I’ve been on a pizza kick of late. Between all the new places opening up in the area and reviewing one of the best slices I’ve had lately last week, I figured it was time to give the three-week old Julio’s Pizza Company in Atlantic Highlands a try. I had been to the location several times, back when it was First Avenue Pizza. It was nice to see that they have brightened the interior a bit, with a fresh coat of paint and their brand now emblazoned in red on the left-hand wall. Julio’s, if you did not already know, is named after the owner’s dog.
There were a few pizzas on display in the case by the register. I chose a slice of the one that intrigued me the most, which was the Cubano, topped with pickle slices, ham, homemade pulled pork, and a drizzle of Dijon. Justin chose a slice of barbecued chicken pizza. We shared an order of garlic knots.
I knew something was off when the slices managed to be removed from the case, heated, and handed to us in the time it took me to get my credit card out of the machine. Why did the slices disappear into the back of the kitchen, I also wondered? They clearly did not make their way into the oven, but instead, emerged lukewarm and of a mystifying consistency. Did they use a microwave? In my many years of reviewing restaurants, I don’t think I’ve ever been served a microwaved pizza. But the result left me with no other choice than to believe this was so, though I’m praying to be wrong. I certainly hope there was a good reason to not use the burning hot pizza oven, like perhaps a massive order of whole pies being cooked at 2:30 pm on a Thursday.
As for the quality of my slice, it was hit and miss. The pork was forgettable, but the pieces of ham were decent and I never in a million years thought that pickles would taste good on a pizza. But they did! The crunchiness and acidic bite meshed well with the sauce-less mozzarella cheese and the dough, which which was pretty average for the area. Whatever Dijon they used was not exactly memorable either (it was dry and kind of caked on by the time I bit into it). All this being said, as a “weird” and somewhat brave specialty slice, it did the job. Justin, meanwhile, did not offer much feedback on his slice other than to say it was flimsy. The chicken topping itself was “fine”.
The garlic knots could be skipped next time. There was not much flavor to them, and the sauce, which I assume was homemade, did not taste like anything. For $5, I was expecting to at least be tasting garlic in my mouth for a few hours rather than be sitting here typing this review on the same day and almost forgetting to include them. The menu also has another similar option called Dip n’ Dough, which we did not order. These are essentially breadsticks, an order costing $8-10 (sm/lg). For that price, one might as well just order themselves another pizza.
Is it too soon to review Julio’s? Some might say yes, and if this was a sit-down restaurant working out food/timing/service issues, I would be inclined to agree. But pizza is pizza, and I have given sparkling reviews to places open for a shorter amount of time. Perhaps I would have found more to like if there were not so many other pizzerias in such close proximity nagging at me for comparisons regarding which is better and which is worse. This was far from terrible pizza, and even if this review fails to exude enthusiasm and excitement, I have no dislike for Julio’s. I just hope they can continue to work out the kinks and manage to have a successful pizzeria in a location that has seen them come and go for many years. 2.5 out of 5 stars.