uess there’s no such thing as too many pizza places, at least if you judge by the seemingly never-ending parade of new ones sprouting up every month. But you’re going to have to provide something more than competently made pies to get me in the door, especially if you’re out of my usual home-work-gym orbit.
Luckily, J Bar Pizzeria, newly opened on Hyde Park Square, is dishing out not only interesting pizzas but also a nice array of appetizers, sandwiches and salads. I was part of a foursome who stopped in for dinner less than two weeks after J Bar’s January opening, and any skepticism we may have had about the modest looking dining room and/or the prospect of still more pizza was dispelled as soon as food started appearing on our table.
We started with drinks, though, which thus far isn’t a particularly strong suit for the house, unless you come for beer. My companions — beer drinkers, all — selected from among a couple dozen in cans and bottles, many of which are local or regional, and most of which cost $4.50-$5.
There are also a couple dozen wines, but I thought the by-the-glass choices rather uninspiring. But hey, I’m a wine snob, so most people would probably find something they like, with prices ranging from $7-$12 for a glass.
I ordered an Old Fashioned (there’s not a cocktail list as such, yet) which didn’t rock my world but they only charged $7 for it, not bad at all for Hyde Park.
The food menu has four sections: Small, Salads, Panino and Pizza. We decided on at least one item from each section except the Panino (grilled sandwiches). We shared our first course on the extra plates our server brought: a potato and ricotta dumpling ($10) from the Small section and two salads.
The dumpling was fantastic, with enough for four of us to sample. The plate held several golden brown nuggets of potato wrapped around melting ricotta, with excellent, delicately fried Brussels sprouts and kale leaves that made me wish there was more of them. It really was a standout dish, with pine nuts and housemade sausage also sprinkled around the plate. (Next time, I hope to have an order to myself.)
We also split the kale salad ($10) of tender greens, pine nuts, chopped dried apricots and thinly sliced apple, all pulled together with a bacon vinaigrette. The fruit added a sweet balance to the savory, sometimes bitter ingredients, and it was a hit all around. The fennel and pear salad ($9) was my favorite of the two, not least because I’m a huge fan of fennel. This salad used baby spinach and arugula for greens, added mandoline-sliced raw fennel and Asian pear (described on the menu as winter pear), along with smoked almonds, Parmesan cheese and an orange-balsamic dressing.
Based on the quality of those salads, I’d expect the others in that menu section to be worth trying, too. It includes a green salad (arugula, spinach, radish, cucumber and carrot), Caesar and one called ’Merica, with iceberg lettuce, bacon, grape tomatoes and ranch dressing, at $8 each.
So what about the main event, J Bar’s stone-oven pizzas? We thought they delivered in this area, too. The menu lists seven pies, each in small (10-inch) or large (16-inch) sizes priced from $11-$23. We ordered two small pizzas, which gave us each two large slices. After the salads, and with another beer or glass of wine, it was enough food.
The crusts are medium thickness — not crispy thin, but substantial, pleasantly chewy and well flavored. It provided a very good base for the high-quality ingredients piled or layered upon it.
The Flora ($12/$19) is a delicious white pizza topped with whipped ricotta, kale, roasted mushrooms and pine nut gremolata. Our second pizza was the J Bar Pie ($14/$22), with red sauce and “giant” slices of pepperoni. Also on the menu are such choices as the Carnivore ($15/$23), with sausage, bacon and grilled beef; and for those who like it hot, the South of South ($13/$21), topped with housemade chorizo, jalapenos, spicy red sauce, avocado and Chihuahua cheese.
Operating partner Jason Esterkamp, also a co-owner of O’Bryon’s Bar & Grill in O’Bryonville, says he has plans to create a new drinks menu, including specialty cocktails. And when the weather warms, the patio will seat about 60 patrons facing Erie Avenue.
J Bar, which took over and renovated the former Indigo, strikes me as a welcome addition to Hyde Park Square. I might even drive across town now and then to scarf up more of those dumplings and sample a few of the dishes we didn’t try last time.
J Bar Pizzeria
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-midnight Friday-Saturday.