Did it convert me to New York style pizza?
New York City is known for many things: cheesecakes, hot dogs and pizza. While I haven’t known many New Yorkers who rave about it, my friends from New Jersey are enamored of the large, thin, flexible slices and they seem to seek it all over the Bay Area (here is a hint, if you do like this style, Bluebird Pizzeria in San Leandro makes a mean NY/New Jersey style pizza). I, however, am not a fan. I love thick pizza, the thicker, the better. My favorite in the Bay Area is Zachary’s, which serves a stuffed pizza, where cheese and dough melt into an incredible combination. Beyond that, I’ll go with Chicago pizza and deep dish pizza. The only pizza I like less than New York pizza are Italian pizzas, with their often paper thin crusts.
Still, we were in New York and we had to have pizza – even though this is probably my husband’s least favorite meal. Alas, I didn’t want to go out of our way to have it, but John’s of Times Square was conveniently located next to the St. James Theater, where we had tickets to see Spamalot (amazing play, btw, totally worth going to).
John’s of Time Square is an offshoot of John’s of Bleeker Street, itself an offshoot of Lombardi’s, New Yorks’s first pizzeria. The Time Square location was opened in 1997 by Madeline Castellotti, the estranged wife of Peter Castelotti, Sr., then owner of the Bleeker St. location. Madeline Castelloti saw the potential on an abandoned church and turned it into a 400 seat restaurant. As the area around Times Square cleaned up in the 2000s, the restaurant took off and it’s now a popular – and affordable – dining location. Peter and Madeline’s children, who inherited the two restaurants, have been in some juicy family drama for the last twelve years, which is still going on and might be worthy of an Amazon Prime miniseries, but none of that is important to the enjoyment of the pizza.
And the pizza is pretty good as far as thin pizza goes. We got it with sausage and mushrooms, one of my favorite combinations, and we fully enjoyed it. The thin crust was pleasantly chewy, the sauce did its job and got out of the way, and the toppings were fresh and tasty. I really had nothing to complain about. If I had to have thin pizza again, I’d definitely go for this one.
As much as I wanted to try New York style pizza, it turns out that the pizza served at John’s of Times Square and many of the older New York pizzerias is not actually New York style. Rather, these are American-Neapolitan pizzas, made in the Neapolitan style but baked in coal rather the wood ovens they use in Naples. New York style pizza, meanwhile, is baked in gas ovens. I wonder if the difference might be on the crust – with the latter being spongier anf more flexible. In any case, we didn’t try it, so I can’t comment on it. John’s didn’t convert me into American-Neapolitan pizza, but it gave it a good try.
In addition to pizzas, John’s of Times Square serves pasta, and they sell their jarred marinara and vodka sauces. Our waitress let us try the marinara sauce and it was very good, it had a bright, fresh flavor. If I was a local, I’d buy it.
As hinted above, even more impressive than John’s of Time Square’s pizza is its building. Located in the a converted church amphitheater, John’s features an impressive stained glass ceiling. It wasn’t that much to look at in the early evening, but photos of it during the day are breathtaking. If I were to go again, I’d make sure to hit it during the day.
In addition to the stained glass windows, John’s features a beautiful, huge mural. But the restaurant itself is a very casual affair, no tablecloths here.
There are no reservations, but we were seated promptly when we arrived around 5:30 PM on a February weekday night. A line did start forming later on – but we weren’t rushed to leave. Our waitress as efficient and pleasant, and service as very good. She recommended the right size pizza given our level of hunger.
John's of Times Square 260 West 44th Street Manhattan 212.391.7560 Sunday - Saturday 11:30AM - 11:30PM