Rubinos: A Bexley Classic, My Pizza Pilgrimage
Posted by cmh gourmand on February 1, 2015
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.
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.
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.