Today I was invited to a “good ol’ pizza party”, but this isn’t your Pizza Hut or pizza by the slice variety. This is New York style pizza. Pizza made with a “characteristically large hand-tossed, thin crust, that is thick and crisp only along its edges; yet soft, thin, and pliable enough beneath its toppings to be folded in half to eat.” Or so I have read and watched on television. Truth be told, I don’t have much experience with New York style pizza, so I guess this was as close as I can get, until I find myself in the Big Apple. The fact that New York style pizza is served in large slices, is enough of a reason for me to want to go. I love food when it comes to you larger than expected, or even larger than you really need it.
Owner Anthony “AJ” Caridi opened “AJ’s” with his wife. The goal was to “bringing a piece of Brooklyn to Vancouver”. He grew up in New York City, and she Vancouver; specifically the Mount Pleasant area, in which their restaurant resides. So this venture is really a story if them coming together and offering something better together.
AJ spent his childhood visiting his neighbourhood pizzerias. On top of them being great places to eat at, these shops served as a hot spot for the community to hang out at as well. This is what AJ envisioned when he embarked on recreating his childhood. He wanted his own spot to offer delicious pizza by the slice and as a pie; as well as serve as a welcoming place to park yourselves at; and we definitely did just that. And given the location of his first venture, he should have no problem soliciting patrons and engaging the community. He has chosen a prime meeting space within walking distance of transit, on a busy strip.
“AJ’s Brooklyn Pizza Joint” first opened their doors in November, and since then, they have been serving the Brooklyn experience in the form of pizza and a selection of local craft beers on tap. Classic and traditional NYC pizzas are served in all 5 Boroughs of New York: Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx, Staten Island, and Manhattan. At AJ’s they use similar ingredients and techniques with house made sauces, and the curst of each is finished with garlic oil, parm, and a brush of olive oil.
All of their pizzas are named after the NYC pizza experience and pizza folk who have given to the scene. In this way AJ is paying respect to them, recognizing their contributions. Much like the featured cement table that centred his joint. Here the slab of cement was carved into. Names of everyone who made this dream and their restaurant a reality, was given a place. Their memory would be literally etched into “AJ Brooklyn Pizza Joint” forever.
The following is a collection of most of their pizzas on menu, but you also have the ability to customize your own. But truly the ones being offered are so good, so why bother customizing your own, when you can trust the skill of their master pizza maker with 9 years of dough tossing experience under her belt?
The highlight of the night, and my new favourite type of pizza has got to be the “Sicilian Square”. It is named after the Italian (Sicilian) immigrants, who first introduced it to the New York City food scene. I love carbs and a good doughy bread, so this one checks all the boxes for me. This is a round pizza cut into square servings. It is over an inch thick, and each piece could be mistaken for a slice of cake, if not for the thick marinara sauce and the stringy cheese pulling from it. The centre is so fluffy, so given its girth it is actually surprising that it is one of the more airiest pizzas on the menu. And apparently the corner pieces are the ones that people fight over, according to AJ. Their “Sicilian Squares” are available in three different varieties, but I recommend the “New York Sicilian: Traditional Cheese” with its simple mozzarella cheese, Sicilian tomato sauce, and fresh basil combination.
In general I like a fresh tasting and light pizza, so I always gravitate to the classic margherita pizza. At AJ’s this is “Grimaldi’s Classic Margherita” with fresh mozzarella, fresh crushed tomato sauce, parm cheese, and fresh basil. The slices for this and all the pizzas to come are as large as your head. The curst is firm but the dough from the tip is limp. Therefore you find yourself folding it in half length wise for a better grip, and your head tilting to meet it for an easier bite.
“John’s Pepperoni Pie” with shredded mozza, pepperoni, and extra virgin olive oil is another classic. Plenty of pepperoni circles ensures you get a spicy and heavily seasoned round in every bite.
“Juno’s Semi Spicy Fun-Guy” has tomato sauce, shredded mozza, hot calabrese, mushrooms, and pepperoncini. This one was another very flavourful pizza, a little on the heavier side with all the punchy ingredients used.
“Suzanne’s Red Pepper Pesto” was a pie named after AJ’s late mother, a tribute to her, with what I assume was her favourite pizza toppings. This is one of their four vegetarian options with a non-red sauce base. I liked the change of flavour the fragrant pesto offered here.
The “Mount Pleasant Veg” was a very well received vegetarian pizza made with garlic oil, shredded mozza, arugula, and artichokes. The collection of textures kept the slices interesting, and the finishing touch of lemon oil gave it an unique taste, one I have never had on pizza.
I was really excited to try the “Totonno’s Capers & Anchovies” pizza. I have always wanted to try anchovies on a pizza and not many places offer it as a topping option in Vancouver, nor would I want to commit to a whole anchovy pizza. So today, in the spirit of sharing, this was the perfect time to check one of my foodie bucket list. Shredded mozza, capers, and anchovies over a red sauce. It was as salty people say it is, furthered by the capers. It is definitely an acquired taste, but one that grows on you when followed by a gulp of beer.
If you are looking for sides or a starter to share before your pizza mains, they also offer salads and a platter of meat and cheese to begin with. The “Classic Caesar Salad” with romaine lettuce, hand-made caesar dressing, and croutons. And the “Arugula with shaved parmesan cheese”, lemon juice, olive oil, and salt and pepper.
The “Charcuterie Plate” is a rotating offering of “today’s meat and cheese”, and today it was silken burrata, with ribbons of prosciutto; dressed in olive oil and balsamic with a side of crostini and green olives.
They also offer a limited selection of “Lee’s Donuts” from Granville Island, purchased fresh daily for a sweet snack or dessert. To it, you have the option of adding a scoop of ice cream or gelato. AJ liked the presence of the local doughnutier, and their story and long ties to the community. I guess he saw himself in them, and therefore wanted to align with their collection of cakey rings in maple icing, chocolate, and sprinkles.
Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – No.
I would make a trip down to “AJ’s” anytime I wanted flavourful and zesty pizzas on thin and chewy dough. They are located in such a central area, making them easy to get to whether driving toward downtown, or commuting home for work. They are great fresh and just as good the day after with a bit of toasting. “AJ’s” is a great new addition to Vancouver’s diversifying pizza scene, with history, heart, and plenty of variety to set them apart. Don’t deny your cravings.