It’s a Mecca of sorts for aficionados of “ ’Za.”
Ianni’s Pizzeria in Vandergrift beckons the faithful with its wafting smell of burning hardwood.
Family-owned and operated for more than 90 years, Ianni’s (pronounced e-on-ees) serves homemade specialty pizzas in a completely renovated open, airy and industrial-styled two-level space formerly occupied by Carino’s.
The flagship Ianni’s, located in New Derry, opened in 1927, originally as a rollerrink and soda fountain.
A Delmont location was added next and, while scouting a third Ianni’s location, Vandergrift looked appealing, said owners Billy and Paula Johns along with their son Wesley and daughter-in-law Jonelle Harris.
“The people of Vandergrift are so welcoming,” Paula Johns said.
Customers flock here for the specialty wood-oven pizzas, cooked with radiant high heat (fueled with seasoned hardwood) with freshly made dough and homemade sauce.
“No frozen pizza crusts here,” Billy Johns said. “It’s truly all top-quality.”
More than 45 gallons of pizza sauce are made daily at the Vandergrift location.
Choose from 16 custom pizza creations such as the Popeye, topped with spinach, almonds and a red wine garlic vinaigrette or the OTC (off the charts), which lets the customer choose their toppings and level of heat (from a one to five).
The Margherita has bragging rights here as most popular, said Johns.
The true Naples pie features plum tomatoes, sea salt, extra virgin olive oil, provolone cheese and fresh basil.
Custom pizzas are the culinary creation of Billy Johns, who experimented for months back in 2003, perfecting thin-crust wood-fired pizzas before selling them to the public.
“I was in the bar business and the liquor laws became terrible and I thought ‘we have to do something,’ ” he said.
Johns always dreamed of baking good French bread and pondered the age-old art of cooking with fire.
“That’s the way people have been cooking for thousands of years, so I decided to put a wood fire in my old bar in New Derry. I started making my pizza there and giving them away free,” Johns said.
The pizzas quickly became popular with his customers and they began insisting on paying for them.
“I said no — they weren’t good enough yet,” Johns said. “I kept trying different cheeses, different flours, different everything. It took me about two months to finally hit it where we started charging customers for pizza.”
And Ianni’s was born.
Prices range from $7-$20 and pizza are available in small, medium or large.
Most of the pizzas are thin-crust except for the Ricky and the Domenica, which are thicker-crust top-sellers.
A full-service bar offers craft beers and signature cocktails such as Moscow mules, martinis and homemade sangria.
New this season is outdoor seating.
“We used to go to Ianni’s in Delmont, but we are so happy they put one in Vandergrift,” said frequent customer Melissa Leibert-Locke of Lower Burrell. “We have tried all of their pizzas. My favorite is the Margherita.”
Billy, who Paula John nicknamed the “Einstein of pizza,” won’t budge on revealing his pizza sauce secrets.
But, if he likes you enough, he’ll name a pie after you — like the Domenica, which boasts the thick crust and cooked cheese but a cold sauce “sweeter than Grandma” — for whom it’s named.