woody bar because sure enough...smack in the middle of what may well be a long and painful recession, the man pulled the trigger. Cheers to fearlessness. And following your dream. And ignoring the naysayers.
By the looks of the crowd on a recent Monday night, I don't think the joint will have to worry about diminishing portfolios because we were lucky to get a table. And in a tip to tradition, Stewart trotted out a delicious bottle from his private stash, a 2002 Don Marcello from Puglia. We were, however, tempted by the beer since Farina carries our new favorite IPA from Marble. Sorry Rogue Beer People...consider yourself humbled.
In no time, the pizzas arrived, their crusts perfectly thin and lightly blistered. The Bianco -- fresh mozzarella, parmigiano, ricotta, truffle oil, sage and the Fungi -- wild mushrooms, fontina, tellegio (I think it's a cheese named after a sex act), thyme, roasted shallots. Wow. Really. That's all I can say. His apprenticeship at Portland's Apizza Scholls paid off. He's now officially Mr. Pizza Man.
We will, however, miss our Wine Whisperer. When the girls and I hunkered down in the corner booth on any given Friday, clutching beaded bags and showing off our new slingbacks, Stewart the Wine Steward always used his mojo. Most wine guys ask you what varietals you like or how much you want to spend. But Steward would ask for the details of your day, take your temperature, measure your emotions..."I can't believe I make my living helping corporations sell useless shit, that Camus was right when he said there is no meaning in meaning, and my back hurts just thinking about it while I lie awake next to a very nice man who is my husband yet somehow I am so desperately lonely even though I own a closet full of fabulous shoes. How did I get so far from what I thought I would be?" He'd take this in, duck into the wine cellar and return with a sweet little gem from Piemonte. Or South Africa. Or Napa. Or New Zealand. Or Israel. That tasted like, "I hate advertising (minerals, clay), but I'm still hopeful that good change can happen (soft tannins, velvety finish) and love will find a way (slightly fruit forward). He never picked wrong. He always knew our mood. And didn't judged us for it. No wonder Wine Spectator loves him.
Plus, let's not forget his life raft qualities. Not only did Stewart make us eat our meat and be nice to our vegetables when we were blue and trying to disappear by not eating, he never flinched when we sobbed bar side or needed a lift home after riding the wave of a nasty divorce by swimming in a Sea of Syrah. He just handed us a tissue and regularly told us what we needed to hear. "This is a bump, sweetie, a bad bump, but not the end, just a different beginning. You got it all going on. And someday, you'll see that, too."
Thanks, Hon. We do and we have.
And although I'm quite certain our friendship is no more, Mr. Pizza Man, I love you just the same. It's one of those dog qualities you always admired.