11 Aug The Grinder

I bought a grinder last week. It’s one of the few tools I didn’t own but knew I needed. A grinder does as you’d expect – it grinds stuff, mostly stone and glass and masonry. But you can use it for other purposes, like cutting into wood in tight spaces. I’ve been using it as we renovate our pantry. The biggest house job we’ve done in a while, the pantry has involved lots of tearing-out and rebuilding. We’ve tiled the eleven-foot backsplash with antique subway tile. The grinder allows me to cut tile fairly accurately. Today I took the counters to a metal shop, where they will be covered in stainless steel.

Of course nothing’s straight or level in an old house, and so we wondered if the tile would be even with the counter. On the opposite wall, the counter doesn’t line up with the wall because the wall is bowed. I’ve cut into the plaster to straighten out the counter but now I’m not sure what to do with the wall. At one point Jill was nearly in tears as she tiled: “I’m not prepared to work with an uneven surface! This is gonna look like shit!” She had to shim every tile on the bottom row of the eleven-foot stretch, then check each with a level.

As we took on the kitchen and pantry renovation we found ourselves in the situation of needing a lot of old stuff we’ve seen in abundance at stores and auctions but can’t find now that we need it. We drove to York, PA (an hour north), to visit Big Streverino, who sells all kinds of antique architectural salvage online and has a warehouse you can visit if you call him first. We bought an entire wall of built-in cabinets from him. These were removed from a demolished mansion in upstate New York. In fact, the shelves themselves are sort of demolished. We’re going to use the best part of it for the kitchen, then save the rest for parts.

Big Steverino was unloading huge wrought iron brackets from his truck when we arrived. He said these came from Indonesia, remnants of colonial architecture that is now being torn down and shipped in pieces to American auctions, where people wax nostalgic about the Victorian and Edwardian ages. A lot of fake antiques are coming from Indonesia too – new mahogany furniture that masquerades as old. Vanessa, our antiques-dealer friend, says this stuff splits as it dries out because the wood hasn’t been properly cured.

Old buildings are everywhere in York, some quite grand. But virtually all of its big houses on Main Street are now law and doctors’ offices. York’s median family income is about half the state’s average. In other words, it’s a poor town – which means a good place to buy a big old house cheap. York never did so well that it lost its old buildings to urban renewal. Big Steverino grew up in York and has made his living scavenging the Northeast for old doors, mantels, stained-glass windows, and so on. About 35, he’s one of the younger antiques entrepreneurs we’ve met. “It’s a tough way to make a living,” he concedes. “And it can’t last. We’ll pick the country clean.” “But until then you’ll get to hang out with all this cool stuff,” I observed, waving a hand at his warehouse. He agreed to deliver our giant wall of decrepit shelves some time this week.

Before we left York, we stopped at Anza’s Pizza. It’s a run-down, once-upon-a-time family restaurant that must have seen its best days fifty years ago. Jill wasn’t sure about it, but I had a feeling. We’d been directed to a clean, suburban franchise by a salesperson at the Kholer sink store (yet another stop, this time for a hand-to-find cast-iron mini-sink). But Jill and I are fans of the downtrodden, so we gave Anza’s a try. It serves one of the best non-gourmet pizzas we’ve had outside of the NYC boroughs. A dry, crunchy crust, a zesty sauce, not too much cheese, and oregano liberally sprinkled overall. It’s very hard to get a pizza with oregano any more. Why is that?

The place was empty at six on a Wednesday night. It was gutted and modernized about twenty years ago, every flat surface covered with beige laminate. Apparently Anza’s is still in the family. It looked like the grandson was doing the baking and his father or uncle was managing. We ate a large pepperoni and had only one piece left over. Jill asked the manager to wrap it to go. Inexplicably, he rolled it up and put it in a paper bag. We supposed he’d run out of foil. Next time we’re in York, we’re stopping again.