Ed Levine, P.I.
Johnny's Pizzeria | Mount Vernon, New York
A few months ago Serious Eats managing editor and fellow pizza lover Adam Kuban linked to that insane kazillion page post about trying to replicate the pizza at Patsy's, one of New York's oldest and finest pizzerias. I marveled at the guy's obsessiveness, and I loved the post, but what really intrigued me was his list of favorite pizzerias. There were all the usual suspects (Lombardi's, Totonno's, John's), but there was one that I never heard of, Johnny's Pizzeria in Mount Vernon, New York, a suburb just north of New York City.
A couple of weeks ago, I organized a Serious Eats road trip with Adam; SE general manager Alaina Browne; our phenomenal intern, Robyn (AKA The Girl Who Ate Everything); and one of my oldest and dearest friends, Bob.
Bob grew up in Mount Vernon, and he had never been to or heard of Johnny's, either. The five of us piled into a Zipcar and with the help of Google maps found our way to Johnny's, located in the back of a strip mall in what can only be described as a forgotten part of town.
As you can tell from Robyn's photo at right, Johnny's looks like the real deal. The pizzaiolo statue in the window is the giveaway, along with the No Slices sign found inside. We ordered two pizzas along with veal-parmesan and chicken-parmesan heroes. Note to my wife: It really wasn't too much foodthere were five of us to feed!
The pizza, made in a conventional gas-fired pizza oven, was pretty great. The crust was just thick enough to give each bite a nice balance of crunch and tenderness. Likewise, the sauce-to-cheese ratio was, to my way of thinking, perfect. That is, there were discrete areas of sauce and cheese. The cheese was slightly aged mozzarella, sliced in-house. In short, it was pizza I would be happy to eat every day.
I started playing pizza reporter and asking questions about when Johnny's opened and who was behind it. Our waitress directed me to a yellowed piece of paper framed on the wall that explained the pizzeria's history. Not surprisingly, Johnny's was started by a bread baker who plied his trade on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx and in Manhattan's East Harlem, two neighborhoods that poor southern Italian immigrants flocked to in New York City around the turn of the twentieth century. The founding family's third generation now mans the ovens.
I took out my camera and was about to snap a picture of the framed piece of paper when one of the waitresses came over. "You can't take a picture of that," she said pointing to the photo before she delivered the coup de grace: "We don't know who you are. You could be some kind of investigator."
That's me, Ed Levine, your pizza investigator. Have any of you embarked on a pizza investigation recently?
Address: 30 West Lincoln Avenue, Mount Vernon NY 10550