Longtime Monroe St. eatery is a Toledo institution.
The combo plate at Jo-Jo's includes chicken Parmesan.
Experience suggests there are two types of gastrophiles: Those willing to spend a fortune for great food and ambiance, and those perfectly content with good food at a great price, ambiance optional.
Jo Jo's Original Pizzeria on Monroe Street in Toledo is of the latter ilk. This neighborhood restaurant has been cranking out stick-to-the-ribs food since 1957, in the process earning fans from college students and post-Little League families to, well, neighbors.
Its secret? Delicious Italian fare and even more delectable prices.
Address: 4336 Monroe St.
Menu: Italian and American fare. (VIEW)
Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday; 4 to 11 p.m. Saturday.
Wheelchair access: Yes.
Average Price: $$
Credit Cards: AE, Dis, MC, V.
Web site: TheOriginalJoJosPizzeria.com.
Start with the food, which, contrary to the name, goes well beyond pizza. On my first visit I enjoyed the fettuccini Alfredo ($9.95), a heaping plate of noodles smothered in an Alfredo sauce so cheesy you feel the stirrings of lactose intolerance. Yet you soldier on, because it dances on the tongue thanks to just a hint of fire in the sauce. Like all meals, it comes with a garden salad and warm rolls.
The chicken Parmesan is equally voluminous, a thick-crusted breast of chicken smothered in a marinara sauce that flirts with tanginess yet goes down sublimely. It's topped with Parmesan cheese and served on a bed of spaghetti cooked al dente.
You'll also find shrimp fettuccine Alfredo ($13.95), mostaccioli ($9.95) — large, stove-pipe pasta topped with blended cheeses and your choice of sauces (Alfredo, plain red and meat) — lasagna with ricotta and Italian sausage ($10.95), and cheese or three cheese Florentine ravioli ($9.25, $9.95).
Should you have trouble deciding, there's the combo plate ($13.95) where you can get smaller portions of any three entrees, including eggplant Parmesan and spaghetti with meatballs.
And that's just the Italian portion of the menu. Sandwiches will run you from $5.95 for a simple beef burger, to $6.25 for stacked ham, $6.95 for a chicken sandwich or toasted club, and $7.45 for a breaded cod fillet.
In its nearly six decades the original Jo-Jo's has expanded to auxiliary locales, closed those satellites and franchised the name and menu. Each location offers its own specials, but all remain true to the biggest calling card: pizza.
The pizzas come in four sizes from a 9-inch personal to 16-inch family-size ($5.95-$12.75 before toppings), and three crusts: thin, thick and deep dish. Be warned: The deep dish takes about 40 minutes to cook.
It's not uncommon to see a horde of college students streaming through on Mondays and Wednesdays when all pizzas and toppings are half-priced. Wednesday seems the busiest night, and everything on the menu can be ordered for takeout. (Add $1 for takeout pizzas on half-price night.)
Your humble reviewer has been to Italy a few times, where the pizza dough resembled a cracker. At Jo-Jo's it's pliable and tasty; the thick-crust Italian sausage personal pizza came steaming hot sliced into six pieces and left me checking my phone for a nearby Target that sold elastic-waist pants.
Every night of the week Jo-Jo's on Monroe has specials. On half-price pasta dinner Tuesday the most expensive entrée will only run you $7, including salad and bread. On Thursday, a lasagna dinner is $7.75, Friday has all you can eat fish for $7.45, two 12-inch pizzas with two toppings for $11.98 on Saturday, and wings are 40 cents each on Sunday (available for eat-in or take out at the bar next door, since the restaurant is closed).
You'll have to check with the individual franchises in Perrysburg, Whitehouse, Sylvania, Rossford, Maumee, and Perrysburg Township for their daily specials.
There's a nice, albeit limited, children's menu for $4.99 (grilled cheese, hot dog, spaghetti), and the aforementioned Papa Joe's bar guarantees a full drink menu is available.
The criticisms are minor, but worth noting. On several occasions, the side salad came with plump, fresh vegetables, but the lettuce was somewhat fatigued by 8 p.m. And for an eatery that offers more than 40 entrees or sandwiches, it seems strange that the only dessert options are a root beer float and a brownie with a scoop of ice cream.
That said, Jo-Jo's Original Pizzeria on Monroe Street belongs in the Toledo pantheon of affordable eats. The decor isn't anything special, and parking can be problematic on its busiest nights. But such quibbles are inconsequential in the face of hearty eats that make the taste buds sigh.
Contact Bill of Fare at email@example.com.
Star ratings are based on comparisons of similar restaurants. The Blade pays for critics' meals.