Before you scoff at the name, let me assure you there was a time when even we in the backwards cowtown of Oklahoma City had heard tell of a restaurant in Purcell, Oklahoma that made some might delicious pizza pies.
When Jo’s Famous Pizza finally opened stores in Oklahoma City...it didn’t blow up. Business seemed to do okay and the pizza I had there was good, but OKC was already pretty flush with pizza options.
Look at the murderer’s row of great pizza joints in Oklahoma City: Wedge Pizza (wood-fired, full of cool hippies), Empire Slice House (NY-style pies with awesome names, great beer), Hideaway (ubiquitous, tons of speciality toppings), Saucee Sicilian (Napoli-style, access to Nonna), Pizzeria Gusto (upscale ingredients, full non-pizza menu) and on and on and on.
Guys, competition is fierce for your pizza dollars. And that’s before we even get into the national chains that seem to be cutting prices so low you have to wonder if Soylent Green is...people?
Jo’s came into a crowded marketplace, but they also came in with a recipe for success and a stubborn streak a mile wide.
They weren’t changing. And I’m glad they didn’t.
Jo’s Famous Pizza isn’t fancy. There are plenty of crazy topping choices and some truly delicious speciality pies, but it’s good, straightforward pizza with a clear view of the flavors that make each dish desirable.
Appetizers at a pizza restaurant seem kind of unnecessary, right? Pizza is basically its own appetizer, especially if you’re getting a few kinds of pizza.
Most of them are just fried versions of other stuff on the menu. Fried mushrooms are delicious. Same with fried mozzarella. But they’re not exactly groundbreaking. It’s just the items you’re about to eat that have been dipped and fried before your other food comes out.
Even garlic knots and breadsticks, two things I deeply love, are just dressed down pizza dough.
And I’m not saying the boomers (8 for $5) are going to change your life, or even that they’re not kind of the same stuff you’re about to eat, but I like them. What you get are eight jalapeno halves, marginally de-seeded, stuffed with some mozzarella and topped with a crisp piece of bacon. The jalapeno is roasted. The cheese is melted. The bacon remains crispy. There’s ranch dressing, if you’re so inclined to dip, but they’re pretty good without it.
There’s still some heat, though it’s not overwhelming. Roasted jalapeno has a lovely, slightly sweet green flavor. The cheese adds more chew to the bite than flavor, but it does lend some fattiness that helps tame any residual burn.
Here’s something a lot of pizza places do, but that Jo’s puts front and center on the menu — split up your pie however you want. Specialty pizzas can be done in halves, thirds and fourths, which is as family friendly as you can get.
I tried a lot of different pizza varieties this way and I was grateful for that chance. But more to the point, as the father of young kids who are not always as open and accepting of new foods as I wish they were, the ability to carve up a pizza into different types is groundbreaking.
Most of Jo’s specialty pizzas are taste-alikes: a transplant of one kind of food onto the medium of pizza. It’s not something I crave in particular — if I want a taco, I will just go get a taco — but when you’ve got a picky eater it’s a godsend.
The other thing I really appreciate about Jo’s is the level of thought that goes into making each pizza individual. There are flavors here that aren’t generally found on a pizza, but perfectly encapsulate the foods they’re mimicking.
Take, for instance, the bacon, jalapeno and cheddar burger pizza ($13.99-28.99), which is exactly what it sounds like. A red sauce pie is topped with cheddar, hamburger, bacon and jalapeno, which is fine. But then they add on lettuce and tomato. Nice. But then...diced onions and mustard. I cannot tell you what a huge difference those last two ingredients make. It’s what takes it from a pizza with a few cheeseburger toppings and makes it a cheeseburger pizza.
Ditto the grilled chicken caesar salad pizza, which uses an olive oil and garlic sauce topped with good grilled chicken, mozzarella, feta cheese and parmesan. After the pizza is cooked, it’s topped with romaine lettuce tossed in caesar dressing.
The feta is a great addition, which pumps up the tanginess of the caesar dressing. All too often, these taste-alikes straddle the line between pizza and another food without satisfying either. This really does taste like a hand-held grilled chicken caesar salad.
Feta also plays a big role on The Italian, which has a lot of bold flavors to work with. Pepperoni and Italian sausage kind of take a back seat to the briny black olives and tart pepperoncinis. That said, this is much closer to a traditional pizza than some of the others I tried. But it’s still just a solidly tasty pie.
I liked the chicken alfredo pie, which wisely goes beyond simply subbing in alfredo sauce and instead adds in chicken, bacon and mushrooms to give it a lot more satisfying flavor. The secret ingredient here is fresh spinach, which adds just a touch of balance to an otherwise overwhelmingly rich pizza. Personally, I think the mushrooms are vital to this dish, but if you’re some kind of sick freak (hi, mom!) who can’t deal with mushrooms, you can probably enjoy it without them.
I was legit shocked by the De Fuego pizza, which isn’t even kidding about the heat level of the sauce. De Fuego sauce is green, fiery and pairs well with roasted pulled pork. The fresh avocado balances some of the heat, but it’s still got plenty of burn. This is the right pie for anyone craving taqueria food.
On the opposite end, The Taco pizza is much more in the vein of a crispy shell taco. While I’m not partial to black olives on my tacos, their presence here really sets this apart as a “true” taco pizza, if that makes any sense.
All the other ingredients — red sauce, mozzarella, ground beef — are a nod in the right direction, but the post-cooking topping of olives, lettuce, diced tomatoes and cheddar is what sells it. And for added taco-y goodness, it comes with packets of taco sauce that really reminds me of my childhood taco nights at home.
For sheer meatiness, The Sooner can’t be beat. But I’ll be honest: it could easily lose some of the meat without making much of a difference. Bacon, pepperoni and Italian sausage make the biggest impact, but chicken and hamburger barely register. Hot links, which I thought would completely overpower and dominate the flavor, weren’t even a factor.
It’s a delicious pizza, mind you, but some of the ingredients seemed wasted with so much else going on.
There is so much competition in the Oklahoma pizza-sphere. There are a staggering number of options to consider when you’re ordering. Jo’s might not be at the top of every list, but they really do make something for everyone. Definitely give it a look if you’re dealing with picky eaters, but also if you just enjoy tasting recipes that are really finely tuned. So many of those little touches make all the difference in the world.