It’s no secret that Fordham University prides itself in its strong ties to Irish culture — our unofficial Alma Mater is “Danny Boy,” just FYI . But, we should never forget where we are: the heart of Little Italy in the Bronx. It’s one of the few American neighborhoods I’ve encountered where you can still hear Italian spoken on the streets. More importantly, it’s home to Arthur Avenue, where the food is always flowing: Tino’s paninis could make your Uncle Vinny weep, DeLillo’s gelato will make your little paesano scream, and Gerbasi’s Chicken Marsala will make your Nonna jealous. Not to mention the pizza.
But we all know that, around here, pizza is more than an Italian thing. It’s even more than a New York thing. To us, pizza is our prize, covered in pepperoni and paid forward at the end of a successful night-out on Fordham Road. It’s the point of our pilgrimage to Pugsley’s. We harbor hazy but happy memories of the grease coating our stomachs, perfectly accenting whatever else we may have consumed on that fateful evening. Like cheese to fine wine — though it probably wasn’t fine wine.
Pizza is our celebration, whether we’re finishing finals or just getting started (pizza always makes that easier to bear). You could be hunkered down hungrily over your homework, you could be drunk in your dorm with Die Hard on DVD. Pizza will be there. Pizza is a Fordham thing.
So, how does John’s Pizzeria, the new kid on the block, hold up to our Fordham favorites — Pugsley’s, Full Moon, Bellini’s?
First of all, you can’t deny that the place is a legendary New York City staple. John’s first opened in Greenwich Village back in the 1920s, and, since then, it has exploded into a citywide, authoritative standard in the art of NYC pizza. Widely known and widely dispersed, John’s is also famous for their strict “no slices” rule. They mean business.
Plus, with a name as boring as “John’s Pizzeria,” the pizza HAS to be good.
I recently visited John’s newest sit-down spot on Arthur Avenue. At around 7pm on a Friday night, the place was nearly empty. My date and I had one of the restaurant’s two adjacent rooms all to ourselves, but we could hear the laughter of a few other Fordham students through the wall. Soft, acoustic versions of songs like Passenger’s “Let Her Go” and Adele’s “Chasing Pavements” whispered over the crackling fire of the nearby brick oven.
I had a feeling we weren’t in Pugsley’s anymore.
I ordered the reasonably priced personal Margherita pie — a plain choice but, hey, if you can’t get mozzarella, fresh basil, and tomato sauce right, I don’t NEED anything else from you. My date was a bit more adventurous and ordered a small bacon and vodka sauce pie.
When it comes to taste, John’s is doing something right — it’s gotta be that brick oven. For the Margherita pie, the crust embodied a perfect mix of chewy and crispy, and the cheese was hot, buttery, and fresh. Pugsley’s, I love you, but your cheese has nothing on John’s. The tomato sauce had just enough sweetness too. Bella.
For those of you unsatisfied with Italian-American tradition, the bacon and vodka sauce pie is also worth a bite. I personally could’ve used some crispier bacon and sweeter vodka sauce, but the crust had that signature chewy-crisp and the cheese was creamy. It wasn’t my favorite, but to each their own.
Tom Merante FCRH’14, a self-identified pizza enthusiast, is a fairly frequent John’s visitor and definitely a fan.
“The pizza is phenomenal — nice and thin like its midtown counterpart,” Merante said, “I would like to see [John’s Pizzeria] gain more of a following with Fordham students, who I think may be a bit daunted by its sit-down atmosphere.”
That “[daunting]” feeling would certainly explain why there were so many empty tables during dinnertime on a Friday night. Bobby Dallas GSB’14, another opinionated pizza critic, also named customer loyalty as a basic, deciding factor against John’s.
“[These new pizza places] haven’t built the experience and sentimental connection of, say, Pugsley’s or even University Pizza,” explained Dallas, “I do think that John’s has a chance, but I think that they’ll probably be best suited marketing to the locals before they market to the students, due to our very crowded pizza market.”
I also sat down with Ali Pfleging FCRH’16, who was a waitress at John’s Pizzeria last semester. She cites John’s as a great spot for Rams to eat before going out. For a place that apparently closes at 10pm on the dot, that certainly makes sense.
“People aren’t too happy about the ‘no slices’ policy, but, in the end, the prices aren’t bad,” Pfleging said, “For a personal pie, it’s around 6 bucks. Bellini’s, for instance, raised their prices over the winter and are now charging 5 bucks for just one slice! Really, [with John’s], you’re getting more for your money.”
Before anyone gets too mad, Pfleging lists Bellini’s as her favorite Fordham pizza joint. Mediocre prices aside, their penne alla vodka pizza is just “so damn good.”
In accordance with Dallas’s earlier point, Pfleging also says, while John’s Pizzeria hopes to eventually fall into the good graces of the Fordham student body, they’re more eager to impress their fellow “little Italians” in the Bronx.
“I don’t think [John’s] has to worry about competing with the ‘let’s-just-grab-a-slice’ kind of places,” Pfleging explained, “I’m more worried about them competing with the real, sit-down restaurants of Arthur Ave. John’s is a sit-down place, and they have more than pizza. They have everything! And it’s all really good.”
Well, their personal Margherita pie was enough to impress me. So, let’s quickly recap:
- Great taste? Check. Although, make sure you visit the restaurant — in my opinion, their pizza doesn’t travel very well.
- Reasonable prices? Check. They accept Ram bucks too.
- Likable atmosphere? Depends on what you’re looking for.
Fordham, as always, it’s up to you to pick your pizza poison.