This spot on Taylor Street in Fondren has been a lot of things over a lot of years, but none as cheery as Sal & Mookie’s New York Pizza & Ice Cream Joint. Nor as cheesy — in that special mozzarella (and more) way I crave on a pizza.
Red-checkered tablecloths — just what I crave in a pizza joint. Good beer selection, ditto. Lunch special? Digging in.
The day’s red slice is a Times Square, a wedge that stimulates the senses enough to deserve its name. Italian plum tomato sauce and seasoned ground beef, sharp cheddar and mozzarella are all old pals. Pickled jalapeños bring a welcome warmth on a chilly day and the snappy Caesar salad is a crisp counter.
Sal & Mookie’s opened April 2007 and cruised past its 10th anniversary with all ingredients intact — dough made from scratch daily, intriguing combinations and a commitment to New York-style pizza.
Sal & Mookie’s is the third creation of Jackson restaurateurs Jeff Good and Chef Dan Blumenthal, who are also the pair behind BRAVO! Italian Restaurant and Bar and Broad Street Baking Company and Cafe. Those first two were already doing pizza when Blumenthal hit on his next inspiration. Drawing on his E
ast Coast years, he wanted to explore that region’s style of pizza pie, “but I wanted to do it with a little more flair.”
Back then, Jackson’s pizza-scape was mostly a circle of fast-food chains. The local pizza places had long gone, and the timing was ripe for a resurgence. “Jeff’s contribution was the ice cream part of it. He’d been wanting to do an ice cream parlor in Fondren forever,” Blumenthal said.
The restaurant takes its name from a couple of characters in Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing.” The movie’s title also works as a mantra for the mission here: Always do what’s best and right for the customer.
The menu reads like a tour of iconic New York City sites, with a couple of nods to New Orleans. Pizza is the No. 1 seller by far at Sal & Mookie’s, and while the Rikers Island (Sal & Mookie’s everything-on-it version) may have a lockdown on many orders, Good urges a freer perusal of the choices.
“A lot of things that Dan has crafted are very interesting combinations of very tasty things,” Good says. “The core idea was to do that New York-style pizza with the floppy crust and the big-slice experience and that wonderful taste of that red sauce, a signature piece that he and Jon Pixler, our chef here, worked on, and the dough.”
Pixler is now corporate chef and Sal & Mookie’s Chef Max Barron carries on the tradition. Consider the CBGB’s, a hotbed of exciting flavor named for New York’s famed punk rock club. With its red sauce, mozzarella, pepperoni, roasted garlic and red onions, “That’s the pizza you want to eat late at night if you’ve been out all night long,” Good says, relaying Blumenthal’s profile of the unique, thematic pies. “Or this Hamilton Avenue pizza, which is an upside-down pizza based on the kind of pizzas they have in Trenton, N.J.
Joyce Bailey, lunching nearby with husband, DeWayne, and son, D.J., jumps in to rave over the pizza, and Sal & Mookie’s in general — a must-stop in Jackson whenever she comes up from Hattiesburg. It’s like a taste train home to her New Jersey roots. “The sauce is what really gets it — rich and round and robust!” she says with a high five to Good.
Thanks to licensing agreements, there’s now a Sal & Mookie’s in Biloxi and one in development in the Town of Livingston. With the recent addition of Waitr, delivery’s possible.
Appetizers (fried calamari, hot wings, sautéed shrimp and more), salads, panini, traditional subs, burgers and pasta, classic desserts and ice cream treats round out a menu of tasty choices. Sal & Mookie’s is so family-friendly that the window to pizza-making action includes a ledge to give tykes a better view. Adults can tuck into the Pi(e) Lounge and its bar menu.
“This is a decadent place,” Good says. “This is a place to really let it all hang out. And, loosen your belt.”