On The Line: Johnny Younesi of Johnny's Real New York Pizza, Part One
Photo by Eleonor Segura

On The Line: Johnny Younesi of Johnny's Real New York Pizza, Part One

A New Yorker at heart, pizza was always a part of Johnny Younesi's identity. However, his desire to become a restauranteur came later in life. He balances the roles of father, lawyer and pizza parlor owner with a professionalism that made our interview an open-and-shut case.

What makes your pizza parlor more NY than CA? Everything from the water filtration system we have (we emulate New York City tap water) to our dough recipe; Our finest and freshest ingredients , the atmosphere, our music, our staff and our attention to detail.

Let's discuss your water purification process. The first item we secure when we find a location is our water purification system. At a significant expense, we install a major filtration unit that eliminates the hard chemical properties in California tap water, such as chloride, chlorine, etc. It introduces "softer" properties and makes the water in our entire store as close to New York City tap water as there is. It is delicious water. When combined with our proprietary dough recipe, it makes the best pizza crust "eva."

Most undervalued ingredient: Kalamata olives, hearts of palm, oregano, basil and artichoke hearts.

How do you like your pizza? Cheese only is the authentic New York way. If I chose toppings, it would be Genoa salami, onions and black olives.

Where was your most recent meal? Yesterday I went to the Pantry in Downtown Los Angeles. Nothing is better than the roast beef, homemade potatoes and patented cole-slaw. It was delicious. A slab of their homemade custard rice pudding is amazing for dessert.

Is there a dish that you'd like to learn how to make? I'd like to learn how to make cioppino, the way they do at Tadich Grill in San Francisco. It's the best.

Where does your meatball recipe come from? It's been in the family for decades. We first publicly introduced it at our formal sit-down restaurant, Stella's Serious Italian in Dana Point. They were a major hit. Once Stella's was sold, we incorporated the meatballs into our pizza locations-- and the rest is history.

Best culinary tip for the home cook. Always use a lot of garlic, onions and other fresh herbs. Think outside the box. There are so many distinct herbs that enhance the average dish.

Favorite chef. Octavio Deloya. Octavio was the secret weapon in Stella's kitchen. He is now Johnny's primary pizzaiolo and controls a kitchen staff of 12 in our two locations. Octavio makes our Bolognese, meatballs and dressings. No one makes or tosses a better pizza, or makes pasta dishes, meatballs, Bolognese better than Chef Octavio.

One food you can't live without. I can't live without (at least) a slice, a few days a week. I grew up with it. It's in my blood. We would have problems if I did not get my fix of New York pizza. Johnny's is the only place to get it.

We hear your salad dressing is about to be sold in stores. Our Caesar dressing is a national secret. We use the most authentic and quality ingredients, and rival, if not, surpass even the finest Italian Caesar dressings. Our Caesar dressing has received significant acclaim. We have been asked to sell it in a broader way. People call us routinely just to ask for the Caesar. We have also been asked for our recipe. Needless to say, we don't give it out.

Our Johnny's house salad dressing is the perfect blend of extra virgin olive oil, Italian herbs and spices, the finest vinegar and other secret ingredients that makes our Johnny's house salad like no other. We believe our house oil and vinegar will be on store shelves soon as well.

What is your beverage of choice? At Johnny's, nothing goes better with a slice or pasta than our signature beers. A frosty glass of Peroni, from one of our many taps. We also have bottles and cans, but nothing is more New York than a 24-ounce Pabst with a slice.

What are your favorites on the menu? Cheese pie, penne bolognese and our chicken Parmesan sandiwch. Also, the Johnny's house salad is one-of-a-kind (Romaine, hearts of palm, artichoke hearts, sun dried tomatoes, mortadella, mozzarella, Genoa salami, Kalamata olives, baby corn and pepperoncinis).

Your earliest food memory: Sunday night dinners with the family. It was always a feast. The best Italian and Persian meals you could imagine.

Strangest thing you've ever eaten: I had alligator in Louisiana with my son, Sam. I think I inadvertently had something related to monkey in China. The alligator tasted like chicken. The latter, I am still trying to figure out.

You're making breakfast. What are you having? I like to saute tomatoes and cook them with egg whites-- throw in a habanero and it's a perfect breakfast. With a couple of corn tortillas, strong, hot coffee and of course, the paper.

Weirdest customer request (and did you do it?): Sometimes customers ask for our pizza raw, to take home themselves. That's pretty unusual-- especially if it's already topped. We have anchovy lovers that ask for raw anchovies to top their pies or slices. We have also sold our dough to customers who want to create their own pizza at home.

Favorite places to eat (besides your own): I travel quite a bit. The Daily Catch in Boston's North End is a favorite. In California, I really do enjoy the Pantry, and am a sucker for the crab claws at the Crab Cooker.

Are there plans to expand further? Yes, we are presently reviewing another lease along with the Irvine Company. They have the finest properties, and we are fortunate that we might become a staple in their primary centers. Look for another Johnny's in the Irvine area opening in the next few months. Once we have a few more under our "Orange County belt", we expect to venture beyond.

Johnny's Real New York Pizza has two locations in Corona del Mar and Newport Beach. To learn more, visit www.johnnysrealnypizza.com.

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