lunch with loretta: AJ’s NY Pizzeria

AJ’s NY Pizzeria
“If it is not used in the top NY pizzerias, it is not used at AJ’s.”
Dine In and Carry Out are Available

1930 SW Westport Drive | 785-861-7000
Hours: Sunday through Thursday, 11:00am-11:00pm; Friday & Saturday, 11:00am-2:00am

Like many Topekans, Loretta was very much looking forward to the opening of a new pizza joint in town, AJ’s NY Pizzeria. Cheese, meat and carbs? What’s not to love when it comes to pizza? And with such a rich history of delicious, local pizza, (Glory Days, Via’s, LaRocca’s) the new kid in town does hold a certain level of anticipation and mystery. Add to it that our neighbors to the west, the Manhattanites have been enjoying Big Apple-style pizza in the Little Apple for four years.

I was pleased to find that AJ’s NY Pizzeria was occupying an empty space at 1930 SW Westport Drive. Previously home to Frances O’Dooley’s Irish Pub & Grille, the pizzeria kept the woodwork, bar and fireplace while adding their own unique touches: the front end of a Checker Yellow Cab tops off the fireplace (a whole Checker Cab was parked out front adorned with a banner announcing, “Now Open”), large chalkboards listing the many pizza, appetizer, salad and beverage offerings, and miniature street signs reflecting the names of local streets which are used as table markers.

Hawaiian Delight slice

When my party stepped into AJ’s, we were surprised to find there were open tables. It was a Saturday evening, prime dining time, and there was no line, although a majority of the tables were occupied. After asking at the counter, we were invited to seat ourselves and to return to the counter when ready to order.

My dinner companions and I grabbed a table near the door, and realized as others came in, they also had the same confusion we did about the seating arrangements. A sign at the entrance would fix this, and Loretta is sure that this minor inconvenience will be fixed by time this blog is published. After all, it was only the second day of business for the pizzeria. Loretta is kind enough to overlook this oversight.

Tall cold Peroni

My party was rather peckish, and, bless their hearts, couldn’t agree on toppings. We were fortunate that a passing server said they were happy to do half-and-half on any of their pizzas except the Pizza Bianco and the John Stamos Greek-style pizza, as they have white sauce. Agreeing on half pepperoni and half Hawaiian Delight (pineapple and Canadian bacon), The Doctor’s Delight (Italian sausage, pork sausage, peppers, and green onions), and an appetizer of toasted ravioli and pizza bricks, Loretta went to the counter to order, and sent the men to the bar to fetch beers. Another companion chose a salad (Mon dieu!) to accompany her slice and ordered the Cobb salad.

The young lady at the counter was very pleasant, and after I ordered, she handed me my table marker/street sign. it was, “Jane St.”, which is a block-long street in my neighborhood, so this made Loretta feel quite at home. One thing we weren’t crazy about: since we paid when we ordered (same at the bar) and we were paying by debit card, we also had to leave our tip before we were served. Loretta is a generous tipper for good/great service, but she’s not psychic, so the tip could have been better if given the option to tip later.

Our appetizers were delivered rather quickly after we settled into our beers (tall glasses of Peroni for me and the Mister, the rest of the party were happy with their selections). We found the appetizers to be hot and delicious with appropriate amounts of dipping sauces.

Our pizzas soon arrived and with them the moment of truth. The pizzas were delicious, big thumbs up all the way around. Loretta thought it was perfect, and quite fascinating, that on this first day of the Fall season, we were enjoying pizzas that had a smoky taste to them. This was likely due to the well-seasoned gas-fired brick oven that served many years in a Brooklyn pizzeria before being moved to Topeka.  The salad-eater declared her salad to be, “Super fresh, crisp, everything you ask for in a salad.We will definitely be back. The large varieties of pizzas listed on that giant chalkboard simply beckons our return!

Time [from entering to exiting]: One and a half hours, but only because we were having a great time, we lingered! Service was fast and very good.
Cost per person: A slice and a soft drink, up to $7.  Average per person for an appetizer and a large pizza, around $6.
Leftovers: There were six of us, with plans for after dinner, so we ordered modestly so as to not allow leftovers to sit in the car.
If I could change one thing or had a suggestion: We would have liked a little more time between the arrival of our appetizer and the main course. The tables are small for a large pizza, so we were scrambling to empty the appetizer plate when the server showed up with the pizza.

[ September 2012 | photos by Loretta ]

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