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Wada’s Pizzeria: A Reason to Visit Mataas-na-Kahoy

Although the municipality of Mataas-na-Kahoy is a mere three or four kilometres from where I live, over the last five decades, the number of times that I actually went there could at best be described as only sporadic. The reasons to go had just been few and far between; and it did not help that the town is out of the way from the perspective of my daily route to and from work.

For those not from these parts, Mataas-na-Kahoy is a cul-de-sac little town West of Lipa City which is accessible by way of a road that runs perpendicular to the national highway. It is the third smallest municipality in the province of Batangas in terms of land area and the sixth least populated.

The town proper sits just a few hundred yards past the northeastern corner of Fernando Air Base and communities on its northern fringes have a grand view of the Taal Lake. The childhood images imprinted inside my head of the town are of its deserted streets and almost eerie silence and serenity.

On a whim, I and a couple of friends decided last week to visit a pizzeria in the town owned by the family of one of my former players. The town is barely recognizable now from how I used to know it when I was a child; but it was still the last place where I would have looked for a pizzeria.

Where, indeed, would humanity be without the nagging motivation of curiosity? In short, we went to see for ourselves.

Homey is the best way to describe Wada’s Pizzeria; and even that is an understatement as it actually fronts the owners’ residence. In fact, were it not for the front glass walls, at first glance from the outside it looked every bit like it was some lovely family’s warm abode.

Indeed, because of all things we chose to go on a chilly December mid-morning, the cosy interior of the pizzeria provided a welcome shelter from the mild drizzle. The pizzeria will probably not win accolades for décor; yet it was its stark simplicity and its lack of pretensions that was so appealing.

It had the look, feel and smell of home; and was the sort that would extend its open arms to welcome not only to those with money to spare but also youngsters willing to shave off a few pesos from the week’s allowance to be able to enjoy a good meal or snack.

A quick look at the offerings thoughtfully posted on the wall confirmed that, indeed, the pizzeria was the sort where students hang out during school breaks or where office workers escape to for a light midday meal. Although pizza, as the name of the place insinuated, was its bread and butter, we also saw that burger, pasta, rice meals and beverages were available.

It defines the heights of asininity to visit a pizzeria and then order a rice meal. So, I sauntered over to the counter to ask the young lady behind it what the house’s most popular pizza was. That would be the Italia, she replied.

Turning back, I quickly noted from the poster that it was also the most expensive. But then, if the young lady thought that she was performing a sales masterstroke, she probably did not realize how relative the word expensive can be.

“And how big would that pizza be?” I wanted to know. The Italia was a 12-incher. I immediately said that we would have one. It was the house’s most expensive, yes; but at 200 pesos, it was half or even a third of the price of branded pizzas of approximately the same size. I thought it was a steal.

For good measure, we ordered burgers as well. This time, I asked one of my friends – he had been to the pizzeria – which one to order. The Tumbleweed, he said; so I told the lady at the counter that we would have three of it.

I paid up and not long after, my former player Tyron joined us, having apparently just gotten up from bed. While we waited for our orders, I asked a few things about the pizzeria.

Wada, my former player told me, was his father’s nickname – short for Jose Eduard. The latter worked for many years as an architect overseas. Finally coming home to be with his family, he decided to open the pizzeria and the fare on offer were even his own personal recipes.

The pizzeria, in a way, made full sense because his lovely wife Lizette already operated a catering business. I was introduced, as a matter of fact, to Lizette’s culinary skills when she brought a heady blend of sumptuous Italian and Mexican food to the football field a few years ago to celebrate Tyron’s birthday when the latter was still a neophyte freshman in my football team.

Before long, the pizza arrived: ground beef, slices of ham, pepperoni, button mushrooms, onion rings and black olives sitting on a small pond of golden mozzarella atop a homemade crust. I quickly picked up one slice, sprinkled it with a generous amount of chilli sauce and took a bite to appease my grumbling stomach. I will not exaggerate by saying that the taste of the pizza was better than those of the more illustrious pizzeria chains; but it was definitely comparable and great value for money.

The burger was alright, too – juicy the way we Filipinos like it and not at all bland like some of the big brands. Personally, I prefer a bit more colour – romaine, onion rings, tomatoes and olives – to my burgers. However, at 50 pesos, the Tumbleweed was another steal. Besides, we ordered the burger to add some weight to the pizza. We were having lunch – not snacks – after all.

I still cannot get over the fact that I now do not have to go uptown for pizza and burger and get really full value for money. In fact, after I paid up, it felt almost like a novelty to be handed change for a 500 peso bill in a pizzeria; and there were three of us.

The greater novelty, of course, was having to turn into that perpendicular road leading to Mataas-na-Kahoy rather than drive straight up the highway into the city. I guess I now have more reasons to go to that quaint little town that has always been so close but which I had previously not visited very often.

[For those whose interest may have been stimulated by this post, the pizzeria is right along Templo Avenue just inside the poblacion, to the left if you are arriving from the highway. You cannot miss it.]