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Review: Junior’s Pizza in Summerhill captures spirit of classic New York slice parlor

A 16-inch Junior’s Pizza pie with pepperoni, red bell peppers, mushrooms and spinach. CONTRIBUTED BY MIA YAKEL
A 16-inch Junior’s Pizza pie with pepperoni, red bell peppers, mushrooms and spinach. CONTRIBUTED BY MIA YAKEL

Junior's Pizza is a quintessential slice joint. It doesn't try to reinvent the wheel.

A fast-casual pizza kitchen next door to Wood's Chapel BBQ in Summerhill, Junior's is a welcome response to the proliferation of fancy Neapolitan-style pizza-focused restaurants around the city. There's nary a Negroni cocktail nor a margherita pie to be found. No pasta, no prosciutto, no pecorino, no parmigiana to see here — move along, please.

Zany, comic-book murals give Junior’s Pizza part of its charm. CONTRIBUTED BY MIA YAKEL
Zany, comic-book murals give Junior’s Pizza part of its charm. CONTRIBUTED BY MIA YAKEL

With its uncluttered industrial design, zany, comic-book murals, and laid-back vibe, Junior's is a perfect addition to its neighborhood. It's an easy-in-easy-out, hassle-free zone for quick, satisfying grub — or pizza to go. Pizzaiolo Alex Aton and his co-owner wife, Jennifer (whose nickname is Junior), find success without reaching for the moon, the stars and the sun all at once. (They started as a pop-up.) Just as LLoyd's Restaurant and Lounge makes the case that blue-collar diner-dives are forever hip, the Atons demonstrate that old-school pizza is cool again.

Junior’s Pizza wife-and-husband owners Jennifer and Alex Aton. Her nickname is Junior. CONTRIBUTED BY MIA YAKEL
Junior’s Pizza wife-and-husband owners Jennifer and Alex Aton. Her nickname is Junior. CONTRIBUTED BY MIA YAKEL

Junior's takes its cues from New York, not Naples. Its pies, all custom built from ingredients you pick yourself, have thin crusts that strike a happy medium between crispy and chewy. They are equally scarfable with minimal toppings — or the works. The crusts have modestly puffy edges, making them easy to hold, fold and chomp without burning your fingers or causing a mess. And vegan diners need not despair: Junior's bakes pies with vegan cheese and vegan sausage (I tried the fake meat and liked it), and it offers a plethora of veggie add-ons, naturally (peppers, mushrooms, onion, basil, garlic, broccoli, three kinds of olives and so on).

A vegan slice with mushroom, tomato and vegan sausage at Junior’s Pizza in Summerhill. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK
A vegan slice with mushroom, tomato and vegan sausage at Junior’s Pizza in Summerhill. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

Unlike many modern pizzerias, Junior’s doesn’t let you skip the decision-making by ordering signature pies with chef-curated toppings. But if you want to adorn a white slice with grilled chicken, roasted spinach, and dabs of feta or ricotta, you certainly may. If Junior’s strikes you as Fellini-esque, that’s because Alex Aton was a nine-year employee of Fellini’s Pizza, the game-changing, no-frills, seven-store chain founded by Atlanta restaurateur Clay Harper in 1982.

A Greek salad will go nicely with your pie at Junior’s Pizza. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK
A Greek salad will go nicely with your pie at Junior’s Pizza. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

If you are a Junior’s newbie, I suggest starting with a basic tomato-sauced pie (or a slice or two if eating alone) and keeping the toppings fairly concise. Order a salad (the Greek is good), a beer or soda, and get the feel of the place before experimenting with scads of on-top-ofs. Then spread your wings; try a white pie or a calzone.

Once you order, the cashier will hand you a vintage videotape box (“When Harry Met Sally,” “Last Action Hero”) to place on your table so the food runner can find you. To sip, there are Tecate, Miller Lite and PBR tall boys (a bargain at $4 a pop); a number of local craft beers (Tropicalia by Creature Comforts and Mexican Empire by Arches Brewing, for example); and wine, all cold and canned.

Junior’s Pizza has toppings to suit your tastes, whether you prefer a slice with ham and pineapple (top) or one with Italian sausage and pepperoni (bottom). CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK
Junior’s Pizza has toppings to suit your tastes, whether you prefer a slice with ham and pineapple (top) or one with Italian sausage and pepperoni (bottom). CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

I was happy with my slices dotted with classic toppings of pepperoni and Italian sausage; ham and pineapple. The ham was more in the style of home baked than deli counter. I liked my friend’s vegan slice with vegan sausage, sliced tomatoes and mushrooms, too.

I don’t think my one slice of white — with roasted spinach, mushrooms and feta — qualifies me to give a full critique of Junior’s white pies, which are built from a naked crust sprinkled with mozzarella, ricotta, garlic, oregano and Parmesan. For now, suffice it to say I like the red sauce better. Case in point: Our 16-inch pie with mushrooms, onions and banana peppers. It was terrific — enough to feed three people (along with a Greek salad and a calzone) and have a slice to take home.

You can decide what to add to the mozzarella and ricotta in your Junior’s Pizza calzone, shown with marinara sauce. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK
You can decide what to add to the mozzarella and ricotta in your Junior’s Pizza calzone, shown with marinara sauce. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

As fate would have it, on the night I wanted to try some Sicilian, the kitchen had sold out. But I did get acquainted with the calzones, which are stuffed with mozzarella and ricotta and optional extra fillings and finished with a touch of olive oil, Parmesan and oregano. My fold-over pastry, with feta, was baked to a golden brown sheen, easy to slice into sections for sharing, utterly delicious. A pepperoni-filled hot pocket was good, but it didn’t coalesce like that three-cheese bomb with feta. Still, I dipped it in marinara and carried on.

As a place where you can get a couple of slices, a generous salad and 16 ounces of suds for $18, or a calzone and a tall boy for $13 (both pre-tip), Junior's is a winner. You can find superior pizza, perhaps, at Nina & Rafi and Ammazza, but you'll feel it in your wallet. For me, Junior's hits that ideal sweet spot, as certainly as that single slice with pink pork and pineapple.

JUNIOR’S PIZZA

11 a.m.-9 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays. 77 Georgia Ave., Suite A, Atlanta. 404-549-7147, juniorspizzaatl.com.

Recommended: Greek salad. Calzone with feta. Vegan slices. (We liked ours with tomato, mushroom and vegan turkey.) Slices and 16-inch whole pies with toppings of choice. (We liked pepperoni and sausage, ham and pineapple, and mushroom, onion and banana pepper.)

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