- Associated Press - Sunday, January 10, 2016

MARIETTA, Ga. (AP) - Hoboken, New Jersey, is known as “The Mile Square City” and is as packed with history and celebrity as a place so compact can be.

It’s where the first officially recorded baseball game was played in 1846.

Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Mystery of Marie Roget” was famously set in Hoboken’s Sybil Cave.

In addition to being the birthplace of baseball and durable companies Maxwell House and Hostess, Hoboken has produced a lengthy list of well-known sons and daughters. Notables include filmmaker John Sayles, World Series pitcher Johnny Kucks, actor Joe Pantoliano (“The Sopranos”), Titanic survivor Dorothy Gibson, Watergate co-conspirator G. Gordon Liddy, photography pioneer (and famed paramour of artist Georgia O’Keefe) Alfred Stieglitz and a game-changer of a singer named Frank Sinatra.

John Bruce “Johnny” Pizza, 50, is co-owner of Marietta’s Hoboken Cafe. When he and business partner Roger Diaz, 38, opened the eatery in 2013 they wanted to serve up the authentic taste and feeling of family food from the little city on the Hudson River.

Pizza’s personal history is worthy of his New Jersey hometown. He’s been a limousine driver, business owner, security detail for celebrity friends, restaurateur and, for almost a decade, the “fixer” (all around attache) for Frank Sinatra, Jr.

His family moved from Hoboken to Marietta when his brother, now Dr. Bradford Pizza, studied at Life College.

“I always had a base in Georgia,” Pizza says, “I always felt comfortable here and kept up with things in Marietta.”

After living on both coasts and Las Vegas, Pizza returned to take care of his mother when she had a trio of health tragedies in unison: a stroke, a bad fall and a heart attack. Not expecting her to survive, Pizza packed up his life to be by her side. That was 2008. She’s still living in Marietta and he’s still tending to the woman he calls “strong and positive.”

“She’s doing well,” he says with a smile.

Not one to sit still, even after retiring from traveling and working around the world, he opened the Hoboken Cafe.

The casual and neatly appointed space on Whitlock is dotted with decor referencing Hoboken, its well-known inhabitants and innovators. A hallway is lined with photos of Pizza mingling with a dizzying Who’s Who: Presidents Clinton, Ford and Reagan, Robin Williams, Carol Channing, Liberace (whom he calls “Lee”), Henny Youngman, Debbie Reynolds, Carol Burnett, Tom Hanks, Brad Pitt, Patrick Swayze and Frank Sinatra.

He says of Elizabeth Taylor, who once brought his birthday cake out at a celebration and family dinner in Las Vegas; “Amazing. Delightful. You felt so good around her.”

Although life placed him in the company of political and show business giants, Pizza insists that he is not a star of any kind, even in his own restaurant.

“The food is the star at Hoboken cafe,” he insists.

The menu will be instantly recognizable to anyone from the New York metropolitan area. An array of choices awaits those wanting a good meal at a good price.

Offerings include hot and cold sandwiches served on specially-made bread. Pizza has a local bakery carefully prepare it to be as near to traditional Hoboken Italian sandwich bread as possible.

Homemade mozzarella is available by the pound.

There’s delicious attention to detail in a perfectly balanced Caprese Salad, the star of which is the fresh mozzarella Pizza prepares daily.

Quality ingredients and attention to detail matter to Pizza and Diaz. Many of their recipes hearken back to 100 years ago from Hoboken’s home kitchens and eateries.

Hot dogs, salads and pasta round out the menu, in addition to daily specials like Meatball Parmesan and stuffed peppers.

Dessert is a delicate and fluffy Italian Cheesecake, flown in for the cafe and chosen because it was a favorite of Sinatra’s.

Pizza works in front of the restaurant while Diaz runs the kitchen and operations in the back.

Pizza tends to customers and makes friends in the process as people stop to say hello and get a hug.

Snippets of short conversations swirl around him; “The food was delicious,” ”Thank you for opening this restaurant,” and, from one young man, pointing to Pizza as he exits the cafe: “He’s the real deal.”

“We are not giving our customers something made out of a can,” he explains, “We are giving them food made fresh.”

Diaz and Pizza take pride in the food and casual family atmosphere of their cafe.

“We’re bringing Hoboken back in this little establishment,” Pizza smiles, “And that’s good doing.”


Information from: Marietta Daily Journal, https://mdjonline.com/

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