At the end of the road was Best Desi Pizza.
The darkness of Bascom and Dry Creek Road triggered the resurrection of Raj De Niro, the legendary half-eastern, half-western observer of local lore. Legendary in my own head, of course.
The phenomenon of Raj De Niro first crystallized at Punjab Cafe in downtown San Jose, where years ago, on a filled-up lunchtime day, the proprietors give me a separate table in an adjacent space normally off limits, making me feel like De Niro in Manhattan. That is, San Jose finally seemed like a real urban place, so I conjured up Raj De Niro and then surfaced at various South Bay Indian eateries to more properly harmonize the eastern and western halves of myself.
This time, Raj De Niro shuffled into Best Desi Pizza, tucked away in a tiny stripmall, on a suburban stretch of South Bascom that relentlessly changes as every decade rolls by. I will get to the Tandoori Pizza in a moment, but first allow me to contemplate the atrocities all along Bascom, which any native will not even recognize these days.
After 500 years, Kirk’s Burgers is now across the street at a different location. Down past the former Heathkit store, closer to Tower Records, even the Denny’s looks like it might now open back up across the street at a different location. So much grim-looking but necessary housing is sprouting up everywhere. It’s impossible to ignore. The travesty of Guitar Showcase now in some tiny version of its previous self is hard to accept at first.
Some things don’t change, of course. As I walked around, a dude waiting for the 61 sat there at the bus stop with a pint of Fireball and a liter of orange juice, both of which he apparently just pulled out of his backpack. It looked straight outta Campbell circa 1986. Also, as I continued along the pavement, it became obvious that certain musicians who played at Puma’s and Smokey Mountain 35 years ago were now construction workers right down the street.
This entire stretch of Bascom is also populated with oddball standalone office complexes, two- or three-story buildings, each one different and filled with mortgage brokers, accountants, various medical practices or even said construction offices. It’s a wonderful janky mixed-up clutter of buildings, a stretch of road that, especially at nighttime, exudes a fabulous suburban noir type of feel. It’s dark and barely illuminated. There are no pedestrians. Looking south, all you see is Bascom barreling off into the darkness, with the Los Gatos foothills in the distance. I love it, even despite the absence of long-gone dive bars like the Escape, the Pot Belly Saloon, or even Double Vision if you get all the way into Gatos, right where Highway 85 now exists.
But wait!—I hear you cry. Court’s Lounge still remains. Correct. There is no such thing as Bascom and Dry Creek without Court’s Lounge. Hooray!
Over at Best Desi Pizza, though, Raj De Niro needed a Tandoori Chicken Pizza, for precisely the aforementioned harmonization of opposites. This place was Magoo’s Pizza for at least 30 years before the South Asian diaspora bought it and thus renamed it Best Desi. The signage says both Magoo’s and Best Desi. Perfect.
The Tandoori Pizza will not be featured in Gourmet Magazine or anything similar, but I devoured the whole damn thing in a few minutes. It was a healing process.
Of course, the Italian-Punjabi experience goes much deeper than Bascom and Dry Creek. It goes all the way back to the nineteenth century. After the Napoleonic Wars, an Italian general, Paolo Avitabile, migrated eastward and eventually landed in Punjab to work for the legendary Maharaja Ranjit Singh, head of the Sikh Empire. This was common in those days. Generals with nothing left to do in Europe became freelancers or mercenaries or both. After the Sikhs took over Peshawar, Avitabile became governor of the whole area. His palace is still there somewhere.
The Tandoori Pizza at Best Desi thus reconnected me with historical fusions of Italy and Punjab. It made the dreary suburban landscape of Bascom and Dry Creek much more fascinating, even if Guitar Showcase is only a shell of its former self. As I departed Best Desi, I vowed to return.