Pizza John’s is a gold-plated Essex culinary institution, hand-tossing pies since 1966. Back then it was strictly carry-out, but now—wow. Last year it roughly quadrupled in size and shot off the scale, amenities-wise. The cushy booths boast granite tabletops, the two dining rooms sport flat-screen TVs. The owners didn’t mess with the giant pizza chef statue out front; he still stands, glowing light-bulb eyes and outstretched pie, as he has since the Carter administration. Service remains the same, too—order at the counter, wait for your number to pick up your food. Pizza John’s makes its own dough and sauce, and the 12-inch house specialty Works pie ($11.55; $17.75 for 16-inch) came off the best. The thin, thin, thin crust was as supercrispy as flatbread and an enjoyable base for the load of pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, green peppers, onions, and black olives that it bore. The pizza, however, tasted very low on cheese. And the sauce, instead of the usual tomato, was a ground-beef meat sauce. We liked it, but not like we normally like pizza. It was . . . heavy. Spaghetti with homemade tomato sauce ($6.10) and meatballs ($2 for two) was a mixed experience, too. The pasta was almost al dente; the sauce was a very dark, heavily cooked, and spiced tomato sauce—very old-school and enjoyable as such. The meatballs were a dense, leaden disaster.