Wednesday, June 8, 2011
Johnny's Place: Great Food and Greater Service
There are many famous eateries in the Oakland/Shadyside/Squirrel Hill Area. You can choose from late night classic "The Original," morning hot spot "Pamela's," or a favorite for munchies and drinks "Buffalo Blues," but none compare to the food and hospitality of "Johnny's Place" located at 256 North Craig Street in North Oakland.
"Johnny's Place" is a little known secret to people who are tired of the same old Oakland eateries, people who want to avoid the crowd, or simply those who have entered the restaurant on a whim and have been returning time and time again because they are sure to have a great meal and friendly service. I do not eat at "Johnny's" as much as I would like (usually about two times per year), but regardless of my frequency Johnny always welcomes me in like an old pal and quickly remembers my regular drink order and has it on the table for me. "Johnny's" is an unassuming restaurant/bar located on the once thriving street corner of the intersection of Centre Avenue and North Craig Street. Now, "Johnny's" sits next to a vacant lot and a boarded up Giant Eagle. That has not stopped "Johnny's" from serving the greatest sandwiches in Pittsburgh.
Johnny is the face of the restaurant while wife and business partner, Karen, is the mastermind in the kitchen. Each one of their creations has its own unique spin on a classic meal. Today, I ordered the Teriyaki Burger served on a hoagie bun. You can never go wrong with one of their Asian inspired dishes as Johnny hails from Korea and moved here as a boy. Each sandwich is mammoth in proportion compared to competitors and leaves you satisfied with only a half, if you are wondering whether you should order the whole or half. Another popular pick from the menu is the classic Reuben. This comes out of the oven sizzling just daring you to eat it while it could still burn your tongue, but don't fear, just order a side of his great french fries which you can "kick up with a little spice, scale 1-10" if your mouth is watering. These fries rival the famous "O-fries" and I feel edge out the previously crowned champion because no ketchup or sauce is needed to enjoy these fries. Another pair ordered the steak and egg and both were more than satisfied with this behemoth sandwich topped with tomato, onion, lettuce, and mayonnaise. One happy eater even proclaimed "this is better than any Primanti sandwich" which could be considered blasphemous here in Pittsburgh.
Although the food is amazing it is the character and conversation which keeps customers going back to "Johnny's." Since the first time that I ate there, Johnny made sure to make his customers and I feel important. Although the restaurant may be bustling at lunch time, Johnny takes the time to catch up with all of his customers by sharing his life while learning the lives of his customers as well. In addition to the personal charm of Johnny himself, the restaurant is filled with sports memorabilia which pays homage to local sports legends from classics such as Mario Lemieux and Jim Leyland to lesser known sports teams and athletes such as the Pittsburgh Stingers and former Pitt Panther great, Tom Tumulty. The inside of "Johnny's" is well kept and clean with seating at the bar, a section with booths, high chair tables, and a few big screen TVs. You can tell that Johnny loves his work and restaurant.
Although "Johnny's" is a great place to eat, the only downside is that it is mainly a lunch restaurant. It is often difficult to make it in to the restaurant before it is locked up as Johnny likes to close around 5 PM. Just be sure to call ahead or stop in and he will be glad to stay open for you if need be. "Johnny's" has been at its current location since 1988 after a brief five year stint downtown. Not only has "Johnny's" changed locations, but it has also changed dramatically over the years as it used to be open to serve the late night crowd, but has scaled back its hours and discontinued alcohol sales. As long as "Johnny's" stays open we will all be happy.
I rate this restaurant 5/5 stars and recommend that everyone sample something from the menu. I have had everything on the menu at least once and never have I been disappointed. Keep up the good work, Johnny!
Editors Note: Unfortunately this restaurant has closed after many great years, see Obituary: http://pghblastfurnace.blogspot.com/2011/07/obituary-of-legendary-eatery-johnnys.html