So you just moved to a new town and your first call of duty is to find a good slice of pizza. You search the web for local places that claim to have New York pizza, you read reviews, and finally you pick a location. You get in your car and drive with misguided hopes that your taste buds will soon be delighted by the flavors of a good slice of pizza. Yet when you arrive and start to eat the all to familiar feeling of disappointment sets in.
If you are anything like me this has happened to you countless times. But every once in a while you stumble across a gem. Perhaps you weren’t even really looking this time and just walked into the first place you passed that said pizza. I can still remember the first time that happened to me and it was at Giovanni’s pizza in Sunnyvale, California.
The first time I visited Giovanni’s I was living and working in the south San Francisco bay area. Giovanni’s was located in a nondescript shopping mall on Lawrence expressway not too far from where I worked. I wasn’t really looking for great pizza that day, just something to eat. When I walked in Giovanni’s the first thing that struck me was the amount of people waiting for lunch. Apparently I had stumbled on a very popular lunch place for the computer geek crowd of silicon valley. There were a few give away’s early on that I had found a gem. You could buy a slice, they had all the heroes (subs) I grew up with including my favorite chicken parmesan hero, they had a baker’s pride oven (a standard of most New York pizza places) and finally was a newspaper clipping on the wall that indicated the the owner also had locations in the New York suburbs.
When I finally tasted my first slice I was blown away because for the first time in my life I tasted pizza outside of New York that actually tasted like New York pizza. I am not going to tell you it was the best pizza I ever had but this restaurant performed something I had never seen. It created a slice of pizza that would hold it’s own against any New York location. In follow-up visits I was equally impressed with their chicken parmesan sub and Sicilian slices (another type of pizza found mostly in New York). Best of all Giovanni’s had the atmosphere of a New York pizza place. It is the type of place you could go in everyday and get a slice. The guys behind the counter know your name and you always feel welcome.
Purely from a sociological point of view there are some interesting things I have noticed about Giovanni’s and the Silicon Valley crowd. During weekday lunch this is probably one of the busiest restaurants in the bay area. The restaurant is large, occupying what was once two store fronts, and you will still wait to be seated. Yet if you go to Giovanni’s at any other time (e.g. any night or weekend) you will find almost nobody there. I find this to be an interesting conundrum for the potential success of New York food elsewhere in the country or world. On one hand the sheer numbers of people eating lunch at this place indicate it is a huge success and that people obviously like the food and the style with which it is served (i.e. the slice). However the fact that you can hear crickets in the evening indicates there is something about the cultures of other parts of this country that prevent people from going to a place like this at other times. I am not sure why that is but is a cause of concern for me since this could impact the number of restaurants who can open a New York food establishment outside New York and survive.
Anyway the real reason I am writing about Giovanni’s is that I had the chance to go back to the Bay area this past weekend and went to visit my old haunt with two buddies who grew up with me in New York. Things have not changed at all. The place is still packed on weekday lunches and empty on weekends. The food is still awesome. Even my friends who like me are a skeptical bunch were pretty blown away by how good the slices were. And I indulged myself in a chicken parmesan that made my taste buds tingle
So if you find yourself anywhere in San Francisco or the general bay area and you are looking for a good slice of pizza or a chicken parmesan hero I implore you to make the drive to Giovanni’s. It will be the best move you will ever make. And if it seems like a far drive for you I will leave you with this fact. At least once a month for several years I made the approximately 30 mile drive from San Francisco to Giovanni’s just to get a slice and chicken parmesan. That is how good it is. For more information check out the maps and links below