If you have noticed the recent wane in the Pizza Snob’s productivity, you have been paying attention. Even though I still carry a backlog of pizza places to write about from last year’s travels, the sadness in the air has made me melancholy. I miss the excitement of traveling and exploring, and my heart has also suffered for the many pizza joints across the USA that have been through hard times. While the good news is that most places have reopened, travel to me is still too sketchy.
That said, getting back to business, late last year while visiting the Pizza State, I took a drive to check out a place in Jersey City that I saw some folks discussing on-line. Although Helen’s Pizza hails a vintage of 1968, I’d never noticed it, even though my bus drove by it every day during my high school days of 1969-1973. Located on Newark Avenue, back then, that street was an overly crowded shopping district during the day and an area that you would not want to walk through at night.
Things of course have since changed with the gentrification of Jersey City and the vibe of Lower Manhattan making its away across the Hudson River. The section of Newark Ave where Helen’s sits was closed to traffic and is now a pedestrian walkway. Easy doings since like Lower Manhattanites, most who now reside in this section of Jersey City have no desire to own a vehicle, and the Light Rail has supplanted most of the city buses.
I did however take a vehicle and parked it a few blocks before Newark Ave became blocked off. After getting some quarters at an open laundromat, I fed the parking meter and headed towards the pedestrian zone for Helen’s. It was early evening, but well after dinner and the street was remarkably quiet.
Upon finding the place, I instantly stereotyped it as what I would call a “Pizza-Diner.” A common site in Manhattan, it is a place with way too many food offerings that just seem to take the focus off making great pizza. In fact, Helen’s only displayed a few specialty slices on the counter, and they looked rather mediocre.
I ordered a plain cheese slice, a “meat pie” and grabbed a cold drink (my first ever Bai at a pizza joint) from the fridge. (I don’t recall the price specifics, but it seemed reasonable.) It wasn’t long before I gathered my wares and took them to a table outside on the sidewalk of the decommissioned street. Surprisingly, it was a pleasant place to dine. Alternatively, Helen’s room inside was quite a large space, and I’m sure seats a lot of folks during busier times.
At first glance, the slice looked fairly normal as to my standards and was favorably charred and crisp. However, the first bite revealed that it was flat in flavor and totally void of any taste. In addition to not resonating on my palate, it was kinda oily.
On top of this, which was enough to make for a less-than-stellar experience, my slice was served way too hot for mortal consumption. While this may sound petty, why should I have to wait for a slice to cool down before its edible? Believe me, I eat enough slices to tell you that serving something that’s too hot to eat serves no purpose.
Suffice to say, I don’t recommend that you visit a place where the best adjective I can come up with for their pizza is that it is adequate. The best thing I can say about Helen’s slice is that the toasted it pretty well and it wasn’t over-sized. Other than that, there is much better pie for the taking in JC. The only reason I’d eat a slice at Helen’s is if hunger called.
PIZZA SNOB RATING *** Better Than Dominos
183 Newark Avenue
Jersey City, NJ 07302