Your first thought in relation to Johnny Pepperoni on 11th and Park may be that there’s nothing hidden about it: It occupies a great location where the legendary Ted & Jo’s used to be, it’s got it’s name and logo painted prominently on its exterior, and on most evenings it’s crowded with families and kids enjoying some pizza.
But if you’re thinking of the place as a pizza joint for families, that’s what we mean: The true charm of Johnny Pepperoni’s is hidden away. Under the top layer of family-friendly casual Italian fare is a nice spot for a date night—as long as you know what you’re doing and have a bottle of vino to bring, because Johnny Pepperoni’s is BYOB.
Of course, Johnny Pepperoni’s is beloved by families because it’s an ideal place to bring the kids. Aside from pizza, there are other kid-friendly choices on the menu (including that old classic pasta with butter), and it’s the sort of loud, easygoing place that doesn’t mind when there’s an army of kids racing about and shouting.
That does mean it’s probably not your first thought for a date night, but the trick is heading towards the rear (indoors or outdoors). If you turn right and head towards the bathrooms, you’ll find relatively quiet, intimate tables where there’s usually not too many kids—and because the kitchen and hostess stations are in-between, there’s a built-in buffer between you and the chaos.
It’s also easy to assume that Johnny Pepperoni doesn’t offer much by way of a menu, and it’s true the menu is relatively small. But the food is good—in fact, we can wholeheartedly recommend the Arancini di Riso, a.k.a. the Rice Balls. These are really, really good, and the place backs them up with some solid fundamentals—the bread is chewy and delicious, their red sauce is the right balance of sweet and sharp, and their pasta is always the perfect texture. Sure, at heart they’re an unassuming red-sauce place, but so what? If the food is good (and well-priced), that’s all that matters.
Johnny Pepperoni’s is always a pretty friendly, warm, welcoming place. The staff is always friendly, always happy to let you linger over your glass of wine, and quick to make thoughtful recommendations. In fact, when you put it all together the crowd of kids doesn’t take away from the charm, it actually enhances it, lending the place the kind of community feel you don’t get at every restaurant in town.
Bottom line: Johnny Pepperoni may not be the obvious choice for a date night dinner, but it should be on your list. With solid basics, good service, and great food (again, those Rice Balls) this is the sort of spot you can drop into any time and have a great dinner. Did we mention the Rice Balls? We’re certain we did. Rice Balls!