247 Ridge Road, Munster, IN 46321 (map); 219-836-8536; theoriginaljohns.com
Pizza Style: Thin-crust
Oven Type: Gas
The Skinny: South suburban institution no longer operating in Illinois but still putting out delicious pies with spectacular sausage
Price: Medium with one topping, $16.20
In 1943, Sicilian native Phil Bacino opened John's Pizzeria in Calumet City just south of Chicago. Over the next 60-plus years, the place was an institution that passed down through the family, first to Phil's son John (after whom the restaurant was named) and then to grandsons Vince and Phil. Over time, Calumet City became less Italian and John's expanded into in Indiana. In 2006, 63 years after it opened, the original John's closed. Fortunately for fans old and new, Vince and Phil still operate two restaurants just across the Indiana border, one in Munster and one in Whiting.
I never went to John's in the original location, but I recently made it to the Munster location to see what all of the fuss was about. It's designed for takeout and delivery only, but there is a counter there that people can stand by if they want. Typically, that's done at lunch when slices are available, but if you don't mind standing for dinner, they're happy to let you hang around.
The first thing I noticed about the pizza was the interesting cut. The pie is cut once horizontally and multiple times vertically (or is it the other way around?). The result is rectangular slices with rounded outer edges. I hadn't seen a cut like that since my unfortunate run-in with focaccia pizza at Larosa's in Cincinnati. Fortunately, shape was the only thing the two pies had in common.
The crust at John's is thicker and softer than typical thin crust, and much more so than the crusts that tends to dominate the pizza scene on the South Side of Chicago and neighboring southern suburbs. A very generous sprinkling of corn meal adorns the bottom, adding some nice flavor and texture. The mozzarella is thoroughly browned in a manner that just seems to work on this style of pizza. The sauce, made from Full-Red tomato puree, was not particularly noticeable.
What separates John from the sea of pizzerias is the extraordinary sausage. Made in-house on a daily basis, the crumbled fennel sausage is absolutely packed with flavor. And presumably because the folks at John's know how good it is, the bits of delicious pork cover virtually every centimeter of the crust (the heavy concentration in the top of the picture is the sausage that stuck to the cheese when I pulled it back). Without the sausage, John's is a good, but uneventful pizzeria. With the sausage, it's the kind of pizza worth going well out of your way to try.