John’s Pizzeria (West Village, Manhattan, NY)

Well, at 7pm on May 1st we finished the “Manhattan Death March” by arriving at the south end of Battery Park. After a short break as we watched the sun starting to set, it was decided that a celebration was in order, and that beer and pizza was going to be the order of the evening.

After some discussion of various pizza options, we settled on John’s Pizzeria on Bleecker Street in the West Village. Down the street from Joe’s Pizza that I hit up earlier in the day, John’s is a very different pizzeria from Joe’s. Coal oven instead of gas fired. Whole pies and no slices. Table service instead of counter.

Indeed, John’s Pizzeria is one of the venerable New York pizza institutions. Trained by Gennaro Lombardi (of Lombardi’s fame), John Sasso opened this place in 1929, making it one of the oldest pizzerias in the city.

It’s also one of the limited number of coal-fired oven pizzerias in the city, since New York City banned coal for environmental reasons in the 1970s (existing ovens were grandfathered, but even then, it’s led to some interesting occasional drama, such as the original Lombardi’s closing in 1984 due to oven damage). The higher temperature (and hence very quick cooking) and different atmosphere of a coal oven gives a distinctive flavor to a good coal-oven pie.

The result is a really good pizza, and despite a few shortcomings (from watching the kitchen, they are using a canned pre-made sauce, for example), John’s delivers a quality pie. We ordered three of them. Pizza #1 was Sausage, Pepper, and Pepperoni Pizza. A rather good example of a “meat pizza”, this had excellent crust, proper amounts of sauce and cheese, and a really good toast to the cheese and meats.

Pizza #2 was Mozzarella, Basil, and Riccotta, which, while being a bit heavy, was very flavorful and enjoyable. Pizza #3 was Mushroom, Pepper, Basil, and Roasted Tomato (which my cousin’s place up in Stowe, VT would call a “Treehugger”), this was a nice combination of flavors without any of the grease resulting from a lot of meat.

The result was a good dinner with some good beer in a pleasant pizzeria, without inflicting much damage on the wallet.

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