Every so often, I like to hit the old coal-oven giants in the city to see if they're up or down. For the most part, the old boys do killer pizza, the kind of pies serious sliceheads would be perfectly happy with if they weren't so spoiled by the amazing cornucopia of pizza our town has to offer. But I've found over the years that the consistency and quality of the coal-oven venues varies. So I thought I'd give John's Pizzeria on Bleecker Street a try.
John's often gets slagged off in the comments on Slice and by various members of the pizza cognoscenti. I've always liked it more than others, though, and through a casual observation made by my dining companion last week, I think I've figured out why.
As I was working on the last slice of the pie, my friend Justin, who's from the same Kansas City suburb as I am, offered this: "You know, there's something very familiar about his pizza. Of all the places you've introduced me to here, I think this is the least New York-ish pizza I've had. It's somehow very Midwestern."
"You know, I think you're on to something there," I said.
"Maybe that's why you like it more than the natives. It's a taste of home."
I mentioned this exchange to Ed Levine here at Slice–Serious Eats HQ.
"You know, Ed," I said, "I like John's. It's not great, but there's something familiar about it that resonates with me. The sauce, the type of not-so-great sausage they use. It's sort of comforting."
"You like John's?! Even with the canned sauce? And the aged mozzarella?"
"Yeah. He stopped using freshly made sauce years ago. He gets a canned pizza sauce now. And he stopped using fresh mozzarella from Faicco's Pork Store—just two doors down—around the same time. I don't even think he gets the sausage from Faicco's anymore. I talked to him for the book [Pizza: A Slice of Heaven], and it was like he was almost proud of it."
I could quote the passage on John's from Ed's book, but I'd just dupe what you read above. He did close his thoughts on the original John's on Bleecker with this: "That said, the pizza is still better than you can find at 95 percent of the pizzerias in this country."
Considering that chain pizzerias probably represent 95 percent of the pizzerias in the U.S., Ed's conclusion may be damning the joint with faint praise. But I'd like to think he really was giving props to the place. I still like John's for that familiar taste of home—the heavy application of a slightly sweet, seasoned sauce; the lump sausage that has just a bit of fennel in it, and the regular mozzarella—married to a better-than-average crisp-chewy crust. It's like the best of both the worlds I've known—the 'burbs and the city.
And it probably explains the line of tourists snaking out the door most nights.
Bonus Photo Outtakes from John's
Here's the whole shebang—all the photos I took at John's on my most recent visit. Stuff you saw above and extra stuff you didn't.