Feb. 9 2011 12:00 AM

Falsetta’s Casa Nova brought pizza to Lansing and the restaurant remains a local hot spot



Every once in a while, back when Casa Nova was on Logan Street (these are the pre-Martin Luther King Boulevard days we’re talking about), I went with my dad in his beat-up Chevy work truck to pick up the best pizza in town.

The pizza weighed as much as a newborn, it was so loaded with ingredients. It came snugly plastic-wrapped, with toppings buried below a bulging crown of perfectly charred mozzarella. On the way home it warmed up my lap as a holy trinity of scents — cheese, ham, and tomato sauce — filled the cab.

My earliest memories of Falsetta’s Casa Nova are rooted in the 1980s, but by then the joint was over 30 years old. This week, Falsetta’s becomes a sexagenarian.

Founder and former owner Bill Falsetta, who turns 90 later this month, responds precisely when asked about the pizzeria’s earliest days.

"We opened Feb. 8, 1951," Falsetta says immediately, in an instinctual grandfatherly manner.

Falsetta’s first venture, with his Uncle Fred, was a candy and convenience store near Mt. Hope and Logan. When that ended, they opened Casa Nova, where Falsetta claims the first pizza in the Lansing area was dished up.

To ears from the next millennium, it sounds shocking that there was a time when people didn’t know what pizza was. But that’s exactly how it was in a prospering Midwestern city during the second term of Harry Truman.

"When I first started, people never heard of pizza," Falsetta says. "They were amazed. They didn’t know what to think."

College kids led the way. A rapidly expanding Michigan State University, fuelled by World War II veterans benefitting from the G.I. Bill, brought students from the East Coast, where pizza was already well established. It was those students who sang the gospel according to mozzarella, and devotees soon filled the restaurant.

"We’d have people waiting to be seated at 2 in the morning," Falsetta says.

Hungry workers from the nearby General Motors Grand River plant and from Lindell Drop Forge buffeted the student crowd in Casa Nova’s formative days, cementing its reputation as a blue-collar destination.

Casa Nova’s original location stood at the corner of Mt. Hope and Logan; the restaurant later moved a block north. It was at the corner of Goodrich and Logan until 1977, when Logan expanded from a quaint two-lane road into a veritable highway with a center median. Casa Nova then moved south, to Logan and Dunlap, where it prospered for 13 years, until it relocated to its present location on Waverly Road in Delta Township, just south of Michigan Ave.

The party started on Monday, but the celebration will last through the week. On Wednesday, there’s all-you-can-eat fried chicken ($6.99) and $2.99 rum and Cokes. On Thursday, specials include all-you-can-eat barbecue ribs ($12.99) and shots of Schnapps for a dollar. On Friday, you can eat cod until you drop for $10.99, and veal scaloppine ($11.99) is on special, too.

Prime rib ($11.99) caps off the food specials on Saturday, but you can get a hot turkey sandwich with mashed potatoes and corn for $4.99 any time all week.

If it’s pizza you want, though, personal pies with one item are going for $2.99 throughout the week during happy hour until 7 p.m.

The party will get a bit rowdier through the weekend. Don Q Rum reps will be on-site for giveaway promotions and a DJ will be managing music Friday evening. Saturday will bring live classic rock.

Impermanence characterizes all existence. Falsetta’s has evolved through the decades, and it won’t last forever. That matters little to its loyal patrons, though. After all, if they’re looking for a little slice of heaven right now, a great big pizza pie is just a trip to Casa Nova away.