If you’ve already checked out the new J&S New York Pizza in Cary, there’s a good chance you noticed a chipper gray-haired man in a baseball cap schmoozing with customers in the dining room. You may have guessed that he’s the owner, and took his Italian accent as a promising sign.
You’d be right on both counts. The gregarious gent is Silvio Cammarata, the S in J&S. He and his wife, Josephine (she’s the J), are natives of Sicily who come to the Triangle by way of New York, where they owned pizzerias in Brooklyn and Kingston for 15 years.
Here’s the part that may surprise you: They’ve been baking pies in Apex since 1995, when they moved here and opened their first J&S. A tiny, mostly takeout shop, the pizzeria remained the town’s best-kept secret for years.
Word inevitably got out, though, as fans — including more than a few Big Apple transplants — proclaimed J&S the closest thing in these parts to the real deal. They opened a second, larger location in Fuquay-Varina in 2007, and relocated the original Apex pizzeria to roomier digs in 2015.
In March of this year, the family debuted their most ambitious restaurant yet in The Arboretum, the Cary shopping area at North Harrison Avenue and Weston Parkway. With seating for more than 100 (not including several umbrella-shaded tables on the patio), the new J&S offers an expanded menu that includes a broad selection of pastas and entrees, as well as a full bar.
That’s not to say that the Cammaratas (a team that now includes Josephine and Silvio’s children, Philip, Venera and Lori) have forgotten their roots. Tony address notwithstanding, the Cary location is a pizzeria-casual, family-friendly place with oregano and red pepper shakers on bare tabletops, walls covered in TV screens (inherited from the previous tenant), and all the Manhattan skyline posters a homesick New Yorker could wish for.
Nostalgic longings will be further satisfied by the pizza, whose thin, beautifully browned crusts is crisp from edge to edge, and generously topped with your choice of pretty much any topping combination you can think of. Pies are offered in three sizes, as well as by the slice.
Only the most persnickety self-proclaimed aficionado might argue the crust is not quite as pliable as the native species, and the toppings not as greasy. To which I say, the crust passes the New York fold test (if only barely), and I’ll wager that for most people nowadays, “not as greasy” is a good thing.
The pizza lineup also includes a thick, bready Sicilian style and an excellent Grandma pizza topped with dollops of crushed tomatoes, garlic, fresh basil and a mozzarella base on a large, square crust that’s a little thinner and crisper than the New York style. There’s also the ubiquitous gut-buster calzone, as well as a stuffed pizza that I’m pretty sure hails from a city several hundred miles west of New York. Gluten-free and cauliflower crust pizzas are also available.
The same something-for-everyone philosophy applies to the rest of the menu. That includes cold and hot subs (all the traditional suspects), and an extensive selection of create-your-own pastas and house specialty dishes ranging from chicken marsala to shrimp parmigiana. You won’t go wrong with the classics: eggplant parmigiana, say, or spaghetti and meat sauce made from an old family recipe. Might as well spring for a couple of hefty meatballs (mostly beef, with a little pork for flavor) while you’re at it.
Given the abundance of fried fare on the appetizer list, plus all those flat screens and a small but solid draft beer selection, J&S could serve in a pinch as a sports pub of sorts. But if it’s the Italian experience you’re after, skip the fried mozzarella, jalapeño poppers and fried ravioli, and split a starter of eggplant rollatini. Or rice balls as big as your fist, their crusty tops bursting to reveal a savory filling of ground beef, mozzarella and green peas.
Or an order of wings, that versatile nosh that’s equally at home at a sports pub or a pizzeria. J&S marinates their wings and fries them to order, so they take a little longer than some. They’re worth the wait.
The wings come slathered with you choice of eight sauces, including a distinctive Hot that packs a potent punch. Try it if you dare, but don’t be surprised if Silvio Cammarata comes up to the table and asks you how you like the sauce. He’ll tell you he makes it himself, but don’t bother asking for the recipe. That’s a secret.
Happily, J&S New York Pizza’s main attraction — its namesake pizza — is no longer a secret.
Note: The Cary location of J&S New York Pizza is the subject of this review, though I think it’s safe to say that if you’re in Apex or Fuquay-Varina and in the mood for pizza, J&S won’t let you down.
J&S New York Pizza
2025 Renaissance Park Place, Cary
Rating: 3 stars
Atmosphere: family-friendly pizzeria meets sports pub
Noise level: moderate to high
Service: friendly and eager to please, hustling in spite of an often understaffed dining room.
Recommended: pizza (NY style and Grandma), rice balls, wings, eggplant parmigiana, spaghetti with meat sauce
Open: Lunch and dinner daily.
Other: full bar; accommodates children; modest vegetarian selection; patio; parking in lot.
The N&O’s critic dines anonymously; the newspaper pays for all meals. We rank restaurants in five categories: 5 stars: Extraordinary. 4 stars: Excellent. 3 stars: Above average. 2 stars: Average. 1 star: Fair.
The dollar signs defined: $ Entrees average less than $10. $$ Entrees $11 to $20. $$$ Entrees $21 to $30. $$$$ Entrees more than $30.