No. 11: Black Olive and Sausage Pie at John’s Pizzeria


John’s pizza glistens with sunny goodness.

John Sasso was one of the three original bakers at Lombardi’s, the pizzeria on Spring Street where pizza as we know it was invented around 1900, or maybe earlier. This pizza has traveled around the world, even having a profound impact on how pizzas are enjoyed in Italy.

In 1929, renegade baker Sasso left Lombardi’s to found his own pizzeria in the West Village. Like Lombardi’s, John’s Pizzeria is powered with a coal-burning oven, which goes as high as 900 degrees Fahrenheit. Now, a conventional oven burns at 550, and a wood oven at 700, but the coal oven cooks pies much faster, meaning that the crust must be thinner, the strew of ingredients more austere. These are the principles upon which American pizza was founded.

John’s really doesn’t do much of anything else, besides a couple of sandwiches and a couple of baked pastas. But the pies — in six-slice and eight-slice sizes — are the things to get. They are far superior to any of the franchised branches of this sainted pizzeria, no matter what those other branches tell you.

John’s has two ovens, and toppings run to sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, extra mozzarella, raw chopped garlic, green peppers, onions, and — odd man out, but wonderful nonetheless — ricotta. The ingredients constitute the fundamentals of Italian-American cooking, and the quality is unimpeachable, especially the moist mozzarella, which is nonetheless a little more rubbery, and hence malleable, than the cheese used at Totonno’s, another of the coal-oven pizzerias of the city. (The third is Patsy’s in East Harlem, with Grimaldi’s at Fulton Landing in Brooklyn also having some sort of hereditary claim.)

The pizza shown above is my favorite. The loamy fennel sausage is freshly made, the tomatoes bright tasting, the canned olives saline, and all the flavors come together and must be enjoyed within 10 minutes of this baby hitting the table. (Though it also tastes great for breakfast the next morning, if you have any slices left.) Stare up at the crude mural of the Blue Grotto of Capri Island as you eat slice after slice, almost without pausing.

If you’re not by yourself, begin your meal with the house salad, which feeds two or three, is similarly rudimentary, and is dressed with a red-wine vinaigrette that will burn your lips.

John’s Pizzeria
278 Bleecker Street

100 Days/100 Dishes is an almost-random alphabetical collection of delicious dishes from around the five boroughs. See the entire series so far

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