Review: Jon & Vinny’s is a sort of contemporary art take on a pizza joint

Jon & Vinny's "Ham & Yeesy" pizza: ham, vodka sauce, red onion, caciocavallo, smoked mozzarella and pickled Fresno chilies.
Jon & Vinny’s “Ham & Yeesy” pizza: ham, vodka sauce, red onion, caciocavallo, smoked mozzarella and pickled Fresno chilies.
(Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)

The best vantage of Jon & Vinny’s, the new pizzeria across the street from Canter’s Delicatessen, may be from Helen’s, the tiny, glassed-in wine shop behind the dining room. Helen’s is superbly air-conditioned, even on a miserable summer day, and the restaurant’s groaning hip-hop sounds almost elegant back here. The wines are surprising — a lot of the fashionable natural stuff, sure, but also rare, nicely aged bottles of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Chablis.

From the well-chilled refuge, you can imagine sugar-snap peas blackened on the grill; a salad of transparently thin sliced summer squash seasoned with lemon and toasted hazelnuts; and meltingly soft slabs of eggplant Parmesan that seem to have been made with no oil at all. You imagine angelic bruschetta smeared with ricotta and honey, or a Little Gem lettuce salad with wisps of shaved cheese, or creamy burrata with luscious white peach. If you were so inclined, you could almost fool yourself into thinking you were at an elegant vegetarian restaurant.

And then you step back into the restaurant, toward the roar of conversation, the music, the garlic, the grilled cutlets, the wall of flames. Have you remembered to reserve? Good — you’ll be seated, maybe soon. If not, you will join the hungry masses waiting outside for a shot at the pizza, the agnolotti with brown butter and sage, and the fist-sized meatballs with ricotta. There are only 45 seats here. I wouldn’t count on a table soon.

Jon & Vinny’s is the latest project from Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo, who are also behind Animal, Son of a Gun, Trois Mec and Petit Trois. The restaurant is in a space long-occupied by Damiano Mr. Pizza, which was famous for its long hours and whose closing seemed to cement the gentrification of the block. Shook and Dotolo are pretty good at figuring out what people in Los Angeles want to eat, shining it up a little, then making it pretty hard to get at, as anyone who has tried to land a reservation at Animal or Trois Mec can attest.

So there’s pizza. The crust is neither pale like a California pie nor freckled like the Neapolitan model — it is charred and smoking, thin and almost too crisp to fold, almost destroyed by the intense wood heat. The menu lists both a margherita and a spare marinara, but they are outnumbered by baroque concoctions of mortadella and sharp provolone, pepperoni and caciocavallo cheese, or ham and pickled chiles with the tomato sauce that also makes its way onto the restaurant’s fusilli alla vodka. One pizza boasts a thick layer of molten California crescenza cheese strewn with peppery mustard flowers. Another, called “L.A. Woman,” features a spare layer of tomato sauce, cool blurts of burrata and a few leaves of basil. It may well become your second-favorite pizza in Los Angeles, top 10 for sure.

And the wine list, put together by Helen Johannesen, who also does the wine at Animal, is stunning. The sangiovese-based wine “Cinque’’ from the avant-garde Tuscan winery Podere le Boncie may be the greatest pizza wine I’ve ever tasted.


But Jon & Vinny’s is a neighborhood pizzeria the way that Spago in 1982 was a pizzeria. Ben Jones, who designed the pizza boxes, has had a solo show at MOCA and cult animation shows on Adult Swim; Shio Kusaka, who designed the sconces, was in last year’s Whitney Biennial, and the architect, Jeff Guga, used to work for Frank Gehry. The restaurant may have the dimensions of an elongated storefront, but the blond wood looks like something out of a particularly elegant sauna.

So while it is technically a pizzeria, you should probably start planning your casual Tuesday supper a week or two in advance.

There is garlic bread made with grilled ciabatta from the Venice bakery Gjusta, but also bruschetta made with well-ripened Calabrian tuna, the fancy kind from a can, marinated with vegetables. You can get a Greek salad, but it will be made with roasted beets. The closest thing to French fries is a plate of spring onions rolled in cornmeal and fried to a resounding crunch, then plopped onto a small pond of chile-infused mayonnaise. (Those fried spring onions may be the best thing in the restaurant.) A waitress once picked the menus off the table midservice and replaced them with newly printed ones that included a dish of charred romanesco broccoli with raisins.

Is the pasta an afterthought? Probably, although it is all made in house, and some of it — flattened bucatini cacio e pepe, tossed with pepper and cheese; a cheese-intensive spaghetti Bolognese; pappardelle with half-gamy braised lamb — is good, if generally overboiled. The cream-drenched tagliolini al limone, which tastes like something you may have tried to throw together for a dinner party in your first apartment, maybe less so.

This is probably the part where I should tell you that no matter how tempting the warm strawberry bread pudding or the chocolate budino with sea salt may sound, what you’re really going to want is the soft-serve ice cream, swirled chocolate and strawberry erupting from a tiny paper cup. If you want to pretend that you are capping an evening out at Federici’s or L&B Spumoni Gardens, that is the obvious way to go. But if plums are in season, you should also probably get the brûléed Santa Rosas with opal basil, fennel and a drizzle of verjus, nestled into a bowl of mascarpone. It sounds kind of twee, but the combination of crackly caramel, sweet-tart plums and dense cream is one of the great desserts of summer.

Jon & Vinny’s

The Animal guys open a red-sauce joint.

Location: 412 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 334-3369,


Prices: Crostini, $5.25-$12.25; vegetables and salads, $8-$14.25; pizzas, $11.25-$19.50; pastas, $16.25-$22; desserts, $5.50-$9.

Details: Open daily, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Credit cards accepted. Beer and wine. Takeout. Kids menu. Dinner reservations strongly recommended.

Recommended dishes: Toast; cornmeal-fried spring onion; “L.A. Woman” pizza; bucatini cacio e pepe; meatballs; soft-serve swirl; Santa Rosa plums with basil and mascarpone.