To begin, insert sarcastic, obscure cultural reference below in the form of a satirical song:
Grove City is the place for me.
Suburban Sprawl is the lifestyle for me.
Strip Malls spread out so far and wide
Keep Columbus, just give me that Grovetucky corporate chain pride
(Sung to the tune of Green Acres)
I have made some effort to discover the great hidden gems of Grove City. I have largely failed. However as a general statement, downtown Grove City and “old town” has some character. What happened to the rest of Grove City is nothing that has not happened in every suburban subdivision and population center in the country – massive growth fueled by strip malls and corporate chain restaurants that could be ripped from one part of the country and placed anywhere else with no one knowing the difference. My search for a spot of note has been often futile, sometimes comical and always enlightening. That is, until I tried Tristanos.
Tristano’s is an unlikely restaurant in an unlikely place. Located the distance of a line drive from downtown Grove City, on a residential street that looks to be from the early 1900’s, you will spy a large, greenish house at the corner of Columbus Street and Arbutus Ave. that has seen some better days. On closer look, the house has several picnic tables and high top tables on the porch/patio and just a trace of a neon sign. There is a wooden sign that looks like it has been there decades (but can’t have been there prior to 2006) posted in the yard listing the place as Tristano’s. Hmm, places that look like a dive are often the diamonds in the rough I dream of. Walking through the door, I had a good feeling that my quest for more than mediocre was about to end.
The old home that houses Tristano’s is a little worn around the edges. If you take out the family feel of the local awards on the walls, the place looks a lot like a college frat / flop house. The bar / host / servers station / command headquarters is made out of plywood and is framed by an unused hearth. Don’t let this dissuade your from continuing. It my case this only encouraged me, places like this don’t worry too much about the aesthetics so they can focus on the food. The pizza styles here as well as some of the sandwiches have a Chicago influence. The inside tables are simple with indestructible checkered nylon/plastic table coverings and generic chairs. A corner nook offers a few board games and children’s books for entertainment. For the adult clientage, there is a small selection of craft beers including a Tristano’s Lager I believe is made by Elevator Brewing. A small selection of wines are showcased in what may have been a living room long ago (right next to the parlor side room converted to a prep kitchen). Yes – all of these were good signs. The sights and smells in my first five minutes through the door only confirmed my gut that this place had what I was looking for – great food.
Many of you have not been properly schooled in Chicago Style Pizza(s) ((there are two distinct styles)) nor have you had the opportunity to manhandle a true Italian Beef Sandwich. I have. I am confident that any Chicago native would give a nod of approval to any of the Chicago styled foods streaming out of Tristano’s kitchen. Because I care about you, my readers, on my first trip I ordered a deep dish pizza, a regular thin crust pizza and an Italian Beef sandwich. All were good. All were authentic. As a person who once ate 13 Italian Beef sandwiches in one day throughout Chicago, I can state with assurance that the Tristano’s interpretation would hold its own against top five I faced down in the Windy City.
There are three critical elements that are needed to create a proper Italian Beef. Bread, meat and au jus. I am not sure where Tristano’s sourced their bun, but they chose well, it has the density needed to hold the beef and au jus in instead of giving way to the table. The outer crust is crunchy, the inside is a bit chewy. The beef has been slow cooked for an extended time in au jus with the slices of beef piled on generously. The au jus is seasoned with plenty of garlic and other spices. A well sourced, spicy giardiniera is served on the side.
Now on to the thin crust version. This is not some lame ass, paper-thin Columbus style pizza, this crust is thick enough to support the weight of the toppings, the cheese and the sauce. The crust turns up toward the sky and thickens at the end to provide an ample handle for slice eating as well as a nice crunch and snap for the final bite. The specialty pizza I ordered needed to have stout crust, The Screamin’ Tristano includes: Roast Beef, Capicola, Sausage, Meatballs, Crushed Red Pepper, Jalapeno and Giardiniero Peppers, Onions, Tomatoes and Romano Cheese. I skipped the onions and tomatoes…which was a good move because I don’t know where they would have fit. This is an exceptional pizza especially if you need to clean out your sinuses. The sausage and meatballs are made in-house. The sausage is a bit spicy but in the way that pleased my palate very much. All of these flavors worked well together, so well that my additional investigation of the menu has been slowed by my need to always get one of these pizzas when I return for a meal. My only suggestion to the kitchen for the thin crust versions I have tried is to add a bit more sauce and add just a bit more garlic and oregano to the base.
I ordered the small deep dish pizza. I was skeptical about this one because usually a circumference less than 14 inches on a deep dish pizza does not bode well. I look forward to trying the larger versions of the pie because I am happy to report that Tristano’s deep dish easily places in the triumvirate of Chicago style pizza in Columbus (with Meister’s and Wholly Joe’s). The Tristano’s deep dish has a thick, braided crust at the ends. The inside is compressed with thick layers of cheese, five to six layers of pepperoni, a sauce with thick, tomato-filled chunks and a dough that is as chewy as the thin crust is crunchy. The cheese is the most cheese filled version of any Chicago style pizza I have tried anywhere. I have no complaints about the cheese but as with the thin crust pizza I would have liked a little more sauce with a little more kick to it. If I have to choose between the thin and deep dish pies, I would lean towards the thin but would be happy with either. I suggest you eat the thin crust on site because it loses a bit of flavor and resilience with the passage of time. I gave both the next day, cold pizza test and both passed my rigorous review.
One note of caution: I have read some reviews whining that the pepperoni is too spicy. This was also a minor concern/observation of the designated diner. I liked it quite a bit, but you may want to consider if you want to risk the spice factor for your first pie experience. Another note of caution, Tristano’s serves desserts and they look really good, but so far I have only had room to split a part of a cannoli with my party. Tristano’s is not the only restaurant in Grove City but I can say, that is the only one I will willing make an effort to go to.