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Free Range

Johnny Rad's

Skate-themed pizzeria does its pie and its bar business right

Photo: Sam Holden, License: N/A

Sam Holden


Johnny Rad's

2108 Eastern Ave., [443] 759-6464, johnnyrads.com

More at weekly.citypaper.com

The sign that sits on Eastern Avenue in front of Johnny Rad’s reads pizza beer parking . two out of three ain’t bad.

The sign is succinct, but doesn’t quite do justice to this very fine pizzeria and tavern. You might not want or need Johnny Rad’s pizza, but once you taste it, you’ll find you’re going to love it. And while there’s no doubt that parking would make a very good experience even better, it’s worth circling the blocks to find a spot.

The bar’s name and décor are paeans to skateboarding, and walking into Johnny Rad’s feels like crashing a party in someone’s club basement (minus the knotty pine). The room hums with conversation, television, and the earnest music of indie rock bands. Red pendant lights hanging above the bar give off a warm glow, and the behind-the-bar cabinet with the diamond-shaped American Beer logo etched in the glass that looks like it housed your uncle’s stein and shot glass collection is a beaut.

But if Johnny Rad’s is a party, it’s not one where you’re left standing around feeling awkward wishing you had a drink in your hand. Once the staff spots you (and it doesn’t take long), they’re helping you find a seat, assessing that you’re okay with eating at the bar, and pulling stools and asking already seated folks to make room, so you don’t have to beg for chairs or space. That courtesy goes a long way, as does the general friendliness of the staff, which even on a wildly busy night takes a moment to answer a question about a beer, bring a glass of water, or box up leftovers for you rather than leaving you to fend for yourself.

Not that there will be many leftovers to box. The menu at Johnny Rad’s is compact but covers the basic ground of good bar food and accommodates meat-eaters and vegans alike. There are house-made hush puppies ($5) spiked with scallions and kernels of corn, so light they feel like they’re hovering above the plate. There’s black bean hummus and fried edamame, hand-cut fries, and a splendid, heaping bowl of hand-cut chips ($3) dusted with sea salt. There’s also a burger, though no one seems to be having one.

Instead, giant dishes of salads—a caprese tender with fresh mozzarella and a slightly sweet balsamic dressing ($9), a Caesar, a garden, a Greek-inspired salad called nomad—and pizza after pizza fill the bar and the surrounding tables. Because, undoubtedly, pizza is Johnny Rad’s raison d’être. The crust is “Neapolitan ‘style’ thin crust center with soft airy cornicione” according to the menu. This translates as puffy around the perimeter, like Indian naan hot out of the oven, and pleasantly thin and chewy everywhere else. Teaming the crust with the fresh fior di latte mozzarella and a tart tomato sauce that tastes like tomatoes instead of sweet ketchup makes a traditional pizza, like the trainwreck ($10 for an 11-inch, $15 for a 15-inch), which also has spinach, mushrooms, and black olives, a pretty special pie. The Hosoi ($10 for an 11-inch, $15 for a 15-inch), on the other hand, will not be a traditionalist’s cup of tea. It burns and smokes with jalapeños and pancetta tempered only by the sweetness of a handful of fresh pineapple chunks, but I’ve always had a weak spot for this combination. A pesto vitello smelled heavenly as it was carried by, and that and the el gato, a white pizza, are on my to-try list for next time.

Johnny Rad’s also boasts a delightful beverage list with equally delightful prices, especially if you happen to want a pint during the hours of 5 and 8 p.m., Monday through Thursday or 5 and 7 p.m. Friday, when drafts of Lagunitas IPA, Victory Prima Pils, and Brewers Art OZZY (or whatever is rotating in on tap) go for a mere $3 (at other times, pints are a reasonable $5). Bottled beers include offerings from microbreweries such as Anchor and Green Flash, as well as a bevy of Belgians such as Orval or the organic line from Pinkus, and can drinkers aren’t ignored either. You can have both your Natty Boh and your Mama’s Little Yella Pils, thank you very much (there’s even Yoohoo for the kiddies). The winelist is also thoughtful and touches most corners of the New World (and a few of the Old) for interesting bargains.

Food and drink are clearly taken seriously at Johnny Rad’s, but there’s no pretense, no posing. And while Johnny Rad’s is certainly not the fanciest place I’ve eaten recently, it’s definitely the most hospitable. I can’t wait to go back. Save a place at the bar for me.

Johnny Rad’s is open 7 days for food and drink.

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