John's of Jersey City
Strangers are astounded when I say I live in Jersey City. "Really? Isn't that far from Manhattan?" It's 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the time of day, which most people aren't aware of. Because of this, there's a rumor going around town that Jersey City-ites are living in the boondocks, and just as far away from New York as the rest of New Jersey. So when I tell people that there is a John's Pizzeria in Jersey City, I'm met with a similar astonishment. "In Jersey City? Is it really John's?" Yes, it's definitely John's, even if their website doesn't acknowledge it. This location seems like the half brother that everyone is ashamed of and no one wants to talk about.
John's is at 87 Sussex Street, about a seven-minute walk from the Exchange Place PATH station, a measly four minutes from the World Trade Center (accessible via 2, 3, R, W, 4, 5, J, M, Z). The decor features outdoor tables and an inside dining room very similar to the John's in Times Square, or so I'm told. Still no slices, but there is a large entrée menu with plenty of options for those who just want their pasta and meatballs.
Obviously, we came for the pizza. You're given four options: Margherita, pizza bianca, marinara (no cheese), and bruschetta. We ordered the Margherita, the "plain" option, which John's also makes with a whole-wheat crust. We also ordered a pizza bianca topped with spinach. Since I've heard so much dissing of this location's pizza, we figured two kinds of pizza would give us a glimpse into a similar-quality product that our New York City friends have closer access to.
Maybe it was just bad luck, but the crust, which I've heard raves about, was thin yet not crunchy, barely browned, and unmemorable. The sauce was one of the better pizza sauces I've had in the area<!-- —even if it is canned -->. The cheese lacked flavor, and there was too much of it, leaving me begging for more sauce. The Italian in me was screaming for basil. Knowing how well-regarded the New York locations are, I was shocked at how unimpressive this pie was. (However, I took home two leftover slices, had two glasses of wine, overcooked the pizza in my toaster oven, and it was miles better.)
The pizza bianca, covered in ricotta, mozzarella, herbs, and a fresh coating of spinach (our choice of topping), was a delight in comparison. The crust was surprisingly crisp, and the seasonings and choice of spinach woke up my dulled Margherita taste buds. Perhaps straying from the norm, plain-jane pizza is the way to go at this John's location—layering on their toppings, which are somewhat expensive, will save your dinner from boredom.
Perhaps a new coal-fired brick oven needs some time to make some great, consistent pizza, but this location is not a great representation of the classic pizza that our own Ed Levine thinks is "better than you can find at 95 percent of the pizzerias in this country."
Given the lack of foot traffic in the area, I wonder how full John's can get. I'm eager to hear from readers who might've had a Bleecker-comparable experience here. Until then, I'll stick to my favorite New York City haunts and my homemade pizzas.