JC’s New York Pizza Department – Albuquerque, New Mexico

JC's NYPD on Central Avenue in Albuquerque
JC’s NYPD on Central Avenue in Albuquerque

Gil’s immutable law of thermodynamics posits that the enjoyment of even the best pizza is correlative with the length of time which has expired since it was removed from the oven.  Pizza tastes best right out of the oven when it is steaming hot and the aromas waft upwards to provide an almost sensual olfactory massage.  That flavor and olfactory appreciation diminishes as the pizza grows colder and your belly fuller.  This law is absolutely immutable, but it also has an equally immutable corollary: the flavor of a great pizza actually improves after it’s been refrigerated overnight.  It helps, of course, if you wake up ravenously hungry and that the pizza was fabulous to begin with.

I developed this theory in 2003 after our inaugural visit to Al’s New York Pizza Department in Albuquerque’s Central Avenue after observing just how much we loved the pizza immediately after it got to our table and how that love, much like some relationships, diminished after two slices.  Fortunately the pizza was so large that we took about half of it home where we refrigerated it overnight.  Intending to nosh on only one slice of cold pizza for breakfast, we ended up devouring the remaining slices which we enjoyed almost as much as when they were first extricated from the oven.

This is not a typical experience.  Not all pizza seems to improve with overnight refrigeration.  In fact, some pizza is downright inedible when served cold.  We’ve learned that, in some cases, you can scrape off all the ingredients and cut the crust into pieces and not even the pigeons will touch it.  I have a feeling the pigeons would love the crust at Al’s New York Pizza Department (NYPD for short), but we’ve never been able to save any crust for them.

The Queens Pizza (Homemade Meatballs and Mozzarella), half with green chile
The Queens Pizza (Homemade Meatballs and Mozzarella), half with green chile

Al’s NYPD, not to be confused with the mediocre national chain that tried its hand and failed miserably at pleasing pedantic pizza loving Duke City diners, is now JC’s NYPD and it’s locally owned.  When it launched in 2002 on Central Avenue, it was owned and operated by a partnership triumvirate of three chefs: Al Bilotti (the impresario behind the fantastic fusion restaurant Kanome Asian Diner), Carrie Eagle and Joaquin Garofolo.  Bilotti, the Al on the restaurant’s name eventually left, hence the name JC’s (for remaining partners Joaquin and Carrie) NYPD.

Though Joaquin Garofolo reamins the sole proprietor and driving force behind JC’s NYPD, the name on the marquee seems to fit better than “J’s NYPD” would.  The restaurant’s logo depicts the New York City skyline dwarfed by a silhouetted Statue of Liberty standing over a round (like a pizza plate) logo reading JC’s New York Pizza Department.  A single slice of pizza is centered on the plate.

It’s only fitting that the logo for JC’s NYPD co-opted New York symbolism.  More than perhaps any other claimant to New York style pizza, JC’s NYPD actually comes close.  New York style pizza is characterized by its wide, thin and foldable slices, but there’s more to it than that.  Some attribute the unique flavor and texture of the New York style pizza crust to the minerals in New York City’s tap water used to make the dough.  While some pizza makers outside Metropolis transport the water across the country, JC’s bypassed that expense by installing a special water filtration process that ostensibly approximates New York City’s water.  Some would call that a miracle considering Albuquerque’s notorious hard water.

A pizza slice with homemade meatballs, mozzarella and green chile
A pizza slice with homemade meatballs, mozzarella and green chile

When it launched in 2002, Al’s NYPD on Central Avenue and Second quickly became one of the hottest new restaurants in town, beset by throngs packed like sardines into its smallish seating space.  Weather permitting, a spacious deck more than doubles seating capacity.  Whether as Al’s or as JC’s, it has remained a popular draw over the years and has consistently been one of the city’s most highly acclaimed pizzerias.

In 2009, serendipity had a hand in JC’s expansion into the burgeoning West side.  When a mediocre Florida-based franchise named New York Pizza & Deli (NYPD) failed to win over discerning Albuquerque pizza fanatics, Garofolo (obviously an enterprising entrepreneur) took advantage of the situation, leasing a fully equipped restaurant–pizza ovens, freezers, tables, decor and all.  The decor includes framed black-and-white photographs taken by Lewis Wickes Hine depicting the construction of the Empire State building in 1930.  Unfortunately, this location closed in December, 2009.

At 3,300 square-feet, the West side gem on Coors Boulevard was more than twice the size of its elder sibling with more than enough room for wall-mounted, high-definition televisions usually tuned in to sports programming.  An east-facing patio featured spectacular views of the cottonwoods surrounding the Rio Grande as well as the breathtaking Sandias.

Tiramisu (foreground) and a root beer float (background)
Tiramisu (foreground) and a root beer float (background)

The specialty of the house are 18-inch, thin-crust pizzas averaging close to a dollar an inch.  These prodigious pies are named for New York city boroughs and landmarks such as Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, Da Bronx, Manhattan, Central Park and so on.   Calzones, about the size of a football, sport Italian-American sobriquets such as Joey Bag of Donuts (derogatory term for a fat guy), Little Louie, Jersey Girl and Mama Mia.  The menu also includes pasta dishes (chicken parmigiana, spaghetti and meatballs and more), heroes and a house salad.

As you walk in, you’re going to have to crane your neck upwards to peruse the menu which hangs over a counter.  Once you place your order and pay the bill of fare, you’re free to find an empty table.  Your order will be delivered shortly.

The pizza is waifishly thin–not like those fru-fru gourmet pizzas that are so thin they seem to have only one side, but thin enough that you can fold each slice vertically or horizontally (in fact, you have to brace it from the bottom of the wedge or it might droop onto your clothing or the floor).  You might think that because the slices are so thin you can eat more slices, but that’s not necessarily the case.  An eighteen-inch pizza cut into eight slices is still a formidable pizza.

It’s also a very good pizza whose outer edges are crispy and charred nicely.  There is no one component which dominates.  This pizza is a concordance of sauce (which tastes more like fresh tomatoes than any sauce in town), seasoning, cheese and ingredients.  The meatballs, sliced flat, are housemade and delicious.  The sausage from iconic local deli Tully’s is a must have.  The green chile has no discernible piquancy, but it does have a nicely roasted flavor.

Desserts are also quite good.  The tiramisu–made with ladyfinger biscuits dipped in espresso, layered with mascarpone and other ingredients then topped with cocoa–is excellent with a nice balance of flavors and none of the cloying qualities of too sweet desserts.  A simple root beer float made with Henry Weinhard’s root beer is refreshing and delicious with an adult root beer flavor and creamy, housemade vanilla ice cream.

For aficionados of New York style pizza, JC’s New York Pizza Department is about as close as you’ll come in Albuquerque to the pizza of Metropolis.  Moreover, it continuous to reenforce the immutability of Gil’s law of pizza thermodynamics.

JC’s New York Pizza Department
215 Central Avenue, N.W., Suite B
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 766-6973
Web Site
LATEST VISIT:  24 October 2009
# OF VISITS: 5
RATING: 20
COST: $$
BEST BET: Queens Pizza (Homemade Meatballs and Mozzarella), Brooklyn Pizza (Tully’s Italian Sausage and Mozzarella), Tiramisu, Root Beer Float, Homemade Ice Cream

JC's New York Pizza Department on Urbanspoon

About Gil Garduno

Since 2008, the tagline on Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog has invited you to “Follow the Culinary Ruminations of New Mexico’s Sesquipedalian Sybarite.” To date, nearly 1 million visitors have trusted (or at least visited) my recommendations on nearly 1,100 restaurant reviews. Please take a few minutes to tell me what you think. Whether you agree or disagree with me, I'd love to hear about it.

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8 Comments on “JC’s New York Pizza Department – Albuquerque, New Mexico”

  1. We ate here on the evening of Oct. 6, 2010 while sitting at the outside tables. The food was great and we had an absolute awesome time. The only downside were the street beggars that almost constantly approached us but that is certainly not the restaurants fault. I would definitely revisit!

  2. I can’t believe that this barely tolerable presentation passes for “good” pizza in abq. Just goes to show how awful the pizza choices in our city really are. The pizza by the slice was almost inedible and that was the best of the meal. The calzone, with sausage and onions was disgusting and was thrown out after the third bite. Crust was greasy and rubbery, but the inside was dry and flavorless. After the third bite, I bit down on what seemed to be a pea sized rock. Yes, a rock, and needless to say, this whole meal was headed to the trash, and i will not be headed for a return visit anytime soon. Yuck!

  3. I just read in this mornings Journal that this location closed just before Christmas. The downtown location is doing well though.

  4. I loved the place when we ate there at the downtown location. I’m glad they have a westside location (closer to home). They have some competition with Dions, but this is some good pizza. Plus when we were eating downtown, they were very kind to some of the local homeless folks. Can’t knock a place with a heart as well as good pizza.

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