Thursday, November 5, 2009

A Slice Would Be Nice

No Slices, no slices!!! Every time I had heard about John's of Bleecker, this is what I was constantly reminded. Okay, fine, the place doesn't serve slices. Maybe this was a big deal at one point, but nowadays most of the great pizza places have the same mantra. But for some reason, John's seems to be the one reprimanding the loudest. It's proclaimed on the exterior, inside above the pizza oven, on the menu, and on the website. "No slices!!!"

John's is an old-school standby that often comes up when you list the best pizza places in the city. John Sasso supposedly trained at Lombardi's when it first opened and he has brought his New York style pizza to the West Village where it has been catering to long lines ever since 1929.

John's of Bleecker is a strange mismatch of opposing ideas. It looks like a rather nice little West Village Italian restaurant from the outside. Inside, it has a dive-y hole-in-the-wall vibe. As you look around, you see fancy murals and vintage rock posters. Pizza awards. Pictures of astronauts. Where the hell are we? I feel like we entered the pizza twilight zone!

And we just sit ourselves? Fine. This really feels more like a bar than a restaurant. But here comes the waiter ready to take our order. No smile, no welcome, just "are you ready to order?" I'm all for old school charm (or lack of it), so I didn't mind too much. My friend ordered a glass of montepulciano (don't ask) and I wasn't surprised when it arrived in a small plastic cup, much more reminiscent of a Dixie cup than a wine glass.

We ordered the large meatball pizza. My family's favorite meat topping were the sliced meatballs so I was excited to take a trip down memory lane. Meatballs are not the most popular meat toppings on pizza (pepperoni or sausage anyone?) so it had been a while for me.

The pizza was quite huge. I've been ordering personal pies on my adventures, but we were hungry and ready to go to town. This is definitely closer to what I'd consider New York style pizza and less Neapolitan. It's messy, greasy, and all about the cheese. In fact, I could barely taste the tomato sauce. It all clumped up in the middle. I had to dip my crust into the center of another slice in order to get a good taste of the stuff. And it was tangy and slightly sweet, but a bit watery.
The flavors were alright, but it was way too much cheese for me. I felt like I was eating bread and cheese. Not enough balance with the tomato sauce. The meatballs were rather bland. And the only seasoning I could taste was all in the center of the pie clinging onto that ever elusive tomato sauce.

The crust was great - very thin and crispy, but that wasn't enough to wow me. And after three slices, I felt heavy and slightly queasy. It was all too much cheese. I guess this is what some people expect from NY pizza and I can appreciate that, but in that case, I'd rather just get a slice and move onto something less greasy and more flavorful. Oh, that's right, not at John's! Remember, no slices!!! No slices!!!! Okay, we get the message!

Is John's of Bleecker Street the best pizza in NY? It's definitely crispy and cheesy (both on the pie and in decor) and will appeal to fans of greasy heavy pizzas, but the lack of tomato sauce and seasoning earns it a 6 out of 10. I was a bit underwhelmed by this old standard.

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