For years, Mama Gina’s Picnic Pizza on Slappey Drive has been a place of memories. Right after my son was born, I picked up food for my wife since the hospital had already served supper. Her baby shower was held there. Birthdays, anniversaries, and a whole host of events were held between those walls.
Possibly the best memory took place outside of the walls during a hospital visit that almost claimed my wife’s life just a month into our relationship. She came down with bacterial meningitis and spent a week in MICU at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital. She was sick, and the first day or two they weren’t sure she would survive, but she did. The next week she spent on a regular floor, and I decided that we needed a “date night”. I clued the nursing staff in on my nefarious plot. They wheeled in a TV and VCR. I brought movies and sandwiches from Mama Gina’s.
My wife often describes this as the best date she has ever had. I guess it convinced her that I was a keeper.
The nature of that place has lingered on in my family. That’s why my sister-in-law’s phone call Saturday morning came as such a shock. She told my wife that Vinny, the owner, was closing the doors forever Sunday night. He was retiring.
Plans were immediately made to meet up with the in-laws later that day. My son, all of 9 years old, took his digital camera. It was a Christmas present from my father, and one he’s gotten plenty of use out of. The flash kept spots dancing across our eyes, but they weren’t the cause of any watering of those eyes.
My father-in-law has spent enough time in Mama Gina’s to probably qualify as furniture, so Vinny came out to speak with us. He mentioned his grand plans for a leisurely vacation across Europe. Amsterdam, Sweden, Germany, and, of course, Italy, all will play host to Vinny and Gina, who haven’t been able to go out to lunch for over 30 years.
Everywhere I go, talk of food eventually finds its way towards a discussion of Sicilian pizza from Mama Gina’s. Admittedly, I typically guide it that direction. Even a documentary about pizza on the History Channel was sufficient to cause my wife and I to look at one another an utter just one word to communicate that our cravings were mutual: Vinny’s.
Fettuccini Alfredo, steak and cheese subs, calzones, and of course pizzas were all devoured by yours truly. That may not sound like much, but I’m also the kind of guy who typically orders the exact same thing each time I visit a restaurant. Each place may have a different favorite, but I’m not known for my love of variety in cuisine. But Mama Gina’s was different. I ate it all, and I loved it all as well.
I won’t pretend that I’m not a little heartbroken to know that Vinny is closing up shop. However, his brother-in-law has the Picnic Pizza in Northwest Albany and I’ve been assured that I’ll enjoy it just as much. I have no doubt the food will be as outstanding as what I’ve come to enjoy over the years.
The memories, on the other hand, just won’t be the same. That said, I wish Vinny and Gina the best of luck. I hope they enjoy their retirement. If anyone’s earned it, it’s them. Best of luck to you, Vinny and Gina. An awful lot of folks are going to miss you.
PHOTOS BY ROBBY KNIGHTON
Long time Mama Gina’s customer Cheyenne Musgrove with owner Vinny Mannino hug each other for the camera.
Mama Gina’s sign
Written by Tom Knighton. Read his blog at TomKnighton.com, as well as SWGAPolitics.com. A lifelong political junkie, Tom started out his adult life as a journalism major at Darton College before leaving school to serve his nation as a U.S. Navy Corpsman. Through the years, he has watched government from outside and inside. A former Reagan supporter, then later a Democrat, Tom now finds himself quite comfortable as a card carrying Libertarian and currently serves as Chairman of the Libertarian Party of Southwest Georgia.