CMH Gourmand

Culinary Discovery & Misadventures in the Ice Cream Capital of the World (Columbus)

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Archive for the ‘pizza’ Category

Roadtrip: Coccia House Ristorante & Pizzeria – Old School in Wooster

Posted by cmh gourmand on February 10, 2015

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As a citizen in good standing of the allied members of the Ohio Craft Brewers Association, when Mary MacDonald asked me to moderate a panel on Effective Media Interaction, I said yes. When Mary was marketing director of the North Market and asked me to do anything, I said yes. That is a good habit to follow when Mary is involved. It has never steered me wrong. Now granted, Wooster in the winter might not be every person’s dream but in that it was the first Ohio Craft Brewers Convention paired with the first Ohio Hop Growers Convention how could I avoid standing in the middle of history?

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As is the per usual for me, when I am anywhere new and I have more than one hour for free time, I’m going to explore and see what the area has to offer and find an authentic spot to assimilate with the locals. While encamped at the local watering hole, the Great American Beer Festival awarding JAFB (which stands for Just Another Fucking Brewery – at least that is what I am told) Brewery I decided I had time to go on a food expedition, I had some initial research on where to get food but then I recalled I had an ace up the sleeve. I know Wooster’s Golden Girl, who now resides in Columbus ( she has a Ph.D and is a certified Policy Duder). I texted her to ask where to go and she replied Coccia House Pizza. This was promising because when I mentioned this to Cheryl Harrison, from Drink Up Columbus, who at that moment had allowed me to be part of her entourage, she too had been told Coccia House Pizza. Then, over the next 10 minutes, I saw several JAFB customers walk in with 2-4 boxes of Coccia House pizza. I then checked with the bartender and he too said……Coccia House Pizza. Finally, it was confirmed by one Angelo Signorino Jr. that in in 20 years of trips to Wooster his relatives had steered him to Coccia House many times. At this point, there was only one thing to do – call.

I called in an order for pick up (Coccia was only 1/2 mile away) and was given a one hour pick up time. I arrived 20 minutes early to observe this place in operation and following my standard checklist for likable small town Ohio haunts things looked promising before I even tasted a a slice of pie. Let us review the rankings on the S.C.L.S.T.O.H

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Restaurant located in an old house with multiple additions: Check

Parking lot full before 6 pm on a Thursday in poor weather conditions: Check

Pizza slingers instantly recognize me as a non local because I don’t know what to do when walking through the door: Check

Inside of house converted to restaurant is full of customers who every server knows by name while an endless string of pizza pick ups occur with each pizza slinger knowing each customer by both pizza preference and first name: Check

Photos of customer holding Coccia pizza boxes taken all over the world including places like Papua New Guinea: Check

Place is closed Tuesdays and open for carry out (Pizza, salads and Antipasta only) only on Sunday. Those non standard hours are the “You complete me” of small town haunts: Check.

Old menus and information about a place dating back to 1958 placed in the trophy case: Check

Three generations of ownership: Check

Ships pizzas around the world: Check

There appears to be at least one menu item that is not on the menu but known by all, pepperoni bread: Check

Noted on the menu: homemade bread and butter, anchovies (real) charcoal peppers: Check

Last and not least, with Wooster being just outside the Ohio Valley Pizza belt the place still abides by the rules of all Ohio pizza preferences: Topping on top of the cheese….or below, cheese charred, half-baked or unbaked: Check, Check and Checkmate!

At this point it did not matter what the pizza tasted like, this place was old school in all the right ways and I was glad I was putting money in their pockets to keep things going. During my 15 minutes waiting for my two large pepperoni pizzas I sat on a bench and watched these pizza slingers at work. They ranged from 16 to 22, working as an efficient team of four (one wearing sunglasses). The pizzas had big square slices of cheese on top. Pizzas were assembled in a frenetic yet focused manner. If pizza makers could rock stars these kids would have been the Rolling Stones.

Now on to the pizza. I quickly transported one pizza to JAFB while the other stayed in my car for delivery back to Mrs. Gourmand home in Columbus town. The first thing I noted was the weight of the pizza boxes. They were heavy from a high volume of cheese and a thicker than typical crust. I had one slice at the brewery and instructed the brewers to consume the rest (which is the only time I think they might listen to something I say). My initial response to my first bite, other than…TOOO HOTTT, was hmm. The topping to cheese ratio was proportionally pleasing. I thought the core crust was too crunchy. At this point it was time to head back to Columbus with the other pizza.

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Arriving home 90 minutes later. I found the pizza even more pleasing to my palate. The oil/grease had soaked into the crust making it more malleable for mastication. The rest of the pizza minus my assessment slice was placed on the refrigerator for the next day. The next morning, Mrs. Gourmand texted me to let me know she was very pleased with the sauces because it smelled and tasted like it had fresh tomatoes in it. Mrs. Gourmand is a bit of a hard ass when it comes to sauce so this boded well. I then spent the next two days assessing my pizza one slice at a time. I continued to find the cheese, the level of cheese char at the end of the crust ring, cheese ratios and pepperoni quality to be exceptional. Sometimes I liked the crust a lot and other times I just thought it was OK. The crust is about 3/4 inch thick. On the bottom these is a 3-4 mm thick browned crust and then from there to the top, the crust sometimes had a focacia quality and other times a dense, doughy toughness. The result, I like this pizza a lot but I have my feelings about the crust are still mixed. Not that I don’t like it but I don’t know how to feel about it. Doing some more research, I found the style in practice here is Abruzzi which is not too far from where Mrs. Gourmand’s old world people live, so that explained her satisfaction with the sauce. The only solution I can come to resolve my ambiguous feelings about the crust is to sample more. If you pass near Wooster, check this place out but be prepared for a long wait on the weekends. The wait is worth it and there is a lot to watch while you pass the time.

Coccia House Pizza on Urbanspoon

Posted in Ohio, pizza, restaurants, Road Trip | Leave a Comment »

Rubinos: A Bexley Classic, My Pizza Pilgrimage

Posted by cmh gourmand on February 1, 2015

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I had never been to Rubinos. Never, ever, although I know a lot about the place and its history. I once had a slice that someone brought to a Pizza Grand Prix. I never walked through the hallowed doors of one of the oldest, most famous pizza places in central Ohio. First: WTF. Second: I can sense the disappointment that you all feel knowing my dark secret now that I have come clean. Reviewing the archives of CMH Gourmand and cross checking with a short list of “classic” Columbus eateries, I’m trying to get my culinary history ducks in a row by visiting the few remaining outliers.

Any lifelong resident of Bexley has a militant love of Rubino’s bordering on obsession. The landmark spot feels out of place and out of step with the times in comparison to its neighbors. It is as older building with an interior that might have been refreshed in the 1970’s. Rubino’s is the type of nondescript joint one would expect to walk in to on the far west side, or near east side or just about anywhere other than downtown Bexley. The demeanor feels more like a diner than a pizzeria. Anyone that walks in knows what they want to order, so there is no need to hand out menus. The menu, mounted on the wall, is famously small – pizza, spaghetti, a pasta dish and salads. Beverages are served in a can and while pasta is served on a plate, if you order pizza, you are presented with a small paper plate. Based on my observations 99.9% of customers are regulars who are largely known by first name and who have clearly made Rubino’s a big part of their family traditions. Anecdotally, Rubino’s most famous customer, Bob Greene, made the spot internationally famous in his reminisces of growing up in Bexley. In research to ready myself for Rubinos I searched for other perspectives and reflections on the place so I could order the quintessential meal. I found this -> post which may be the most detailed pizza post I’ve ever encountered.

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I’ll now offer a few observations on my pizza experience. I would not place Rubino’s in the Columbus Pizza Category. First, and this may be hard for many of you to imagine, Rubinos to TOO thin to meet the criteria for Columbus style. The thickness is about the same as a Wheat Thin with about the same amount of crispness. The quantity of cheese would be considered to be on the light end of the spectrum (our server mentioned that most people order extra cheese). The sauce had a bitterness to it (unlike the characteristic sweetness of most Columbus Style pizzas) that was a little shocking on the first bite. If you weighed one of the 14 inches pies, I doubt it would weigh in over one pound. I ordered sausage on half of our pizza and I would say that this topping is the most memorable of any pizza topping I’ve ever encountered. The sausage is cut in rectangles and is even thinner than the crust – roughly the thickness of 2 sheets of paper. I’ve encountered countless pizzas, in over 50 cities and ten countries in my culinary life and nothing has been as unique as what I ate at Rubinos. This shop is one of the original shops in Central Ohio, opening in 1954. If you are not a Bexley native, do be advised that Rubino’s is not for everyone, including, Mrs. Gourmand who noted this is the first pizza she has had with me that she would never have again. Do come for the history and the tradition and a slice of the past. And to best experience the pizza like a typical Bexley native order your pizza “well done, with extra cheese, pepperoni and sausage” which appears to be what most people order.

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Another thing of note, especially for pizza history buffs, Rubinos uses special paper sleeves for their pizzas, which harkens back to the early days of these cheesy pies. The sleeves are “tented” to allow the heat to flow up from the pizza which is the perfect way to transport a classic pie home. And most importantly, take cash, Rubinos does not take Visa, Discover, Mastercard, American Express, Travelers Checks or barter just greenbacks and hard American currency.

Rubino's Pizza on Urbanspoon

Posted in culinary knowledge, pizza | Tagged: , | 3 Comments »

The Challenge of Joseppi’s Mega Meat Challenge

Posted by cmh gourmand on November 24, 2014

Once upon a Thursday dreary, while I waddled bloated and weary,
after many a salty and curious volume of meats galore-
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly in my stomach there was a tapping,
As of something gently, rapping, rapping at my digestive system engorged
Tis too much pizza for two men I muttered, tapping on my laptop, I started to deplore
Quoth the Gourmand “Nevermore.”

Setting the Stage

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I’ve known about the Mega Meat Challenge for about a year. My last attempt at epic eating was a two-time wash out – the Mighty Monolith at Neighbors Deli defeated me twice. I wanted an opportunity for redemption and was waiting for the right opportunity. The Breakfast Grub Guy joined me on the pizza tour I offer with Columbus Brew Adventures and during course of our adventure we started to talk about doing the Mega Meat Challenge. By the end of the tour we committed to team up together to take on the Mega Meat Pizza. I was excited. In fact so excited, I was already pre planning to defeat it a second time with Brian Thornton, from OH! Chips as my wingman for round two. I was not cocky, but I was confident about this challenge. I regularly eat a 14, 15 or 16 inch pizza with minimal effort. Stories that James told assured me that if I could just eat 45% of the pizza, we would be champs.

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The Mega Meat Challenge defined

I met James at the Lincoln Village location of Joseppi’s. We were greeted by the manager Jeff Thompson. He explained that it would take about thirty minutes to prepare our pizza. Jeff shared that on several occasions, he has had people (scoundrels) order the pizza and not show up – considering the time, effort and cash that goes into creating this megalith they now have to make it to order and only after both competitors are in the house.

The pizza is 28 inches in diameter. Unlike other meat lovers pizzas, the ingredients for this pizza are not a scattering of meats but thick layers of Topper pepperoni (made for their Topper pizza – this is the old school, crisp at the edges pepperoni that is harder to find in the pizza biz today), Italian Sausage, ham, ground beef and bacon. It is cut in squares (tavern cut or party cut is the term used in the industry). I counted 8 rows and 58 slices. Jeff was kind enough to bring the pizza out for us to look at periodically as he was putting it together.

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The rules are as follows, the two competitors must:

Sit at the round table near the counter
Stay near the table at all times – they can get up to do a lap around the tap, stretch or get more pop from the soda fountain.
They may not go to the bathroom or leave the building
They have 60 minutes to consume the entire pizza (no knocking meat on the ground or under the table)
Buckets are provided in case one or both lose intestinal integrity (no one has used these to date).
Dipping sauces are provided on request to help slide the slices down the hatch
No one was allowed to sit with us at the table or approach near us while we are in competition mode
The challenge can only attempted Monday to Thursday from 4 to 9 pm.

My mindset at this stage? I was confident but it was clear this was going to be a bit of work. In my notebook, I made this note for the blog post “Two men enter, One pizza leaves.” Jeff shared a few other tidbits about this beast of meats. The Lincoln Village location is the only Joseppi’s currently offering this challenge. Interest waxes and wanes, some weeks 2 or 3 groups will try this challenge and some months not one will try. To date, only one team has succeeded. I have included a photo of them below.

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Winning the challenge offers more than just a boost to self-esteem. The winners get $100 in cash, $150 in Joseppi’s gift cards, two t-shirts and your photo on the wall. That is well worth an hour of my time. The cost if we lost, $50.00. Jeff was a real gentleman about the challenge. He offered a few tips to help with our attempt to consume to heart clogging pie including the suggestion of having containers and ranch and hot dipping sauce nearby to help change-up the relentless taste of pork in our mouths. Jeff did not have to be nice to us, at $50.00 for the pizza he is not making a profit when he serves this monstrosity. He also let the pizza sit in front of us to cool down so that we could eat it at the temperature we desired. Once it was to our liking, we just needed to let him know so he could start the timer. James and I locked eyes after 5 minutes of cool down and gave Jeff the thumbs up.

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Detour
While you wait to hear about the outcome, I am going to digress a bit and share some of what I learned about Joseppi’s. Joseppi’s has been around since 1969 and now has several locations in and near Columbus. The family business is well represented by the third generation of Thompson’s and other family members. Jeff started working in the business the summer of his 12th year. It was his 32nd birthday on the day we came in for the challenge (November 20th). He has cousins and uncles working at many of the locations and is best friend (since he was eight, is the manager for another of the locations). Jeff really committed to the family business after his grandparents (the founders) died in a motorcycle accident, the family as a whole wanted to honor their legacy while making a living. The pizza business has been slow for several years and has just started to bounce back in the past year, so the family really relied on regular customers during the lean times (two were dining near us as they have almost every Thursday for a decade). The shop makes heart-shaped pizzas for Valentines Day and made breast cancer ribbon pizzas for some special customers. If you want to see the 30 inch pizza without committing to eat all of it, you can often see it served during the lunch buffet they offer during the week. I was really impressed by Joseppi’s and the background Jeff shared with me.

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The Meat of the Matter
When James and I began, we started with gusto. I opted to use the corn on the cob approach, pick a row and work my way down right to left. He aimed for a military approach by making a hard drive to the center. We were both happy that the pizza tasted really good. We both observed that it really was a MEGA meat pizza. We started consumption at 7:58 PM. After the first slice the table got really quiet and the atmosphere subdued. I became very focused on my prey, zeroing in on each piece with all of my attention. After the 3rd piece, I decided I needed to make sure I chewed each piece 100 times to ensure I had the room I needed for sweet victory. After the fifth piece, I started to falter in my plan. Originally, I was going to limit my pop consumption to one glass with small sips spaced out at long intervals so as to not overfill with carbonation. But my rate of pizza consumption was slowing as my need for fluids was increasing. At 8:24 PM. I communicated with James for the first time in 20 minutes. He was in the zone as well so I may have startled him. I just said, “I’m getting up.” I rose to do a lap around the table, fill my glass with more Coke and then a returned to my seat. I wrote the following in my notebook: “salt+bacon = salt lick”. At 8:27 PM we had some awkward side talk while I took the photo below.

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I started my next piece and 1/2 way into it I knew I was not going to eat my 45% of the pizza as planned. At the end of that piece, I thought that I would have to throw in the towel. At the end of the thought I glanced at James and could tell by his body language and demeanor that he too was struggling with his will to go on.

After a brief, dejected, conference, we opted to capitulate at 8:38 pm. Shortly after Jeff’s sister (who also works there) came in to the shop, walked by and gave us a look of pity that was painful to behold. She and all present thought we had what it takes to win the Mega Meat Challenge but as you can see from the next photo…..we were not even close. (We only ate two more pieces). #agonyofdefeat

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Reflection, Remorse, Reconstruction and Deconstruction

I don’t like to lose. Like anything in life, if I can’t obtain my goal I obsessively reconstruct the events to determine where I went astray with the intensity of the investigators of the JFK assassination. My first observation and deduction was at the end when I was (shamefully) boxing up our leftovers. Each box had 8 to 10 slices in it. Using a style of pizza dead reckoning, I determined that each of the four boxes weighed 1 1/2 to 2 pounds. Next, I cut one of the pieces in half for a side profile. Take a look below. That is a THICK slice of pizza with a layer of each of the meats. Doing some quick and imprecise math, I estimated this pizza to be about 10 to 12 pounds of meat and dough. In my best food challenge performance to date I consumed 3 pounds of food. Sadly, I think that the Mega Meat Challenge was never meant to be for me. Oddly, I think I could do the challenge if it was cheese only.

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The score: Mega Meat Challenge 1, Gourmand 0

Post Script
The pizza was really good as a cold meal the next day. CMH Tobias was pleased to eat any morsels offered to him. I think if it had been served cold, with the meat and cheese chilled and condensed, I might have consumed more than I did the fateful night but I would have still missed the mark. If you try this – and I think you should, use this tale as an inspiration and to guide your training, but don’t ask me to join you, I might have flashbacks. You can read The Breakfast Grub Guy’s tale of this trial -> HERE.

Joseppi’s Pizza
Lincoln Village location
4764 W Broad St.
Columbus, OH 43228
Tel: (614) 878-7291

Joseppi's Pizza on Urbanspoon

Posted in culinary misadventure, events, pizza, restaurants | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Back to the Basics: Villa Nova

Posted by cmh gourmand on September 1, 2014

Oddly, I’ve never written much about Villa Nova. I checked the Gourmand archives and found this post about “Big Beers” in their bar back in 2006. And a brief mention, while I was exploring the pizza options of Clintonville. For a restaurant that could best be described as a powerhouse of North Columbus that is a major oversight on my part.

For many years, Villa Nova was one of few restaurant options between Clintonville and Worthington. Frank and Donna Colleli started the place in 1978, converting a bar into a restaurant with a bar. As you can see from my linked post above – the bar business never suffered. The family had also operated Franco’s Pizza just down the street (another area icon). The place quickly became a cash cow so Frank sold the business and moved to Florida in 1986. His son John, convinced his Frank come home and buy back the restaurant in 1998. The restaurant has never looked back since then. It is still a family affair with three generations working in the front or back of the house everyday. As for popularity, you can see the parking lot full of cars seven days a week. In fact, the original lot was so full, Villa Nova eventually bought the lot and building next door (Just Pies) and turned it into a large lot just for the overflow traffic.

The formula is, and has always been simple. Offer Italian American Fare that is quick to serve and at a low to medium price point with no surprises. The food is basic, filling and comforting in large portions. Proximity to a large residential neighborhood and a retirement community don’t hurt business either. Of note, should you drop in is the extensive collection of pressure gauges and brass kettles numbering in the 100’s. One of the things that keeps people coming back are the daily specials. One special, which I believe has been a Sunday mainstay for 20 plus years. This was once a 1-4 times a month ritual for me. The only thing that has changed is a very slight change in price the meal is now $10.95 instead of the $8.95 of the early aughts.

I’ll walk you through the Sunday Spaghetti Special.

The special includes: your choice of soup either Italian Wedding or the soup of the day, a basket of bread sticks and a salad with your choice of dressing (I’d suggest the house Italian).

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Then you receive a plate of spaghetti with one meatball and one Italian sausage served with plenty of thick, rich sauce on long, thick noodles.

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And then your meal is topped off with a cup of Spumoni ice cream.

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Villa Nova Ristorante on Urbanspoon

Posted in bar, pizza, restaurants | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Flat Top Pizza Company: New to the Streets

Posted by cmh gourmand on May 20, 2014

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Cuisine: Pizza, Ice Cream, Soda and Seasonal specials

Website
Facebook
Twitter
614.285.4309

We begin with a bit of Columbus Mobile Food culture. You may have heard of Mikey’s Late Night Slice, a guy named Mike started the first mobile pizza empire in the city. Then you may have heard of Pizza Mike, Mike Evans owned the first restaurant (pizzeria) in Westerville to serve booze in the dry city. Then his pizzeria burned down. Mike was on the Great Food Race and used that experience to start a food truck last year. And then there is Mike and Other Mike. In 2012 a couple of lads working on a food cart decided they needed to do something different to stand out from the cart crowd, so they started doing a grilled cheese style pizza on a cart. The concept worked but they found a cart limiting so they started working on a truck. It took a lot longer to build out the truck than expected so Mike opted for full-time employment while Other Mike continued plugging, painting and paying away on the Pizza Truck. Other Mike is owner/operator/dough slinger Mike Cyan. The lesson of this paragraph – if your name is Mike you are probably running a pizza truck. The name of the truck is an homage to how the pizza is crafted, on a flat top grill.

Flat Top pizza is much more than pizza. The menu also includes truck made ice cream and craft soda. Future menu items may include pepperoni rolls, cinnamon rolls and soups.

The pizzas start with homemade dough and high grade ingredients. The sauces and pesto are made from scratch.

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The ice cream is made in small batches and served in scoops or floats.

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The soda pops are hand crafted as well with a mix of traditional with not so traditional flavors. Mike makes special syrups and flavorings for each pop, which are mixed to order.

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As for the name, Flat Top Pizza is made on a grill not in a pizza oven. The end result still combines pizza with a little grilled cheese char.

We like the look of the truck as well (as do many of the other food truck owners in town). Mike spent a long time crafting his truck, doing almost all of the work on his own. There is a cool retro look to the Flat Top (a Grumman truck, older than Mike is) with wood doors integrated into the design. Adding to the retro, pizza to go is served in paper bags (the way pizza was served back in the 1940’s and 1950’s). Flat Top officially launched in May 2014 so keep an eye out for truck as it starts to build a following at the usual spots. The easiest place to find Flat Top in action will be at Zauber Brewing Company, check with the truck and the brewery for schedule information.

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Posted in gelato, ice cream, Locally Sourced, Mobile Food, pizza | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Tyler’s Pizzeria and Bakery

Posted by cmh gourmand on March 29, 2014

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I’m not sure when I first heard of Tyler’s. It was brought back to my attention when my esteemed colleague at Columbus Food Adventures shot me an e-mail that highlighted the wood-fired aspect of the business. I then put Tyler’s on my very long and never completed to scout list. A month later, after dropping off some friends at the airport I found that I had time to kill and was much closer to Reynoldsburg than I ever get so that was the day.

Tyler’s is located deep in the heart of Reynoldsburg, in fact, I think it was the first time I been to the burg other than any sections attached to 270. That being the case I was hoping that Tyler’s would be a destination, because otherwise, I knew I would never have any legitimate reason to return.

Tyler’s is located in a nondescript building with simple signage. It could have easily been Tyler’s Barber Shop or Tyler’s Comics if one was driving by and did not know to look for it. I parked then spent a few minutes to search the web on my phone to see if I could find any suggestions on what to order. (At this point you are thinking….order a pizza idiot) but I do have an obligation to be thorough so I wanted some guidance, even from Yelp. I found very little on the place. Also, I must admit, when I see the term wood-fired I initially get very excited then quickly recall the many wood-fired disappointments I have experienced to date. Wood-fired often means wood flavored or wood smelling or would have wished I had gone elsewhere. I did not want to be disappointed but I was ready for it.

Walking in, the inside looked much like the outside – simple and plain. There was a sample board from which the sole employee cut off some items for me to try. There were all good. Then, I spied a Pepperoni Roll. I knew I would get one of those haven just spoken to Gary Seman at This Week about the subject a few days before. I saw many things that I wanted so I take home with me so I started with my initial order and then when I was given the price…which seemed like a steal, I added several more items to my bag of goodies.

So you are asking yourself, dude, where’s the pizza? Well in seems that Tyler was not in when I was there. The young lady at the counter has worked for him for two years and has learned a lot about baking but she was still learning the art of making pizzas in the oven so she suggested that I hold out until I could have one made by Tyler. I am sure that his apprentice could have made a fine pie but I respected that she wanted me to try one from the master so I opted to get some more bakery items instead.

This was my final stockpile of goods: butterscotch chip scone, chocolate croissant, blueberry muffin, pepperoni roll, Cornish pastry and a cookie bar. Verdict each one would finish best in show or close to it in their respective categories. A few highlights from above. The croissant was light, flakey and perfectly balanced in the proportion of chocolate to croissant. Cornish pastry, who in the heck makes these in Ohio? If you have never had one, go here to fix that little problem of yours. Mine had exceptionally buttery and flakey crust with a fine mix of spiced and seasoned meat and vegetables inside. As Jimmy Fallon might say…So Good, So Good.

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And let me back track to the pepperoni roll. While Omega Bakery is still my favorite place to get this West Virginia staple, Tyler’s comes a close second. One bonus on the roll I tried was a strip of charred cheese about the length of a dollar bill and the thickness of my little finger attached to the bottom and never removed after it came from the oven.

Based on the baked goods, I have no doubt that the wood-fired pizzas will not disappoint me when I do get back to try them. One more thing gave me hope. Having gained the confidence of the apprentice I was allowed to get a close up look of the wood fired oven. Take a look. Doesn’t that give you hope and a warm feeling inside?

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Tyler's Pizzeria & Bakery on Urbanspoon

Posted in bakery, desserts, pizza | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Columbus Brewing Company Restaurant – Revisited

Posted by cmh gourmand on December 31, 2013

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It has been over six years since I wrote about Columbus Brewing Company Restaurant. However, It has not been 6 years since I have eaten there or even six weeks. I am also happy to report that not much has changed in six years, and that is a very good thing.

Many people do not know that Columbus Brewing Company and CBC Restaurant have different owners. Eric Bean has been brewer and owner of the Brewery for quite some time now. While the two business share a roof and a name, they are very different entities. The restaurant continues to feature and serve Columbus Brewing Company brews as well as to make the beers active ingredients in some recipes. As the Brewery has continued to expand as a business, the restaurants CBC offerings have contracted a bit. If you are a fan of CBC’s Bohdi (Double IPA) the restaurant is still one of the best places to find this award-winning beer but they also run out fairly frequently. However, there is no need to fear, the restaurant does a fine job of sourcing guest beers into their line-up with a strong focus on local breweries such as Actual Brewing Company.

As for food, Brian Cook is still in the kitchen which is good news for me and some of my favorite dishes. I think CBC Restaurant has some of the best nachos in town and if you are dining with mixed company (vegetarians and carnivores) they do a fine job of deconstructing their nachos to meet everyone’s tastes when needed. The Cuban Burrito with a mix of meats, chips and plantains remains nearly the same as the version I raved about years ago. Another favorite of mine is the beer cheese soup which is typically available in the evening is a perfect starter for a fall or evening meal. Desserts are top notch as well (insider tip: sign up for the restaurant e-mail list for a free dessert of your choice with your next meal). Another dish worth mentioning is the Bye Bye Miss American Pie: a wood-fired pizza with house-made fennel sausage, banana peppers rings, pepperoni and smoked provolone cheese.

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The restaurant recently expanded hours to include Sunday Brunch so there are plenty of opportunities to see the depth of the menu the kitchen can push out. I’m happy to report that six years later that this place has retained everything that made it a great dining spot and if anything, has upped their game.

A final side note, I am slightly addicted to the house smoked chipotle sauce found on the nachos and the burrito. The restaurant partners with CaJohn’s to bottle their sauces so you can take them home with you. So there are two types of bottled products originating under the same roof.

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Posted in bar, beer, pizza, restaurants, Vegetarian Friendly | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Iaconos (Kenny Road) Pizza Buffet

Posted by cmh gourmand on December 9, 2013


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In my high school days, we were frequent flyers of the Iaconos pizza buffet. If memory serves me, I think it was all we could eat for $6. While, I never forgot about Iaconos, I did forget about the buffet in college and afterwards.

As the years went by the general concept of pizza buffet downgraded significantly – equating with low quality pies and mass-produced mediocrity. Strangely although I love a true value meal I had forgotten about the Iacanos pizza buffet. During my temporary exile from Clintonville, I have required a centrally located base of operations for business meetings, so on a whim, I popped into Iaconos to meet with a client. I had forgotten how much I like Iacono’s and it was a bit of a homecoming as well bringing back memories of good friends and good times.

The pizza buffet is a great value. For $8.75 you get unlimited trips to the salad bar, plenty of pizza, soup and a bottomless fountain drink. I think we all have low expectations for salad bars today. The Iacono’s salad bar does not have any surprises, it is stocked with the basics of what we expect in a Midwestern buffet bar: peas, carrots, cottage cheese, macaroni salad, potato salad, pudding, sunflower seeds, a multitude of dressings including a tasty homemade Italian house dressing, and more things that I have forgotten. And while what I have listed are standards, we often don’t expect them to be good. The peas are fresh and still have a pop to them. The carrots are freshly cut. The potato salad tastes good. The soup choices change daily. There are typically two pizzas available throughout the afternoon.

On my visits I have always observed staff asking arriving guests what their pizza preferences are and adding those requests to the pizzas coming out next. Shawn, the afternoon manager, greets guests and makes an effort to get to know repeat customers by name. And the pizza is as good as I remember it. Iacono’s pizza making history dates back to 1953. The Iacano family was among the founding pioneers of Columbus pizza. The crust has a nice “crackery” crunch and the sauce to cheese ratio is finely balanced. I always have a little lower expectation for buffet pizzas but what I have sampled to date has been on par with any dine in or carry out pizza.

Other things I have discovered about Iaconos since I found my way back to being a regular customer almost everything is made in-house from scratch – the dough, the sauce, meatballs, sausage, lasagna, most of the dressings and so on. The cheese is hand grated. It is the little things that add up to a big difference.

If you have low expectations of a pizza buffet – prepare to raise them with a trip to Iacanos. The buffet is offered weekly Monday to Friday 11 am to 2 pm.
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Iacono's on Urbanspoon

Posted in Columbus, Columbus style pizza, pizza | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

CLOSED: The Original Leonardos

Posted by cmh gourmand on September 1, 2013

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Leonardo’s Pizza has a history dating back to the early 1950’s. It was one of the pioneers in a new wave of food in Columbus. If you read the comments on my older post on Columbus Pizza History, you will find many comments about memories of the several Leonardo’s locations over the years. The last shop closed their shutters in the late 1980’s.

Patrick and Anna Rose Orecchio started their first shop on Northwest Blvd. back in 1953 and grew a large family business with all of the kids working in front and back of the house. The empire grew to several locations by the early 1980s in various parts of town. Pizza gets in the blood and can often not be removed. This past month, Drew Orecchio (son of the founder) and his wife Laurie reopened Leonardo’s in a recently vacated Sparanos Pizza location on Hague Ave. Having read about the excitement of the grand opening in my blog comments I had to check the place out. The spot on Hague Ave. has a lot of history as well….but that is for some other time.

I suppose I was in a bit of a rush to try out this new version of a Columbus pizza legend. I left my wallet at home. No problem, after chatting with Drew and Laurie for a while, they were fine with me calling a friend to get a credit card number over the phone to pay for my order. By the time we were done, they would have gladly given it to me for free or taught me how to make my own – but I was insistent about not being a mooch. Drew spoke about his family’s history in the pizza business for a long time. He shared that his dad Pat worked 13 years without a vacation as he grew the business to other locations and mentored others in the business. Drew is clearly proud of Orecchio family history in the local pizza trade and has been overjoyed by the many former fans who have traveled to the west side for a taste of their past.

I did not have a chance to sample Leonardo’s when the original locations were open, but I did try the 21st century version of the pie. It won on all marks for me. Ample amounts of rich, slow cooked and herbed sauce, a crunchy and crackery crust edge but not thin wimpy dough crest in the in the middle of the pie. The cheese was dense with a few scorch marks in the right places. The version I tried, featured pepperoni which had just the right amount of curl and crisp. Some might call in a Columbus style pie, I say it is far better than the average for that genre of pizza.

I enjoyed the pizza and would gladly go back again. What I enjoyed even more was the conversation with Drew. He so passionate about his pizza, his business and his family he would have easily spoken with me for an hour at the end of a long day of a long week. Both Drew and Laurie have a lot of restaurant and food service experience which they plan to showcase soon when they add a bakery to the pizza shop. Laurie is a baker so I sampled one of her cream puffs and I am happy to report it is the best I have had in Ohio. The cream puff was enormous with fresh tasty and flakey pastry shell packed solid with plenty of vanilla cream. I consumed the second half the next day and it was still as wonderful. The desserts are currently from the Little Pink Pastry Shoppe and I can see their line expanding with Leonardo’s. These are good people making good food they care about. That is rewarding see and consume.

So based on one Pizza and one cream puff, I can say Leonardo’s is worth the trip. Other items include: calzones buffalo chicken cupcakes, pretzel sticks with beer cheese, sandwiches, house made soup in the cold months, pastas and salads. Head out to try any of those items with a pizza and hear a bit of pizza lore if it is slow. And make sure to take your wallet or they might think you are me.

The Original Leonardo’s
1783 N Hague Ave.
Columbus, OH 43204
614 487 0555

Closed Sundays
Open
Monday to Thursday 10 am to 11 pm
Friday to Saturday 10 am to 11 pm

The Original Leonardo's on Urbanspoon

Posted in desserts, pizza | Tagged: , | 5 Comments »

Tristano’s

Posted by cmh gourmand on June 23, 2013

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)

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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.

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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.

kitchen prep

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.

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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.

deep dish pizza

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.

deep dish porn

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.

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Tristano's Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Posted in pizza, restaurants, Sub Dude | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

 
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