Atlanta: Totino's Flashbacks and a Pie for Friday the 13th at Jack's Pizza & Wings
Jack's Pizza & Wings
676 Highland Avenue, Atlanta, GA 30312 (map); 404-525-4444; jackspizzaandwings.com
Pizza type: NY-style
Oven type: Gas
The Skinny: Smoky hole in the wall strives for greasy goodness and delivers
Price: Large cheese, $12.49; Large Jason, $21.99
I have a thing for restaurants that don't take themselves too seriously. Of course, there's no shortage of places that do... but with the recent fancification of pizza, sometimes I just want a break. I've written about it before, but for all the double zero infatuation and San Marzano snobbiness floating around in piedom these days, there are times when I crave something far simpler, something that takes me back to when pizza was spelled with a lowercase p. Sometimes I want it to be about not the kind of oven it was baked in or the exotic origins of the toppings on it... but about the way a disc of dough and sauce and cheese and assorted stuff can make me feel. It was the first "fun food" most of us ever had; why don't more places have fun with it anymore? No pretense, just pizza. That's what I want. That, and maybe Jell-O wrestling. Thank you, Jack's Pizza & Wings, you get it.
A very dark, very smoky hole in the wall in Atlanta's historic Old Fourth Ward (that's O4W in Hipsterese), Jack's does indeed host Jell-O wrestling events several times each summer. That would seem to be a pretty adequate indicator of their irreverent approach to things. But even if you happen in on a gelatin-free night, it's evident that Jack's is not a stuffy, full-of-itself pizza shrine—just a neighborhood joint concerned with little more than slinging tasty pies. The menus bastardizing the Pabst Blue Ribbon and Jack Daniel's logos don't put you at ease? Try the old-school cartoon-character lunch boxes that house the seasoning shakers and condiment packets. They're a good clue that you won't find speck or truffle oil on the toppings list.
What you will find is a roster of just under 20 pies, with many of the combinations you're used to seeing, and a handful that you've never seen anywhere else before. I started with a sausage pizza, to get a baseline sense of what Jack's is all about.
When that scattering of superfine sausage crumbles hit the table, with fennel seeds visibly glistening under a coat of grease, my first thought was, "Totino's!" Though I instantly flashed back to all those cheap freezer-section pizzas I inhaled in high school and college, the rest of this pie was an obvious upgrade. Puffy, chewy dough with some sizable air bubbles, thick, tomatoey sauce, all of that sausage shrapnel in every single bite—this was the pizza that all of those frozen grocery-store models of my youth wanted to be. Served with each pie at Jacks' is a tub of garlic parmesan butter—like Papa John's garlic dipping sauce but without the mass-produced taste—that a server promised would be "as delicious as it is bad for you." Dear God in Heaven, she was so right.
Jack's can take a basic pie and turn it into a sloppy gorgefest that more than satisfied my inner 15-year-old. But if you're like me, a big part of being a teenager was occasionally doing something absolutely and positively crazy... just to do something absolutely and positively crazy. Jack's got a pizza for that, too. Right on cue for Friday the 13th, may I present... the Jason.
Do not adjust your monitor settings. That is mac and cheese. And a shitload of huge bacon crumbles. On pizza dough. Yes, it's a stunt pizza. Jack's actually has three stunt pizzas on the menu: in addition to the Jason, there's also the Beanie Weenie (with BBQ baked beans, bacon, and hot dogs), and the Soul Food (a gravy base with mashed potatoes, collard greens, and fried chicken).
I hadn't been expecting much from the sausage baseline pie and was blown away, but I had truly high hopes for Jason. I mean, again: mac and cheese. And a shitload of huge bacon crumbles. On pizza dough. But this was a case of the total being dead-on equal to the sum of its parts. The Jason tasted exactly like mac and cheese. And a shitload of huge bacon crumbles. On pizza dough. And like the slasher-flick character of the same name, this Jason had a tendency to come back from the dead, expanding in my stomach and making me feel twice as full with every bite. It may be the perfect shock-value pizza and (I suspect) a superb hangover helper... but not the you-gotta-try-this revelation I had secretly wished for. I ended up going back to work on that sausage pie, and boxing up the Jason to take home to my kids, who, of course, loved it. Because, after all... pizza is supposed to be fun, remember?
About the Author: Todd Brock lives the glamorous life of a stay-at-home freelance writer in the suburbs of Atlanta. Besides being paid to eat cheeseburgers for AHT and pizzas for Slice, he's written and produced over 1,000 hours of television and penned Building Chicken Coops for Dummies. When he grows up, he wants to be either the starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys or the drummer for Hootie & the Blowfish. Or both.