The quest for great pizza is a never ending story. The adventures that you seek with your friends and the inevitability of great food to be involved are the most joyous and memorable occasions of my life. Whether it was a Mexican yoga retreat, a California road trip, a reunion of friends in Chicago or a hockey game in New Jersey, we find ourselves bonding over a drink and a bite. Reminiscing about good times and the bad, oohing and ahhing over what we’re putting in our mouths.
My quest for great pizza is never ending. Of course the judgements I reserve for the food are subjective. Great pizza can be expensive and elegant like the pie I had at Una Pizza Napoletana. Great pizza can also be relegated to the cheap stuff you share with your friends at 3 o’clock in the morning. When I think back on it, those are the times I cherish the most. It’s the reason Andy and I started this blog nearly 5, 6 years ago. Has it been that long? I look back at page 42 of our blog and see Andy’s first post went up Nov, 10 2008. Just about 5 years. I remember sitting next to him on his dirty white couch at the 1130 house on Hellblock, a house I once lived in and a place where my friends lived before I moved to Richmond. We no doubt had just consumed Assantes or Chanellos, sipping on Budweiser with the old TV set to some late 80′s comedy like Cocktail or Weekend at Bernies.
It is the experience. And whether or not pizza is your favorite treat you can’t argue that it is one of the most widespread food items in the U.S. What does every small town have? What do they need? Well they need the essentials, like grocery, post office, ect. The next kinds of storefronts you usually see are pizza and chinese take-out. Now, whether or not the pies are good, they are almost always unique. Someone has got to toss the dough. Determine how much of that canned sauce to spread on in a circular motion. Tons of cheese? Where are you getting your pepperoni? How long are they cooking it? It’s never the same. Even a place like Piccolas, Mary Angelas, Ariannas. They should all be using the same ingredients, but they never taste the same. They never feel the same.
So while Andy is on tour with Constrictor, I am enjoying the wet, humid, summer in Richmond as much as anyone can. Bikes, food, bands… Usually I’d throw the river in there, but given the chocolate milky nature of it due to the rain storms, I haven’t had the pleasure. Yet.
So, I get invited to a beach house on the bay. Somewhere near Tappahannock. Or in Tappahanock. Whatever. It was beautiful. The fear of jellyfish, thunderstorms, a picturesque view, beer, the absence of human beings. It was great. And we found some old abandoned pizza signage along the way.
Waking up early every day this past week I’ve been shoving a bowl of cereal down my throat while the tele has been shoving the Tour de France in my face. This time of year there’s no hockey to watch. No football. No American football. No basketball. Just baseball, major league soccer and the Tour. It may not be the most exciting thing to watch on T.V., but it gets lazy asses like myself motivated to get out and ride. And since I’ve been working strictly freelance lately, I’ve got the free time to do so.
In taking advantage of the free time I decided to start riding in the mountains. About twenty minutes further west from Charlottesville and you’ll hit Shenandoah National Park and you can find some fun, steep riding. If that’s your thing. I also knew I could take advantage of my craving for the almighty ‘Za.
After exploring some routes by myself, I asked a buddy to come with me. Equally a fan of pizza and an occasional contributor to the blog, she also likes to ride bikes, albeit begrudgingly on a road bike. We parked at a quiet park&view overlook and suited up for a 2 hour ride. 1 1/2 hours up, 30 minutes down the mountain.
At the top of our ride we met an older man on a touring bike, paniers loaded to the gills and a pretty salty beard going. I figured he was traveling a little, maybe camping here and there. I asked him “How far ya goin?” to which he replied “Oregon.” I underestimated that quite a bit!
Our own little 2-hour trek suddenly felt like the smallest of endeavors, but it was time for us to turn around and begin the very fun descent. Around thirty minutes of winding, twisting descents at sustained speeds of 30-35mph without pedaling is definitely a fun reward after the climb.
After we got back to the car, we loaded up and headed to Dr. Ho’s Humble Pie, a place Andy and I checked out two years prior. As I remembered, it was light, crispy, relatively unsurprising stuff that always reminded me of a high-quality Chanello’s.
Pineapple and smoked bacon makes for a fucking awesome pizza regardless of where it’s from and this one hit the spot after the ride. It may not be the best pizza in the area but it’s my favorite spot to hit up due to the cozy environment they provide, decent beer list and a fairly unique pie. It’s not New York style. It’s not the puffy delivery shit. It’s somewhere in between, and I like that.
Go check out Blue Ridge Parkway for a moderately challenging climb and some great views. Bring a friend, get pizza, and stay rad.
It’s strange. The biggest, baddest airports are the least accommodating when it comes to things that don’t really matter. Wi-Fi, good food, hobo benches to sleep on (you know, the ones WITHOUT the armrests.) They’re often crowded, charge you scrupulous amounts for a shitty wireless internet connection and serve up some of the most atrociously expensive meals. But you forget things when you’re in the terminals of O’Hare, Atlanta, Newark, ect. ect. Things like departures, on-time arrivals, delays and air traffic control problems. I missed a connecting flight thanks in part to a bomb threat at RIC so I landed in Chicago some 3-4 hours late. No doubt missing the connection, I stroll to the Delta customer service area and they throw me on the next flight to San Fran in no time. Sure, I had to wait 3 more hours, but that is small potatoes compared to what might have happened if I were stuck in say…. Phoenix Sky Harbor.
Oh, what do ya know I’m stuck in Phoenix Sky Harbor. ”Air traffic control problems” caused an inbound flight from Chicago to be delayed 3 hours. I’m trying to catch a connector in Houston on my way to Richmond and it just so happens our Captain is stuck on that inbound Chicago flight. There goes another connector.
The solution? If you could call this a solution. There are no flights that can take me to Richmond tonight. Not even Dulles, Reagan or Norfolk. The best they could do is put me on a red-eye to Philly at midnight which would then connect me to Richmond at a 10am arrival. So here I am, stuck in Phoenix since 9:30am pacific (Arizona is pacific, right?) and I won’t be getting home until 10am the next day, EST. They managed to cool my nerves with $30 in meal vouchers which I just found out can be used on alcohol. Happy Grant. Not really.
Oh but the perks of being stuck in the beautiful Sky Harbor International Airport! Here I am, yours truly, blogging on their very cozy FREE wi-fi connection, streaming Porcupine Tree albums with ease and alt-tabbing to Facebook every 30 seconds. This is the kind of thing you cannot find in a larger airport because really, you have no choice but to use O’hare, Atlanta and the like if you’re switching coasts. They can charge you whatever the hell they want to use their amenities. And you’ll pay thirteen dollars for a “gourmet” tuna, bacon avocado panini because your only other option is JuJu Beans and six dollar trail mix.
Enter Sky Harbor, oh goddess of gourmet food hub and cheap connecting flights. Brick oven pizza sure is popular these days…
$8.95 for a 12″ margherita is like, what, cheaper than 8 1/2? Stuzzi? Belly Timber? Add a Sierra Nevada and I’ve got a pretty decent thirteen dollar happy meal. And the pizza ain’t bad at all.
You could throw one of these down in front of a patron at Belly Timber and they wouldn’t guess it came from an airport. A super thin crust, probably one of the thinnest wood fired “brick oven” pies I’ve ever had it hits the spot. It needed a few shakes of the red and white, but you couldn’t ask for more from terminal 4. Good shit.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got beer vouchers to spend. And remember, being stuck in an airport isn’t the worst thing that could happen to you. You could be a ridiculously attractive leading male fighting off a zombie outbreak only to be not only the hottest dude on the planet, but the smartest one to boot. Go see World War Z starring everyone’s favorite ageless stud Brad Pitt and then spend another $16 on the book at the airport stop n’ shop. It’ll get you through the day.
Mountain biker, school teacher, master of all things chicken piccata Donna Miller was rad enough to eat some pizza for us while she embarked on a couple of MTB races this summer. Aside from shredding some trails and shredding her body she also got to shred some parm in the mountains of Pennsylvania and Virginia. Without further adieu…
There are few things in the world I love more than mountain bike racing and pizza, especially when conjoined in a single outing. However you must know there is a sequence that must be considered, mountain biking then pizza. Take it from me, pizza tumbling in your stomach while riding rocks and roots is completely undesirable. I am semi-professional mountain bike racer and definitely no pizza snob but just a mere admirer of all its cheesy glory. Fortunately for me the planets aligned twice in the past couple weeks and I was gifted with pizza post-race.
Two weeks ago I ventured to central Pennsylvania for a seven day mountain bike race. Over the course of the week 150 racers covered 220 miles of riding and about 24,900 feet of elevation gain. It will be the first time I have raced this much in a single week. Each day begins with family style breakfast, which usually consisted with pancakes, cheesy eggs, bacon, sausage, oatmeal, yogurt. We then get ready to toe the line and race between 20-47 miles usually four hour days. We get back from racing, clean our equipment, hang out, drink a few beers and meet for dinner in the mess hall.
Each night dinner was themed, taco night, steak and taters, pot roast etc. I have to say our kitchen staff did a phenomenal job. However with no luck; pizza was never on the menu. Wednesday was Stage 4 and most of us racers are breaching mental and physical exhaustion. As we practically crawled into our seats at the mess hall, I looked around and noticed a lot of us are glassy eyed and dazed, hard to talk from pure exhaustion. We listen to the race promoters tell us about Stage 5 and as we suspected it will be another hard day, 30 miles, 3,400 feet of elevation gain, rocky ridge lines, gnarly descents, and brutal climbs. I was pretty bummed, poking my sore achy legs, wondering if they will make it tomorrow. Until the racer promoters informed us that since the stage was off-sight, they will be providing pizza for all the racers at the finish line, as well as encouraged us to bring bathing suits to swim in the cool mountain lake post ride.
My heart and soul were lifted with excitement. I’ve been living in the forest for almost a week and there had been no sign of our favorite cheesy treat since I left home. The race went well and I hardly pulled over at the aide station, yelling “There’s pizza at the finish line, see you guys there!” I realized I was not motivated by my time or the killer single track but the pizza at the line. It was a hot day and I was starving from all the hard riding. The picnic tables were covered with 50 boxes of pie. They ranged from cheese, pep, veggie, and no cheese, no matter what your dietary needs were you were pretty much covered, minus the gluten free folks. I was like a kid in a candy shop as they say. I grabbed a slice of cheese and savored every bite and then I grabbed two peps and walked to the lake. I stood in the water, soaking my achy muscles, enjoying my pizza and thought of my favorite pizza connoisseur, Grant. I wish I could show him all of the wonderful single track there and admire the mountains with pizza in hand. It was pure bliss. The pizza was just fine, cold from waiting for me to finish but I would compare it to a better version of Mary Angelas, the crust was more buttery and the center of the slice was crispier, however it’s hard to say since I didn’t get a hot slice. Like I said I’m not that picky when it comes to pizza.
My next pizza endeavor took place yesterday in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I raced the Massennutten Hoo-Ha XXC race. This is a 32 mile race with 30-40% grade climbs, two foot deep mud bogs and rocky singletrack descents. It was a rough day for me. I felt beat from racing seven days the week before and not having a smooth ride over the slippery rocks, I was demoralized. I hooked up into the end of the course in second place, where I was mixed with the XC racers doing a shorter race. They pushed me to ride fast and being worn out from the 16 miles earlier, I wrecked pretty bad. I went over the handlebars, and went head first into a rock, slammed my shoulder into the ground and laid out in the trail for what seemed like a long time.
I’m pretty sure I was concussed as I immediately had a headache and broke my helmet in three places. I obviously made the tough decision to quit and made my way to the first aide station. I was bummed out. My riding buddy David, who drove us to the race walked up to check on me and assured me he would take me somewhere good to eat in Stanton. I will mention he did not finish the race either, so it wasn’t just me. I was starving so this was great proposal.
We ended up at the Byers Street Bistro, and guess what? Pizza was on the menu. They had all kinds of gourmet pizza with way too many toppings. I went for the traditional herb marinara pepperoni ‘za. It was divine, great chunky tomato sauce with good chewy mozzarella and just a little bit of sweet doughy crust with just the right amount of crispiness. I have nothing to compare it to Richmond, you will have to trust me it was really good. After eating the entire pizza my headache was gone and I was full, ready for the two hour drive home.
Recovery doesn’t get better than pizza, you have your carbs, your veggies and your protein, plenty of calories, not mention the stomach can always handle it after a good hard work out. To all your race promoters and athletes riding this, trust me when I say there never is a bad time for za especially after a hard workout.
I am and always will be a mountain biker fueled by pizza.
There are only three pizza places on the West coast that I’m interested in. I knocked two of them out of the fucking park on my Caliexcursion so far. The third one is in Portland and will have to wait another time. (Any Portlanders want to lend their couch?)
The second stop is the East L.A. pizza shop Pizzanista, founded by former pro-skateboarder Salman Agah. The shop has a very chill, shop vibe. No servers. Just order at the counter and find an empty seat, be it the booths or the larger tables near the big, open garage style window. A pile of Thrasher magazines adorn the shelf where you’ll find your parmesan and red pepper shakers. A young skaters dream for sure.
I feel like I got a good sampling of what they offer by ordering a margherita slice and a pepperoni slice. If you follow Pizzanista on instagram you’re probably familiar with their legendary pepperonis which curl up into delicious bowls of grease which make my buds salivate more than my chow chow in the summer heat.
Oh god I could stare at this stuff all day. Both of these slices were perfect perfect perfect. You will not find a better pizza-by-the-slice place than this, save for Artichoke in Manhattan. But even that is a close call. Since you can’t have them both at the same time…we’ll nevvverrr knowwwwwww.
The crust has that sour flavor to it and the bones are easily consumed sans-sauce or oil. Cheese was creamy and the sauce was a very clean, uncontaminated fresh tomato base. No sweet stuff here. Like I said before, the pepps are the stuff of legend.
Great charring for a conventional pizza oven. You don’t see this kind of execution very often, if at ALL. The last time I felt this strongly about a slice was at the aforementioned Artichoke. It’s the kind of slice that leaves you unable to do anything other than shake your head as if you were constantly answering “no. no. no, no.”
All in all, three slices and two sexy bottles of gourmet Ginger Beer set me back about $18. $3.25-$3.50 for the Pepperoni and Margh respectively. Definitely worth it considering the quality and execution. Oh yeah, you can take home day old slices for a fucking dollar. I’d grab a stack every time I rode by if I could. Throw in a couple pinball machines and maybe a Street Fighter and Simpsons arcade cabinet and you got yourself a spot on perfect representation of what a Pamparius Pizza shop would be. Richmond would love this place. Let’s make it happen. Investors?
The time has finally come like a pilgrimage to the Mecca. I’ve been facing West during my morning prayers for weeks now. I am in San Francisco. Anthony Mangieri’s Una Pizza Napoletana is on the list.
My list? I made a bucket list of sorts for my Californication and more specifically for the City of Fog. You probably read that first paragraph thinking I’m in the first person, that I’m currently in San Francisco about to sit down to some pizza. No. I’m in Los Angeles now. It’s taken me about a week to process my thoughts. To muddle my words. I still don’t think I can do Mangieri any justice, but here we go.
Speaking of the man himself, Anthony Mangieri looks like a menacing figure if all you’ve ever seen is a google image search of him. Tattooed, messy, peppered hair, a face that speaks of stress and heat. He worked practically alone in front of the oven that night. One assistant would tip-toe around him, fetching water when needed, trying to stay out of his way. A bit of a ballet going on over there.
And I got to speak to him. Mangieri. After paying for my meal, I hung around the merchandise case for a minute, hoping the hostess would notice and ask if I needed help. No one came. The only one in the vicinity was the man himself. I had no one else to ask but him. I was nervous. I wanted to stay out of his way and the last thing I wanted was to seem like a dopey tourist asking for a bumper sticker.
“Can I buy a bike bottle?” I muttered. He seemed excited to help out.
“Do you ride? Mountain or Road?” he responded. The mating call of a cyclist. A cyclist looking for common ground and a conversation on gear, routes, commutes.
We proceeded to shoot the shit about bikes for a while in a friendly, non-rushed manner. I was stoked. Here I am talking to arguably the most true to form pizzaiolo in the country about the things I love the most. Pizza and bikes! And to think just a few minutes earlier I was considering just walking out the door, trying not to be the touristy putz who won’t stop snapping iPhone photos.
Oh yeah, the pizza. Right.
First of all, the stuff is $22 a pop. Certainly not something I can afford to do as often as I’d like, but completely and utterly worth every dollar. Add a ten dollar glass of wine and a tip to that and you’ve got a $40 solo dinner. There are five pies on the menu and they’re all the same price. You can check out the menu through Una Pizza’s website so I don’t have to try any remember it all. I got the Margherita.
I dared not use a flash at this place for fear of being scowled at, so my pictures won’t do justice. Go to their website!
The pizza arrives uncut. That’s just how they do it. Lifting the first slice is easy. There is no avalanche of cheese and tomato falling back towards the plate. The crust supports itself just enough to reach my salivating mouth before melting inside. The basil is fresh, the tomato sauce is the freshest and tangiest I’ve ever had. This is also the first time I’ve used the word “clean” to describe a pizza, but it perfectly suits it in this application. This is a very clean tasting pizza. The mozz had that squeaky feeling on my teeth as my molars smash through it’s thick body. The crust is perfect. Pliable, spongy, wet enough to eat alone and charred enough to provide a crisp crunch at first bite.
I cut my own slices and ate at my own pace. I managed to separate the 12″ pie in to six little slices of heaven, each one paving the way for the next as my craving subsided with each bite. In between slices I would take a break. Sip on some wine, look around, breathe a bit. Watch Mangieri as he finished the last few pies of the night. It was a slow evening at Una Pizza and I was one of the last patrons left. Just sitting alone in the corner. Yeah, it’s tough to get a friend agree to spend that much on pizza with you.
Anyways. This was certainly an experience. A pure, unobstructed, Neapolitian pizza experience. The best I’ve ever tasted. Of course when Anthony and I talked, I really couldn’t tell him what I thought of his creation. Other than “it was amazing. It was a pleasure,” I had nothing else constructive to say. After all, I know almost nothing about making pizza. I just eat it.
One of the few perks of writing about pizza is the occasional free slice. Over the last few weeks I was treated several times to a fridge filled with takeout boxes. I thoroughly enjoyed both these slices and it turns out they would be my first impressions of pizzerias I had not yet visited.
This first slice came from a new place in town. Anthony’s On the Hill – conveniently located in, that’s right, Church Hill. I’ve never eaten here period. The takeout box was unfamiliar so I actually didn’t know where this was from when getting into it. It had a nice crust, some good burned bubbles around the edges. This was a white slice with some arugula. I blasted it in the toaster oven and added a little bit of cold mango salsa and EVOO. Both would prove to be good moves on my part. The salsa in particular, I’ve added a fruit based salsa to several leftover white pizzas since having a white pizza with peaches on it from Azizas. Not a ton, but enough to balance out some of the salty, smokey flavors. Give it a whirl.
This was pretty decent for leftover white pizza, the arugula had soggied up a bit and came across with a cooked spinach texture. The ricotta, mozzarella cheese mixture on this was good and well complimented by a little olive oil. I will be taking a trip to Anthony’s to see how this pie is fresh out of the oven.
My second leftover surprise came from Anna Maria’s in NYC. A friend came to town to visit and brought a whole pie in fresh that afternoon. I waited a day to re-fire one in the toaster oven and was immediately thinking NYC when the crust started to cook and fill the house with awesome pizza smells.
This pizza came out of the toaster oven with a nice crisp crust, everything you’d expect from a re-fired NYC street slice. The cheese was balanced with the sauce, both decent but nothing mind-blowing. The sauce wasn’t too sweet and the crust had a taste that conjured up my fonder memories of NYC slices. I’d dare to say it had something so subtle in each of the ingredients that made it just a little bit better than most of the by the slice places in town. Amongst its NYC counterparts I’m sure it fits right in, but as a leftover slice in Richmond I felt like I lucked out with my lunch plans. Another predictable spot for a slice next time I’m in Brooklyn.
I took a trip up to Lynchburg a few weeks back for some work related activities. We got in around lunch time and stopped at Waterstone Pizza. Waterstone is owned by the same folks as Sette here in Richmond and the atmosphere and product is as calculated in its delivery.
A micro brewery upstairs pairs perfect with a pie that comes across a bit reserved. After ordering a flight of their in house beers, I went for a Bacon, Pineapple, Tomato pizza. The crust was pretty solid, I’d say the best part of this pizza. The sauce was middle of the road, not bad, but was proportionately good for a pizza with this diversity of toppings. I can’t stand ordering a pizza with a lot of toppings only to get too little or too much sauce. There needs to be balance and it was good here. The cheese was good at binding everything together, but lacked a little in the flavor department.
Waterstone does takes the sort of “fire roasted gourmet” route which usually includes items like BBQ chicken pizza seen below and other specialty pizzas that don’t scream traditional, but aren’t totally out of place on a family style pizza menu. Among the others shot but not included were a Thai style pizza (new on me) and a mushroom, pepperoni combo. They used a larger slice of pepperoni and I was actually slightly jealous of my buddy who ordered this one. We could have definitely shared but we were all hungry from the ride up and decided to just charge each of our pies individually. I’d say if the hype is true, it’s worth checking out Rivermont before this place. But if you’re going for a little more family atmosphere and want to try some local brews in the process, this place isn’t too shabby. It’s worth noting the restaurant upstairs, Shoemakers Grille, as well as the connected Craddock Terry Hotel, are all families of companies. It would serve one well to stay in the hotel and have a casual lunch at Waterstone followed by a fantastic steak dinner at Shoemaker’s.
Some friends and I decided to get together to watch Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals in which two teams that I despise get to play for a chance to compete for the only sports trophy worth a damn, Lord Stanley’s Cup. What better excuse to eat pizza?
I took a quick polling of my friends and asked them what their favorite frozen pie is. I figured we could cook one pie per period. We came to the agreement that Digiorno, Freschetta and Red Baron were our favorites. Thin crust only!
Pie # 1: DiGiorno Classic Thin Crust $5.99
Now me being the pizza guy within this group of friends I had zero expectations for DiGiorno pizzas. They’re clearly the most marketed brand of frozen pie on the planet with their whole “It’s not Delivery” campaign on TV. They claim the same type of shit that Papa J’s claims. Better ingredients and better pizzas, yadda yadda yadda. Well I’ve had my fair share of these and they aren’t good. No one in their right mind would ever confuse this for delivery of any type, not even Little Ceasar’s. It reeks of cheapness right down to its dry, crackery crust. My mates were surprised that it tasted so crappy. I was prepared!
Pie # 2: Freschetta Brick Oven $5.99
This is where frozen pizza sets some fucking standards! I’ve raved about Freschetta Brick Oven for years. Once, in college, a roommate and I drove to 13 different 7-Elevens at midnight to find the one that carried these. Grocery store was closed and we were not prepared for the addiction these things can cause. Now, some may say the pizza has a chemically taste, and they’re probably right. But, due to the magic of marketing, I was fooled way early. This tastes like it’s been charred, grilled and baked properly. The crust has enough moistness to trick you into thinking it’s real, and the pepperoni slices are cut a bit thicker than the competition. The flavors even themselves out here to make a tasty pizza.
Pie # 3: Red Baron 4 Cheese $2.50
This is the pits of the frozen pizza world. Save for the generic market brands, the only frozen ‘za I can think of that is worse than this is Tombstone and that holds significant value for its low price. Red Baron does make a “Baron’s Best” edition of their pizza which is actually pretty tasty, but their cheap shit is pretty weak. Very little flavor and a crust that breaks up faster than a Saltine. We put some anchovy on this to spice up our evening as the Bruins started steamrolling the Pens in the 3rd.
“The pizza ruins the anchovies,” was the quote of the night from Jake, and he was right. I almost felt bad for the little salty guys but alas, pizza was consumed en masse and the Bruins ended up putting 3 past Vokuhn and shutting out the Penguins in Game 1. It was pretty exciting to watch, as I loathe Pittsburgh and I’m praying Sidney Crosby keeps trying to push around Chara so we an see Zdeno put Sidney’s face into orbit when they actually decide to drop the gloves.
The winner: Freschetta Brick Oven, as I knew it would be. We’ll probably do this again during the Stanley Cup Final which is looking like a Boston/Chicago series, but don’t count anyone out and never waste your money on DiGiorno! They’re the Dockers of the frozen pizza world.
Domino’s has taken their speedy delivery to the next level. Testing out their pizza drones in the U.K. Can you imagine seeing a ton of these flying around the neighborhood on weekends and weeknights where major sporting events are coinciding with late night pizza parties? How long before mid-air pizza hi-jackings? Hacking the GPS destinations to reroute to your house. Pizza / Bird collisions? Who knows. This technology is pretty far off from being implemented on a massive scale, but just imagine the amazing possibilities, or the disasters that might ensue.
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