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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

John's Pizzeria Ristorante & Lounge [Meeting #81]

John's Pizzeria Ristorante & Lounge [GoogleMaps]
2104 N. Western Ave.
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 384-1755

CPC invaded John's on 5/27/09.

Review submitted by Chand.

John (who according to the manager didn't give his last name out) immigrated from Sicily bringing with him his family's secret recipes. This formed the basis of the pizzeria he established in the West Bucktown area in 1957. His sons Tony & Larry continue the tradition since John's passing, operating the sole establishment for 15 years now.

You can spot John's driving down Western by the large green and white sign. Walk inside and welcome back to 1957. The interior is truly lounge-style, replete with vinyl seating and table coverings and nostalgic posters of Italy. Low, worn tulip lights add to the time-warp atmosphere. To your left there's a diner-counter and on the right a small dining area. The main dining room is in the next room along with a small bar in back. They also provide cute puzzle paper place mats that even so-called adults are drawn too.

The menu is extensive with classic appetizers such as onion rings and an assortment of garlic bread. There is just about every type of pasta, "tasty" sandwich and random stuff you can imagine (click on the website link to peruse their full menu).

This is my first time at John's, and since I had come across a 2007 Timeout list ranking it top 5 thin crust bar pies in Chicago, we chose the following:

  • Roman Pizza (Sausage, Onion, Garlic, Basil & Tomato)
  • Meat-zza Pizza (Bacon, Sausage, Hamburger & Pepperoni)
  • Taco Pizza (Lettuce, Tomato, Hamburger, Onion, Taco Seasoning & Jalepenos on the side)
  • Veggie Pizza (Mushroom, Onion, Bell pepper & Black Olive)
  • Margherita Pizza (Tomato, Basil & Mozzarella)
John's mostly uses fresh ingredients, including sausage delivered daily. The thin crusts came out with a fair amount of carmelization and generous toppings. Greasiness was above average, however according to reviews on yelp and other sites, this is what's expected when you're ordering from Johns. While the outside crust was crispy, it definitely got soggier as you worked your way toward the center. The cheese was chewy, but not overly so. Perhaps I waited too long for my slices, but I felt they were lukewarm too. Most people enjoyed the Meat-zza, which meshed together well without losing the distinct flavors. The taco pizza had stronger taco seasonings, which prevented it from the usual devolution into a salad pizza. The Roman was a pleasant variation of a frequent CPC combo of sausage, onion and garlic, with added basil and tomato to mellow it out. My impressions of the Veggie and Margherita were positive, but neither particularly stood out, however I heard a few people say they liked the Margherita. A football 14"x22" pizza is also trumpeted, but we elected not to try that. One note about the service: even though we had a large 15 person group, it still was rather lackadaisical. Nobody greeting you at the door, among other things like having to track down the waitress to get the check. That being said, perhaps what makes up for that was the bill being a recession-friendly $7 per person. People were enjoying themselves, and the locals consistently give it high marks on review websites. Overall, John's is a decent place if you're wandering down Western Avenue, looking for solid value.

Chicago Pizza Club gives John's Pizzeria a 6.6

John's Pizzeria Ristorante and Lounge on Urbanspoon


  1. I'm trying to think of how many times I've gone up and down Western Ave. past John's Pizzeria and been completely oblivious to its existence. Whether or not this is a comment on me or on the location is to be seen... however, I was glad to be there last night for sure.

    I love the variety of quality tacos in Chicago, and I don't know why, but lately I'd been craving the old school taste of cheap supermarket seasoned tacos like your suburban mom would make you for dinner on a Saturday night, and the Taco Pizza at John's Pizzeria was the perfect thing to satisfy that craving. The Taco Pizza was easily my favorite pie of the night, I loved the crispness of the lettuce that topped the pizza and the seasoning on the meat was fantastic... not sure if it came out of a small supermarket packet or what, but I don't really care. Loved it.

    The rest of the pizzas were pretty good, but not really memorable. The Roman Pizza and the Meat-zza had excellent toppings, but the Veggie and Margherita didn't do much for me.

    I give John's Pizzeria a 6.5/10 I enjoyed eating here and would go back, but it's not a pizza I'll be craving or planning special trips for.

  2. Hi. This is El Presidente!

    I once lived essentially across the street from John's and did eat here a few times. I seem to recall a CPC meeting here in our early days before we had conceptualized a blog. But I don't think I have a record of it anywhere. So we'll treat this as a brand new meeting.

    Unlike Chand, I was very happy with the crust. I had all crisp pieces, even on center squares. The only exception were the veggie and margherita pizza that were loaded with water-laden vegetables. Even then, the crust wasn't soggy, just not crisp.

    While I thought the meat pizzas were all very good, I think the Roman was my favorite one. You don't usually get a pizza where the flavors of basil, oregano, and garlic and be considered stronger than the meat. The tomatoes were a perfect acidic counterpart to the earthy flavors the pizza otherwise represented. In a word, I loved it.

    The taco pizza is as cheesy and corny as it may sound, but it was damn good. It's not a Pizza by Alex take on taco meeting pizza, it's a Taco Bell interpretation. Andrew's comment is spot-on with regards to the taco pizza.

    The veggie and margherita were completely fine, but I really don't like that many vegetables on a pizza. It tastes like a salad with all my least favorite salad components like olives and green peppers.

    So even though 2 of the pizzas were not as good as I wanted them to be, all that I can think about are the other 3 that we had. Will I go back? I think I will when I want a thin crust with sausage different from my standard places. I'm surprised to see myself giving it an 8.0, but it does meet the criteria.

  3. Adding to my impressions in the post, I thought the pizza was above average in some respects--such as generous toppings and interesting combinations. I was surprised the meat-zza worked so well, as I generally am not a fan of that type unless I'm getting a deep dish or pan. I am a sucker for taco pizzas, and while most taco pizzas aren't that flavorful, on this one I could notice the seasonings! Not quite the overlooked gem I was hoping for, but solid nonetheless.


  4. Second time is a charm. I visited John's Pizzeria back in 02, ordered a veggie pizza, and wanted to forget this place existed. Last night changed my mind. I'd gladly go back for the meat-zza. Why? I'm not a die hard carnivore, but that meat was so perfectly crispy and good!

    There weren't any bad pizzas of the bunch we ordered, but certain ones were more flavorful than others. When I picked up my roman slice, all I could smell was garlic. This is good. I thought it was a little runny, maybe because of the tomatoes, but I enjoyed it. The veggie this time around was alright, but on the bland side. The crunchy green peppers were the highlight of this pie. Margherita wasn't memorable. I ate it and it was gone. Out of sight, out of mind. Taco pizza was good. I was curious to see what was under all that lettuce. I thought I tasted refried bean as the "sauce" but I guess it was just ground beef and taco seasoning. It was refreshing with the load of iceberg. The crust on all were quite thin and crispy. I didn't experience any sogginess. The tomato sauce was very thin, wet, but had good flavor (oregano?). Cheese was nice, not too pully.

    John's Pizzeria proved to me that second chances can be fruitful. I give him a 7.5.

  5. Max here, long time friend to El Presidente and Chand, and first time Chicago Pizza Club attendee.

    I'm going to throw my hat in the ring for John's Taco Pizza as my personal favorite. It's definitely nouveau style "taco" (deluxe toppings, organic vegetables, Rick Bayless-style seasonings), but more in the vein of a suburban-style taco pizza (see Andrew's comments above)

    I didn't try the meat lover's style pizza (Meat-zza), but it seemed to get high marks from everyone else around the table. The Margherita didn't move me that much, and I found myself migrating to the other vegetable-laden pizza.

    On the non-food related side of things, the place screamed authentic olde-time Chicago, as the main dining room was decorated like a circa 1960s recreation room, complete with reproductions of some Old Master style paintings, mood lighting, and so on.

    I'm going to hedge my bets here by offering up a 7.0/7.5 out of 10 for John's Pizzeria.

  6. The taco pizza was just bad. Lettuce does not have a strong flavor, yet lettuce was the dominant flavor on the taco pizza. You know what that means? It means you have a taco pizza with weak-ass seasoning, and that is not a good thing. To the extent there was seasoning, it seemed come from a taco sauce that was no different from the kind in packets at Taco Bell.

    The Meat-zza pizza was not bad thanks to the pile of meat, though ground beef addded nothing to this pie. The Meat-zza suffered from having the same boring far-too-soft crust that all three pies I tried had.

    The third pizza I had, the Roman, was the best of the bunch. The fresh tomatoes and the garlic worked well with what was a very good sausage. Again, the crust failed to stand up to the rest of the pizza.

    Normally at CPC meetings, I can reliably be counted on to eat well over my share. At John's, I ate a grand total of three squares of pizza.

    I wouldn't mind eating the Roman pizza again, but I certainly would not go out of my way to eat it. I give John's a 4.

  7. I didn't like how the toppings just slipped away from the crust and the pizza became a mess in my hands. The crust itself, I enjoyed, definitely just crispy enough.

    My favorite pie was the Meatzza. Not amazing, but fantastic sausage and a good chunky texture. The Margherita was solid but not memorable, The Taco was good but there was too much lettuce and not enough meat/beans/cheese. The Roman I didn't really like, the tomatoes didn't have enough flavor for me. And the Veggie was mediocre on the verge of bad...tasted like frozen pizza.

    I give John's a 5.5. I would willingly go back, but it's nowhere near the top of my list.

  8. Like most of the others I think the Meatzza was the clear cut winner from this batch. This is perhaps the first meat laden pie I've had the actually worked. The way everything blended together and the lack of excessive grease (for a meat pie that is) made for an excellent pizza.

    The Roman pizza is the combination I would traditionally order. This pie however didn't have any attributes that stood out; I found myself wishing for double the garlic and basil. Don't get me wrong, it was good but definitely 2nd to the Meatzza.

    If Tombstone had a physical pizzeria I would expect their pies to taste like the veggie. If you're looking for a vegetarian pizza, stick with the margherita, which while not great wasn't nearly as foul as the veggie.

    John's makes a decent pie, not great but definitely satisfying. If I return, it will be for a Meatzza with some garlic added. Worth a 6.5 in my book.

  9. I really enjoyed John's. I thought the crust maintained its integrity -- I didn't have any soggy slices from the middle, but maybe I just got lucky. I think it is definitely worth going to for the Roman, the Meatzza, and the Taca Pizza, which -- if I'm being honest with myself-- was my favorite. It had that old-school taco day at school flavor and I thought it was great. The sausage on the Roman and Meatzza pizzas were terrific, and the Roman pizza in particular was well balanced with flavor.

    I give John's a 7.75.

  10. I only tried three of the five pizzas. As picking off the meat just doesn't seem fair. Fortunately, I can pawn it off to the meat lovers.

    The Roman pizza was very good even without the sausage. The ingredients were fresh, the sauce was sweet and tangy and the cheese was salty.

    The Margarita Pizza was okay. It was not as fresh as the Roman pizza. Nothing really noteworthy. With something that simple it seemed as if they didn't care, which is sad.

    The Veggie pizza was not very good at all. The veggies did not go well together and I hate canned black olives. The flavor of this pie was vaguely reminiscent of something frozen.

    Overall the most redeeming part of the pizza was the crust: it stayed strong. They didn't skimp on cheese either so I was pretty impressed by it's crispiness. Unfortunately, the pies were not consistent in blends of flavor and ingredients

    I loved the decor of the room. It a great space with lots of fun things to look at.
    I give John's a 6.

  11. John's makes a solid thin crust pizza. The crust could have been better if it were a bit crispier, but I did not think it was too soft. I liked the browned/burnt cheese around the edges. There aren't a lot of strong flavors coming from the sauce, so toppings are pretty important here. I'm usually wary of meat-lover type pizzas, but that turned out to be my favorite here. The bacon was crispy and not too greasy. I also liked the Roman a lot because the sausage was delicious, but the tomatoes on this pie (as well as the margherita) were really bland. I guess we're not quite in peak tomato season, but I think the Roman would have actually been my favorite if it had been topped with tangy, flavorful tomatoes. Instead, the otherwise good flavors were interrupted every time I bit into one of these dull lumps. Neil's Tombstone comparison for the veggie pizza is apt. And I liked the taco seasoning on the taco pizza, but I hate iceberg lettuce. It might have been better if it were shredded more finely to blend in with the other elements of the pizza. I thought it was interesting that they served it with a bowl of sour cream, and that made it pretty good. I give John's a 7.0.

  12. There are two sides to the taco pizza. It's not fine food by any means, and if you expect that at all then you will be disappointed. I, however, got total giddy nostalgia from the taco slices, and I think that Stu described them perfectly. I haven't had a taco of the caliber they emulated in well over 15 years, and don't plan on eating another any time soon, but still it satisfied a sick part of me, and without the gross aftereffect of heading to the 'Bell, (or of my mom's cooking). I had two slices of the taco pizza, and would have fought for another one if there were any left.

    What stood out as truly good food was the Roman pizza. The sausage especially was excellent. The basil and garlic did come off as understated at first, but I think it just blended into and complimented the other toppings of the pizza excellently, without demanding the attention that it often does. This pizza was almost the perfect combination of a pizza from John's. I'm not sure what I would add or subtract in trying to order a better pie there.

    The other pizzas, however, varied for me. I liked the "meatza", but wished that the pepperoni were a better quality, and I didn't even notice the beef on it. The biggest disappointment to me was the veggie pizza. While I don't entirely agree with Neil's comparison to Tombstone, (because that is much more gross), I can see where he was coming from. The vegetables overall didn't have nearly the same level of quality that some of the meat did, and that contrast made them stand out as particularly sub-par. Also, I hate canned black olives.

    I love the location of John's for its convenience, and really loved the atmosphere. It was almost a combination of my grandfather's basement bar and a Golden Nugget. I think it's a great, cozy place to dine with a group of friends, but probably not a good location for a romantic date.

    Overall, I really liked John's pizza a lot. It doesn't pull any tricks, it's certainly not fancy or region-specific -- it's just good solid pizza. I found myself not only telling several people about the pizza, but also craving it this entire past week. I'm going to go there again, soon, and I'm going for the pizza. I give it a 7.25.

  13. I remember this place. My husband and I stopped at John's pizzeria when we were in Chicago a few months ago. We had the Margherita and we were a little bit disappointed.

    Jackie @ PhamFatale.com