New York pizza is always good. Yes, even the greasy slices you can get all night on the Lower East Side, even the pizza from the hordes of places called Ray’s, all claiming to be The Original Ray’s. Plenty of New Yorkers are devoted to one or another of the pantheon of coal- or wood-burning classics, like Totono’s or Patsy’s or Lombardi’s or Grimaldi’s. And plenty of New Yorkers just love it all, devoting themselves to pizza like they expect divine illumination to beam down upon them when they’ve finally sampled every pie in the city.
I’m not one of the pizza devout, though I rarely miss an opportunity to partake of the precious wafer. I’m more of a casual believer with strong leanings towards Totono-ism (it’s in Coney Island, mecca of the curious) and a particular affinity for the gospel of John’s. Ian and I stopped in Tuesday for a sausage and garlic pie, just early enough to avoid the inevitable 8pm line at the door.
Our booth was flanked by Swedish tourists on one side and German tourists on the other. The rest of the diners were young New Yorkers, except one older man dividing his attention between pizza and a book. Generations of pizza pilgrims have carved initials, rough hearts, and dates into the wooden booths and walls, and in the front room, most of the light comes from the red neon sign in the window. While we waited for our pizza to arrive, we recognized most of the songs playing: Elvis Costello, The Rolling Stones, The Ramones, and David Bowie’s cover of Jonathan Richman’s Pablo Picasso. That’s all I remember because once pizza appeared on the table, I had no attention for anything but the task at hand: to pick up a slice and gnaw my way from point to crust.
The pizza at John’s is a careful balance of textures and flavors, like all pizza should be. The coal-oven crust is crisp yet flexible, there’s enough tomato sauce to help the crust go down but not enough to make it soggy, and there’s just enough cheese to hold it all together. The sausage was tender and pleasantly spicy, and the fresh chopped garlic generously distributed. Something about this pizza is deeply satisfying, if understated. It’s a comfortable food, and because it’s so well-made, because all parts combine into such a cohesive whole, it lets you forget to analyze flavors, and instead you just enjoy a great pizza. Really, I think this is the secret goal of making pizza, to touch those feelings of comfort, history, youth. There’s a deeper mystery involved, I’m sure, but I think that’s part of why we all love pizza so much.
John’s of Bleecker Street
278 Bleecker St
New York, NY 10014
Phone: (212) 243-1680