The Secret is Out: Pizza J Is Officially Open

pizzajFRainy days make excellent pizza days (scratch that: ALL days make excellent pizza days), but it happened to be on the dreariest of rainy days that I made it to the West Side to see what Pizza J was all about.

If you aren’t a RI Food Fights Pizza Passport holder, and if you don’t live on the West Side, and if you don’t happen to know people who know people, you might not have heard the rumor about this newest edition to the neighborhood. But Pizza J, named for Julian of Julians (yes, THAT Julians, with the Bloody Mary and brunch specials that’ll leave you swooning), secretly opened its doors to some very lucky guinea pigs over the last few weeks. The good news, however, is THE DOORS ARE OFFICIALLY OPEN. My artist friend Rich and I went to taste — I mean test — I mean taste the waters, and here’s what we found.

If Julians and Ogie’s Trailer Park had a love child, I think it would resemble Pizza J. The ambiance is a mixture of industrial and artsy — a big open space with colorful walls covered in paintings and framed photographs. Flat-screen TVs play B&W movies (I was told “horror” is the genre), an “Item of the Week” billboard flashes its lights, and a beverage fridge glows with Greek letters in homage to Medusa’s sisters (think: the “Frankenstein” fridge in Julians) — although I do have my doubts about the spelling. A pizza oven blazes behind the bar and a game room hides in the back. Curious about the bathroom? Well, there are two, one bedecked in white marble and the other in wood, and they feel like actual throne rooms. The sinks alone are worth the visit. And anyone wondering why I would comment on the bathrooms has clearly never been to the one in Julians; you must do so!

I had the great fortune of meeting the main man himself, Julian, and getting his “Nickel Tour” of the restaurant (I believe my actual response when he introduced himself was, “NO WAY!”). I learned that he, along with the GM, Don, built every table, every bench, everything in the restaurant from scratch. The wood they used was part of the building itself or found in the neighborhood. The building’s previous owner had rebuilt and rewired car generators, starters and other electrical parts, and one of the reasons for the “industrial” feel of the restaurant is that they wanted to honor his life by preserving that essence. They also love supporting artists, which is why they feature an array of artists’ work in rotation. There is a large space in the back for patio seating in the summertime, and I was shown where they had to cut a hole in the wall to bring in the oven. Julian concluded his tour by saying, “I believe art is as much a part of life as being. That’s what Shakespeare was talking about when he said, ‘To be or not to be…’—he was talking about art.”

Intriguing food for thought.

As for the real food, neither Rich nor I could make decisions. Thankfully, our waiter, Mark, was a patient fellow. Since there wasn’t a cider on the drink menu, Rich inquired about a beer that was not too bitter. Before we knew it, we had a flight of beer samples in front of us. The Allagash White was his top choice, and I went with a basic red wine. The food menu was small but covered the basics: appetizers (“For destruction”), grinders, salads, and of course, pizza. I was surprised there were only six pizzas listed, but the menu is customizable: from substituting gluten-free crust and vegan cheese, to the addition of, say, meatballs to the Tony Clifton (a white pizza with herbed ricotta, potatoes, olive oil, roasted red peppers, onions, elephant garlic). Mark told me the Tony Clifton with meatballs was his favorite, and I was sold. We also grabbed a ChooChoo Appetizer Platter, all of the best (worst-for-you) foods: fried mozzarella, tempura vegetables, onion rings, an Italian eggroll, french fries and wings.

The appetizer came out nice and hot — maybe too hot for over-eager tempura eaters. Word of advice: Be cautious. I rejoiced when what I thought was a giant tempura’d carrot turned out to be a sweet potato because sweet potatoes make life better! But the surprise winner for me was the Italian eggroll. It was like a grinder inside of a warm shell, and wow. Amazing. Then, the pizza.

Square-shaped, with a thin bubbly crust, all the food groups in one small space. I inhaled half of the pizza before Rich started his second piece. And it was not a small pizza! It arrived on a giant cutting board half the size of the table, and 48 hours later, I think I might still be full. But it was oh, so good.

So there it is, the secret is out. The doors are open, and only one things remains: To eat, or not to eat—that is the question.

967 Westminster St., Providence

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