In the last quarter century, New York City has noticeably bettered its appearance. The actions of wise visionary leadership atop a robust economy have led to an influx of new commerce and an enhanced infrastructure. Both have helped ooze out a great deal of the crime, sleaze and filth that once made NYC an undesirable destination.
Perhaps no part of the City has been more transformed than Times Square. No longer lined with porn and prostitutes, this once rotten part of the Big Apple, has again become a thriving tourist center. Sadly, this Midtown Mecca offers out-of-towners no five-star classic New York-style pizza. Outside of the usual chains they can find back home in Kansas and a mediocre Ray’s Pizza, I have yet to find a truly great slice of pizza in Times Square.
I was recently in Midtown Manhattan for a business meeting with an associate visiting from the Left Coast. He graciously offered to buy me lunch at the only New York pizza place he knew, John’s Pizzeria of Times Square. New to me, John’s was built in 1997 when they rode the wave of the Time Square redevelopment reconstructing their space from an old abandoned church. Disclaiming any connection to John’s of Bleecker Street, they have used their location-based name to expand to Jersey City and the Bronx.
Taking a beautiful midday walk, we found John’s on 44th Street right next to Sardis, the famous bastion of Theater District dining. On the late side of lunch, we were surprisingly seated without a wait. Inside, I was slammed by the sheer size and beauty of the place. There is a huge bar area as you enter and three distinct dining areas, one of which is on a balcony overlooking their coal-fired pizza oven. I wasn’t surprised when I later saw their claim of being the largest pizza restaurant in the United States. But knowing that size and looks don’t matter, I started to fear that we were about to experience nothing more than an over-priced Times Square tourist trap with bad food.
Menu in hand, I took notice of the message clearly printed on the back of our waitress’s T-shirt: “No Slices.” Forced to order a whole pie, and with our tastes going in different directions, I ordered a small plain cheese (a six-slice $14.25 “Traditional”) while my host loaded his up with some meats. Like the other John’s, and unlike the guys in Brooklyn, they use their coal ovens to cook up a regular pizza in addition to a “Margherita.”
Our pizzas didn’t take long at all. Visually they looked a bit odd with their blackened coal-fired crust covered with an unusual cheese and tomato sauce swirl. I liked its thin crispy look and charred end crust although it was obvious that my pie had too much cheese. Diving in, I wasn’t disappointed at all with its delicious satisfying coal-fired taste. This was no tourist-trap pizza.
However, there was a downfall to the heavy layering of cheese. Being so thick, it was congealed in a few spots where it didn’t melt sufficiently. It was also runny at the tips where it was just too heavy for its crust. Simply stated it would have cooked better if there just wasn’t so much cheese. I was also disappointed that the pie was not served hotter. It cooled off pretty fast, and my last slice was unsatisfying.
All in all this was a neat place serving up a tasty pizza made with fine ingredients. Any time you get to eat pizza cooked over the coals is a special experience. Like John’s of Bleecker Street, I like that they are cooking a traditional pizza over coal. Maybe next time John’s of Times Square will use a less cheese and get me mine a little hotter for what would be a much better pizza experience!
PIZZA SNOB RATING ***1/2 Working on a Good Thing
John’s Pizzeria of Times Square
260 W. 44th Street
New York, NY 10036