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Archive for the ‘culinary knowledge’ Category

TAT: Talk of the Town, Ninety Years and Counting

Posted by cmh gourmand on March 3, 2020

The story of TAT Ristorante begins in 1929 in the former Flytown neighborhood of Columbus. The address was 409 West Goodale Street. The name itself is directly related to a historic moment in Columbus history. Pete and Philomena Carrova were looking for a name for their new restaurant. Prior to opening the doors to the public, a historic event occurred at the city’s airport, the Columbus Municipal Hangar (CMH) on the east site. On July 9th of 1929, the first transcontinental flights in the United States were launched. Passengers started their journey in New York via train, the first stop was Columbus where train passengers were transferred to a waiting Ford Tri-Motor aircraft to fly them to their next destination. In the course of 48 hours, a person could travel from New York to Los Angeles. It was an amazing feat for the era and the talk of the town that Columbus was a part of it. The name of this new airline was Transcontinental Air Transport or T-A-T. Legend says that Pete Corrova would watch planes from Transcontinental Air Transport flying into and out from the airport and decided to use the initials he saw on the planes as the name of the restaurant. Another legend suggests the once officials from T-A-T came by to ask about the use of the name and Pete replied it stood for “take any table”. The airline did not last long and faded from memory quickly and we do know that Pete’s son Jimmy Corrova started to tell customers that TAT did indeed stand for take any table. Today. The current home for TAT features a wonderful mural by local artist Carl Weisenberger which depicts the history of TAT..the airline in a series of images.

“Progress” in the form of new highways, cut up the Flytown neighborhood in the early 1950’s and forced TAT to move. Pete and Philomena opened the new location on the growing east side at 3280 E. Main St at South Hampton Road (it remained there until 1965). The couple continued to serve food that reflected Pete’s Sicilian (Ficara) roots and the recipes Philomena brought from Naples…and of course pizza. In 1955 (or 1954), Jimmy Corrova and his wife, Dolores, opened a second TAT at East Broad Street and James Road. In 1962 the family added a location at Livingston Avenue and Beechwood Road. This was followed by a pizza focused location on the west side, the TAT Pizza Carry Out at 3858 Sullivant Ave (which became Minelli’s Restaurant & Pizza Carry Out in 1967). During the brief tenure as a TAT, the west side location was very busy with Jimmy Corrova recalling they used “five to six delivery wagons and sold 600 pizzas per night on Friday and Saturday”. After the death of patriarch Pete, followed by Jimmy having a heart attack, the family decided to merge the two remaining east side TAT’s in 1980 which remains TAT’s location today, 1210 South James Road (at Livingston Avenue).

As the oldest continuously owned family restaurant in Columbus with over ninety years of service, a plethora of memories and stories have accumulated. Maintaining a tradition followed by most of the original pizzerias and many Italian restaurants in town, recipes are not written down. Kitchen staff (or family members) are shown how to make something and then they follow suit. Before Jimmy had heart surgery in the 1980’s, he made sure that video tapes were made showing him creating all of the essential recipes for the kitchen.

Corrova started working at TAT when he was seven, when he was nine he stood on a crate to run the cash register. Today his wife, Dolores is the general manager and his brother Anthony is the maitre d’. Defying generations of Sicilian tradition of leaving everything to the first born son, his daughters Michelle (back of the house / kitchen) and Marianne (front of the house) are ready to take over the family business when Jimmy decides to give up the reins.

A favorite story of Jimmy Corrova involves his David vs. Goliath fight with several big businesses in his cease and desist lawsuit involving the use of the the term, Poor Boy sandwiches in Ohio. At the time, several companies including Kroger were selling frozen Poor Boy sandwiches locally. A barely adult Jimmy decided to bring a lawsuit against these companies including the local grocery store chain. Shortly after word got out about what he was planning to do, he was asked to meet with “a few people” at Romeo’s Pizzeria. When he arrived, the place was full of various Italian community leaders as well as powerful Democratic and Republican lawmakers. He was very strongly “encouraged” to stop his legal fight so as to not stir up the pot. He was told the suit would destroy the family business and be bad for the Italian-American community. Afterward, he went to church where he “received a message from Heaven” that he would win the case. When he asked his lawyer how much he should sue for he was told $100,000. He recalls thinking that was a lot of 0’s (zeros). He did win the case after six years and TAT still owns the Poor Boy Trademark to this day. Jimmy believes the headline in the Citizen Journal (local newspaper of the era) was “Judge Slices Up Sandwich Attorneys” on the day he won the suit.

TAT is known for having many employees who have worked front and back of house for decades as well a countless regular customers that span the generations. Many customers have a favorite booth and/or server. One booth even has a plaque dedicated to a long time customer who passed away, now the booth is reserved for her forever. TAT puts the old, into Old School in every aspect one can imagine. This family business has survived the Great Depression, countless recessions, treads, fads and an endless stream of new competition by not changing a thing. The only thing that has changed at TAT is their style of pizza served which has evolved from their original thicker crust interpretation with American cheese to the classic Columbus style today with just a few tweaks since the 1950’s.

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

Panzera’s Pizza: A Story of Persistence and Pluck

Posted by cmh gourmand on January 19, 2020

Panzeras Pizza

The origin of Panzera’s Pizza reads a lot like a Horatio Agler rags to riches tale. The Panzera family immigrated to the Grandview area in 1955 just before Nick Panzera observed his fifth birthday in his new home country. They arrived from the Abruzzo / Abruzzi section of Italy speaking little English and immediately set themselves to work. Nick, started working at Tedeschi Italian Bakery (at Third Ave. and Doten) in Grandview. Initially he was bagging bread but over time he took on many other roles. Nick and some of his brothers would sometimes work at nearby Leonardo’s Pizza as well. When Nick was 12, Tedeschi Bakery closed so he and brothers were out of a job in the case of his brothers, one of their jobs). In late 1964, Nick and brother Phillip with the help of many family members decided to run the bakery space as a pizzeria and called it Panzeras. It was a small operation open seven days per week with one oven and dough mixed by hand….managed and operated by 13 year old Nick Panzera.

One of the keys to making this work was one of Nick’s teachers, George Sotiris Georgas. As Nick was getting ready to open the pizzeria, George kept asking him questions about what items would be on the menu and how much Nick was planning to charge for each specialty offered. Nick was surprised by a stack of menus given to him by George who make the on the schools mimeograph machine as a surprise for opening day! George also knew that Nick was working late nights at the pizzeria so he arranged for Nick to have a “job” in the school book room which allowed Nick to sleep and/or study the first two periods of the day. The first $5 sale at Panzera’s Pizza was from George and it was framed on the wall for years.

In 1966, older brother and business partner Phillip was working at the nearby quarry but it was laying off employees. He came to Nick and said “I’m moving”. Having just moved to a new house, Nick was confused and asked Phillip why he would so move again so soon, to which Phillip explained he was not moving to another house, he was moving to California to find work. At this stage, Nick was 15 and in high school and didn’t feel he could run the business on his own. He considered putting the business up for sale but after a less than desirable offer he decided to figure out how to make it work. He decided he would start advertising but knew before he could start marketing the business he needed to upgrade everything in the pizzeria so he could increase his production volume. Nick worked with Stan Becker a salesman at Wasserstrom to order $10,000 of equipment: another oven, a mixer, slicer, double door refrigerator, pots, pans etc., everything needed to allow a few people to make a more pizzas in less time. The price tag for these upgrades was high so an owner was needed to sign on the bottomline. Nick was 15 so Stan told him he was too young to sign the contract. Nick replied to Becker that his dad would sign it but Stan knew his dad did not speak English. So Nick countered that he would read the contract to his dad. Stan was a bit wary of that. In the end, Nick signed the contract with his dad’s name while Stan looked the other way.

After the new equipment was in place, Nick worked with a customer to print 10,000 menus including coupons. Then Nick loaded up a car to drive his nieces and nephews around the Grandview neighborhoods dropping them off at one end of the block and picking them up at the other side to deliver fliers throughout the area. People started calling in orders and dropping in the first day of flier delivery leading to some very busy days. Phillip came home to visit shortly thereafter and was amazed at the stacks of pizzas waiting to be picked up in the shop.

Nick got married in 1969. He started buying rental properties in the area to expand diversify his income. Many of the pizzeria’s customers were police officers and they would often say “Nick you should be a cop”, so when Nick turned 21 (1972) he applied for the police academy and was accepted. Eventually Nick’s wife told him he had to give up at least one business so he decided to sell the shop to Fred Lombardi and his wife (Nick’s sister) in 1976. Fred had worked at Panzera’s (and Leonardo’s Pizza) for years including managing the shop since Nick started working as a police officer. (Nick was once called Panzera’s Pizza in response to a robbery call items stolen included the frame dollar bill from the first sale at Panzera’s).

Panzera’s Pizza moved a few times since opening in 1964, in 1983, Fred Lombardi moved the shop to the present location at Grandview and Third Avenues. Today, although Fred is “retired”, which seems to mean he is working what most would consider a normal work week Fred remains a fixture in the kitchen. Fred is still at Panzera’s making dough, sauce and preppy pizzas. Many of the extended family have worked at the shop over the decades. The recipes are all Panzera family recipes with no changes since 1964. None of the recipes is written down all are passed along by one person showing and expecting the other person to continue doing. Panzera’s still makes their dough, pizza sauce, spaghetti sauce and many other Italian specilaities from scratch. Fred passed on the pizza peel of day to day operations to his son Carlo many years ago and today guests can often find Fred, Carlo and (grandson) Andy kneading and tossing the dough behind the counter.

A non pizza menu item that has been popular since the 1980’s is the Monster Sub which is a fusion of a Italian sub and meatball sub wedded between two buns. Another thing customers can count on at Panzera’s is Nick dropping in several times per week (when he is not visiting brother Paul at Paul’s Pantry just around the corner). You will find a lot of important things at Panzera’s that are not on the regular menu: three generations of family that are proud of their pizza, connected to their neighborhood and their customers in a way that few businesses can compete against. All of this because a 13 year old needed a job and the extended Panzera/Lombardi family always helped each other out to keep the family business going. That alone, is worth a visit, the pizza is a bonus.

Historical side dish:

Phillip Panzera came home from California to visit the pizzeria shortly after Nick expanded the kitchen operation and started his marketing blitz. While Phillip was walking in, he noticed a man walking out of the nearby insurance agency, which was a new neighbor to Panzera’s. At the same time, the insurance agent in question did a double take noticing Phillip as well. Each sensed they knew each other and after a lot of conversational sleuthing figured out they had met in Italy, during World War II (over twenty years before) when the jeep the insurance agent was riding in picked up a hitchhiking Phillip on a dirt road far from Grandview, Ohio and the United States.

Posted in Columbus style pizza, culinary knowledge, pizza | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Dante’s Pizza Serving Clintonville Since 1973

Posted by cmh gourmand on October 1, 2019

Joe Apollonio immigrated to Columbus from the Abruzzo region of Italy at age 14. He spoke little English and started working and going to school as soon as he arrived after settling in with relatives in Grandview. His first job was as a dishwasher at Romeo’s Pizzeria (5th and North Star) which was the first pizzeria in Columbus. This was also his first exposure to pepperoni, a very American invention, but he grew to like it over time. Joe worked with Romeo Sirij, one of the founders. Romeo had grown up on the east coast and brought what he had learned about pizzerias when he moved to Columbus as young man. A friend of Joe’s from school, Paul Panzera, told him about an opening at Leonardo’s Pizza so he started working there (the original location at West 1st in Grandview) and moved up the ranks. As Joe’s English language skills improved and as Leonardo’s continued to grow into the largest independent pizza chain in Columbus he was asked to be a manager at the Worthington Leonardo’s and then the Kenny Road location. Joe could not have asked for a better foundation and apprenticeship in Columbus style pizza.

As he was starting a new family he needed more income and wanted more control over his work hours so by pooling funds from his brother, sister and other family members he opened Dante’s Pizza in March of 1973. The location had been home to several restaurants over the prior years. The previous business had some struggles and had lost favor with the community so Joe knew he would need a different name and would need to very quickly establish the quality of his menu. He named the restaurant after his brother, Dante. At the start, most of the labor was via family members including his niece Tizianna who now owns Enrico’s Pizza. Many of the employees feel like family with at least two, Shirley and Pat, there for over thirty years.

Little has changed since Dante’s opened in 1973. Transactions are still cash and check only. The decor and layout are functional. Pick up customers can watch their pizza being assembled and cooked through the glass countertop. Dine in guests have about a dozen four top tables to choose from and it is not uncommon for all or most of them to get pushed together to serve a soccer team or large family. The pizza dough is made fresh daily. The pizza and spaghetti sauces are made in house as well as the signature Italian dressing and many other items. The sausage is made locally using a recipe Joe has used for decades and it remains a favorite topping for long time customers. After two heart attacks and an open heart surgery Joe is still coming in early to prep the business for the day, start sauces, knead dough and deal with deliveries but now he is typically gone before the first customers come through the door.

As is the case for most “old school” pizza shop owners Joe was a regular at The American Italian Golf Club at the (closed) Riviera Country Club and often played with the Gatto’s who own a nearby pizzeria. Joe has enjoyed seeing several generations of Clintonville families returning year after year and watching their kids become adult customers who bring their own children in. Joe foresees no changes at Dante’s. It will remain a cash business. Additional traffic from delivery services is too complicated to consider for this small pizzeria tucked in a corner spot within a busy shopping plaza. Dante’s will remain a time capsule of the 1970’s and that is the way everyone likes it.

Most important for my slice of history, Dante’s was the source for the very first slice (square that is) of pizza I consumed as a young four year old in Clintonville. I vividly recall eating this very tentatively sitting on the landing that divided the staircase from the first floor to the second floor. I do not know why I choose this for my dining spot. I do recall being unsure, almost wary of pizza…..that did not last long. As I grew up, Dante’s pizza was a frequent feature on Friday nights in our household and in fourth grade, at the newly created Clintonville Academy (the original location which is Wildflower Cafe today, we would have Dante’s Pizza for lunch in a shared art space, multi-purpose room, play area either once per week or once per month (my memory is hazy with the years). It was here I first learned the utility of sharing square slices and the importance of trying to avoid the smaller corner pieces for my pizza allotment among the group. It is interesting how one food can imprint in a person’s mind in such a strong manner but such is the case with pizza.

Dante’s Pizza
3586 Indianola Ave.
Clintonville
614-268-5090
(Bring cash!)

Posted in Columbus style pizza, culinary knowledge, pizza, restaurants | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

Another Elite Eating Hack: Rockmill Tavern Beet Bahn Mi

Posted by cmh gourmand on September 25, 2019

I did not expect another elite eating hack in 2019. Nor did I expect said hack to present itself at Rockmill Tavern but when serendipity strikes, it should not be dismissed. I would like to say I could take credit for this culinary advancement but, like the other elite hack, this higher plane of consumption was created by another. I can say, I was present for the inspiration and I had the second ever sandwich created with this configuration.

Rockmill Tavern does a fine job with meaty dishes and they have always offered vegetables that your momma would not need to bribe you to eat but over the last year, the kitchen has been very focused on creating destination level dishes which showcase vegetables. Hence, the a new lunch menu addition, the Beet Bahn Mi.

You may be familiar with the famous Vietnamese Bahn Mi Sandwich – the best version I have encountered in Central Ohio is at Mi Li Cafe. Rockmill Tavern took that inspiration and put their own spin on it for their weekday lunch menu. They ditched the meat and replaced it with braised golden beets then add Vietnamese pickles and garlic miso aioli layered between two halves of a wonderful Maitja Breads Ciabatta Hoagie Roll. No one needs to beat me to get me to eat this Beet Mi, it is an excellent sandwich as presented. However, it just so happens that Rockmill Tavern makes an exceptional pork belly and if the place is not too crowded and you ask nicely they will add pork belly to this sandwich. The end result is AMAZING. Now you have another Elite Eating Hack for Rockmill Tavern. Thank you Chris for this gift to humanity. Thank you to Rockmill Tavern for allowing us to eat this.

My other inside tip – always order the pasta special, you will never be disappointed but do make sure you order bread to go with it.

Where to go:
Rockmill Tavern
503 South Front Street
Brewery District, Lunch Time

Posted in culinary knowledge, sandwiches | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

The Best Basement Brewing Museum I have ever seen…..

Posted by cmh gourmand on September 8, 2019

Due to a curious chain of events (certainly not the first time for me), I found myself in a brewing museum in a basement. Well, maybe not a true museum but an incredible curated collection of artifacts accumulated by Ed Heller in forty odd years of brewing in Columbus and Central Ohio, mainly at August Wagner Breweries. How does one find himself in such a place? In my case by being a “connectrovert” – finding ways to connect people and opportunities as well as asking the right question at the right time in the right way. The story starts with me in my role as Vice President (and non-resident historian) of the Brewery District Merchants Association. A member had a question about a giant Brewers Alley sign that was in his building. An individual was interested in making a good home for this sign and after asking a few questions to “vet” that it would be a good forever home for a historic sign, agreements were made to transfer custody. In the process of this back and forth, I found out that the mother of the person asking for this sign was the daughter of Ed Heller who was a local brewmaster and she had “a few things” in her basement including a Brewers Year Book from 1950. Without trying to hide my excitement I asked if I could invite myself to see this treasure trove of Breweriana and the deal was done. Well, maybe I put a lot of icing on the non cake that is me, by asking if I could also invite my friend and colleague Curt Schieber the author of “Columbus Beer: Recent Brewing & Deep Roots“.

Flash forward to this morning when Curt and I, two perfect strangers to these very kind people, found ourselves in a nicely finished north side basement looking at relics of the August Wagner Breweries (and other places) and hearing about the long career of Ed Heller. He lived an incredible life. As the oldest of nine children, Ed had to leave school in the 8th grade to find work. Eventually, through a lot of hard work, perseverance and saving a lot of money for the time, he found his way to New York city to earn a prestigious Brewmasters certificate. Being a brewer on the South Side of Columbus would have made him one of the most respected citizens of his era. He lived into his 90’s surviving throat cancer in his late 40’s and being unable to speak and then another cancer, heart attack and more later in life. For many years his family lived in one of the brewers houses on Front Street which in itself created so many memories including going to the brewery on Saturdays so that the brewers could make snowballs out of the melting ice in the brewery for children to play with.

The assortment of photos, signs, glasses, bottles and more in this basement space told more than just the story of a brewer, it tells the story of a important part of life in Columbus during his career. Our hosts Angie and Greg shared so many stories with Curt and I that I lost count. More importantly the four of us connected due to a passion for celebrating and preserving history. Much of what we saw were items that easily could have been discarded or separated over the years but keeping all of this together created a wonderful longitudinal story.

This was truly a treasure trove. Curt, spent three years working on his book but had never seen the majority of what we were looking at and hearing about today so he was thrilled with having access to this hidden history. One thing we collectively lamented on is that most families loose so much of their history and connection to the past by not having someone with an interest to pass it on to the next generation. Increasingly there is no one in the present that wants take on the role of family historian and archivist. Today Curt and I got lucky. I am sharing a few of the many photos I took below.

Posted in beer, culinary knowledge, culinary misadventure | 2 Comments »

Ding Ho, Wor Sue Gai: Columbus Institution & Midwestern Foodway

Posted by cmh gourmand on August 26, 2019

Many moons ago, I came across this interesting article about the origination of Wor Sue Gai / War Su Gai in Columbus. The claim seems credible with a strong probability that the dish started at Far East Restaurant in Bexley sometime in the 1920’s. Two of our oldest Chinese restaurants in town – Wings (1970) and Ding Ho (1956) have connections to that restaurant. The dish is simple – wok fried chicken topped with chopped almonds or peanuts depending on the restaurant and era, covered with gravy and served on a bed of lettuce. My memories of Columbus Chinese food of the 20th century recall this dish vividly anywhere we dined. Other locales call this Almond Boneless Chicken as described in an article on Eater. There are differences in how this dish is presented, especially in how the gravy is prepared throughout Columbus and elsewhere but the core of the dish remains the same. As I was reading through this research I realized I have never dined at Ding Ho and I figured I should fix that.

Ding Ho has a long history in the capital city, dating back to 1956. It has been in several locations on the west side. It has been at it’s current location on Phillpi Road since 2008 in what looks to have been a former fast casual restaurant space. The original Ding Ho (which roughly translates to -> the best) started in a converted gas station. During its prime it stayed open late, served the movers and shakers of Columbus such as Mayor Sensenbrenner and offered steaks, chops, sandwiches and more.

Today, Ding Ho might be an easy place for people to dismiss either for the location or for having a traditional, Americanized Chinese menu. For those that have not visited, it is well worth the trip. Even though it is in a newer building, Ding Ho has an old school feel about the space. It is well maintained with plenty of room for dining and even a patio area. Service was friendly and very fast. On my visit I noticed it was well populated with many regulars that the staff knew by name.

Of course I ordered the Wor Sue Gai. I ordered an egg roll. I also opted for the optional bread service – mainly because I was intrigued by this offering. My server just asked if I would like bread…so of course I said yes. I was promptly given a plate with two slices of bread on it and small vat of butter. I was told this has been a tradition since the 1950’s since the menu once included a wide variety of American and Chinese-America comfort foods. Over time, guests would see bread being served with a steak or chops and ask if they could have it with their Chop Suey or Wor Sue Gai, so bread remains an option to this day. My egg roll was good. I really enjoyed the house made sauces readily available at the table to ladle on my egg roll. Both sauces were fresh and complimented the egg roll well.

The Wor Sue Gai was served within a matter of minutes. It was piping hot and had the requisite chicken, gravy, rice, lettuce, crumbled peanuts and in my case scallions/green onions which are optional. All white meat is also optional for this dish. It was exactly what I expected. It might not be an exciting dish for a professional foodie but I felt this was a fine rendition of this traditional dish.

While my expectations were not exceedingly high for this visit or dish, all of my expectations were exceeded. The most important part of the meal was the friendly attitude of the staff and the pride they have for continuing a third and fourth generation small business. That alone justifies a trip to explore this historic dish.

Ding Ho Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Posted in culinary knowledge, restaurants | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

Elite Eating Hack: Rockmill Tavern Spicy Chicken Sandwich

Posted by cmh gourmand on August 18, 2019

The absolute best sandwich in Columbus, among many worthy candidates, is the Spicy Chicken Sandwich at Rockmill Tavern in the Brewery District. Saying the best of anything food related in this city is a bit daring, in that often a flood of counter arguments and in some cases trolling will ensue. At least I am not declaring the best pizza in Columbus, such audacity would likely get me lynched.

Rockmill Tavern is no stranger to “best of”. It was voted best new restaurant when it opened in the fall of 2016 and has maintained top ten status since. In what may be the most contested best of category in the city, BEST BURGER, Rockmill has generally landed in the number one or two spot along with Preston’s. (I love Preston’s so if I was ever forced to choose between the two burgers I would just eat both and call it a draw).

The Spicy Chicken sandwich is a beautiful work of culinary art. Fried chicken style breading encases a gigantic long slice of chicken bread that extends past the bun at least two to three inches on each pole of the sandwich. It features a generous allotment of spicy (but not too spicy) honey butter. To complement the light heat, a thin layer of urfa mayo is slathered on and a small stack of thinly sliced bread and butter zucchini (not quite pickles but serving that role). Sandwich all of this between a brioche bun, add more butter and when available top with a delicious, buttery, red pepper and the end result is the Spicy Chicken Sandwich. Take this same basic concept and place on their amazing biscuits and you have essentially the same sandwich in biscuit format known as the Chicken Biscuit when you can get it

Let me cut to the chase to get to the hack, because it is a game changer. This hack was created by a regular customer (once or twice per week) which shared it with bar staff who in turn shared with me.

Elite Eating Hack for Rockmill Tavern Spicy Chicken Sandwich

1) Take the pepper off the top of the bun, remove the stem and place on the chicken.

2) Lift the bun and flip over to make it less messy to eat and to infuse more butter into the chicken.

3) Eat the sandwich. Consider ordering a second.

Suggested pairings: Rockmill Dubbel, Old Mill Rocky or Rockmill Witbier

Please note: The photo in this post is of the Chicken Biscuit Sandwich. It is similar, and equally good, but not exactly the same – however it does accurately show the bun to chicken ratio and basic sandwich configuration and proportions. I did not take a photo of the Spicy Chicken Sandwich because more often than not, I prefer to eat my meal instead of tweet it, I find it is much more satisfying.

Posted in culinary knowledge, Food For Thought, sandwiches | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Gattos: Columbus Pizza, Clintonville Icon

Posted by cmh gourmand on July 13, 2019

Gattos Pizza was founded in 1952 by brothers Jimmy and Joe Gatto. It is the oldest continuously operated pizzeria in Columbus by that, meaning the same family at the exact same location for almost seventy years. Without an ounce of exaggeration, you can not create a place like this anymore. There are a few pizza shops that have a slightly longer history but the Gattos are among our founding families of pizza.

Mounted on the wall, is a large black and white photo showing the view out Gatto’s front window taken shortly after the business opened. Today, looking hard at the photo one will see little has changed from that opening day in 1952. The original vulcan gas oven was replaced by two newer models to increase production and the business started taking credit cards in June of 2019 otherwise you could still be in the 1950s. The majority of the employees over the years have been Gatto children, cousins and close friends which has continued a persistent family atmosphere to the pizzeria.

The founding Gattos grew up in Flytown, the Italian part of Columbus that is largely the Short North today. Joe’s family was living on the south side (near the original Donatos would begin in the 1960’s) when the pizza shop opened. “It was Uncle Jimmy’s idea and they chose Clintonville because the north side was growing” per Vince Gatto, a second generation Gatto who runs the shop today. Jimmy had experience working in bars and the family as a whole had a lot of restaurant experience.

Vince started working at Gattos when he was 10, wiping pans and rolling dough. He took the bus from the south side to Clintonville every Friday and Saturday to work until he was old enough to drive. Vince, his brother Joe (Joe Gatto II) and a cousin, Bill Fulcher (whose mother was a Gatto) bought the business from Joe and Jimmy in 1983 after years of working in the shop. At the time all three had full time jobs so they divided up days and responsibilities to keep the Gattos going. Vince took over many of the operational duties of Gattos in 1993 when he was one of 50,000 employees laid off from Sears on the same day. Today (2019) Joe II is no longer at Gattos and Don comes in once per week.

Vince says there are too many stories to tell from being a family run business in the same neighborhood for almost seventy years however a one day does stand out. In the early 2000’s a hurricane force storm stuck Columbus and especially Clintonville very hard causing the area to lose power for an extended period of time. Vince had the day off which he had started with a memorable day of golf with friends. He decided to check on Gattos because of the storm. When he called in he was told that they were getting ready to close the store because the power was out. Vince told the employee on the other end of the phone to “stay open and keep answering the phone” and he would be right there. He spent the rest of the day rolling dough by hand (like the old days) and prepping pizza which they could still cook out of their gas ovens. It ended up being one of their busiest days ever since no one else was open. By the end of the day, they had little product left which was great since they had no working refrigeration.

A great Gatto’s tradition is the annual “Sausage Party” which started in the late 1990’s. Every year, during the third week of December a collection of friends, family and long time customers gather to spend a day making Gatto’s sausage, often up to three hundred to four hundred pounds. Everyone takes some home to serve for the holidays.

The sausage recipe hails from Sicily and was handed down to the pizza shop by Vince’s grandfather. As is often the case of Italian and Sicilian sausage recipes, the mix has a hearty dose of fennel which is the common denominator for the handful of long time Columbus pizza purveyors who still make their own sausage. When asked why he continues this labor intensive endeavor, Vince responded he has tasted other commercial sausage over the years but never found anything he thought tastes better. Another unique property of the sausage used on their pizza is cutting it into rectangular slices instead placing on the cheese as crumbles.

Gatto’s also makes its own dough from scratch as well as meatballs, sauce and the only salad dressing they offer, Italian. It is a hands on, labor intensive business following a model no new pizzeria would follow. Today the challenges of continuing the legacy are changing eating preferences, more competition, less available parking and nearby demographic of grad students and new residents who do not have the same tradition of going to Gatto’s by default. Those that have not discovered Gattos’s are missing out on good food and time capsule experience. Those that grew up with Gattos would benefit with a pizza to rediscover the shop and to confirm that nothing has changed over the decades.


And a here is a bit to connect the dots.

Pizza Community

Joe Gatto (founder of Gattos) and Romeo Sirij (who started the first pizzeria in Columbus) were best friends since their Flytown days and continued to be frequent visitors to each other’s businesses and homes throughout their lives. Tommy Iacono (Tommy’s Pizza) and Joe Gatto (Senior) were also great friends who saw each other almost daily when they retired and frequently played golf together for decades. A binding part of the original Columbus pizza community was that most of the shop owners from the 1950’s and 1960’s as well as their suppliers grew up together in the same tight knit neighborhood, attended the same churches and frequented the Italian American Golf Club (based at the Riveria Country Club for decades) when they could find a day off. They may not have worked together but they did enjoy playing together.

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Reflections on Taco Trucks Columbus Ten Years Later

Posted by cmh gourmand on March 4, 2019

One half score years ago, in the cold depths of winter and at a kitchen table in Victorian Village the Taco Truck Columbus website was launched / conceived. As one of the three creators of this large body of work, the passage of time feels more like four score and seven years ago. The world, Columbus and my world view in particular are very different now than in that place long ago but not far away.

By my recollection, the seed for this project began in January of 2009. Bethia Woolf and I were talking about an assignment she had for a class at Ohio State. She was thinking about writing a paper about authentic, non Mexican Latino restaurants in Columbus (there are quite a few). This sparked a memory of a taco truck I have driven by on Morse Road many times over the preceding month. I was surprised that it was open in the winter. I was starting to wonder how many Taco Trucks might be in Columbus. And, I had never eaten at one in Columbus and only a handful anywhere else. When I wondered this out loud the focus of Bethia’s research paper shifted and so did how we would be spending a lot of our time for the next few years.

Doing some Google searches, asking the Columbus Underground community about any Taco Trucks that others had spotted and locating a short-lived blog about Taco Trucks a list of eight to ten was compiled for us to seek out. The two of us set out to locate these mysterious mobile food purveyors in the dead of winter. We climbed snow banks, I stumbled through conversations using very rusty Spanish and we discovered lengua and horchata. It was quite a day.

As we were rehashing our discoveries of the first mission, Bethia’s boyfriend Andy became intrigued by our adventures and joined in. Over the course of a month, we had documented well over twenty taco trucks and trailers. This was amazing to us. First, it was winter and in 2009, there was no significant mobile food in Columbus so the concept of so many trucks serving incredible Mexican and Central American cuisine was mind-blowing. We as self anointed food explorers, open to eating all type of “weird” things, had no idea these trucks existed. As motivated as we were to seek out and devour new tacos, new tortas and boldly go as far as the west side we were concerned that few if any others in Columbus knew about these trucks. They were hard to find, frequently had inconsistent hours and more often than not there were language barriers that has to be sorted through. At this point what was intended to be a class paper or in my case, a single blog post, called for, maybe even demanded a website. At the start, we hoped we might find up to ten, by March, we had a list of almost forty.

We wanted to list all of the trucks we found and tell their stories but we believed that more was needed to get people to seek out this mobile businesses. It may seem odd today, but in 2009 many people in Columbus were wary of mobile food, let alone immigrant “street meat”. We wanted to take away some of the hesitations people would have about trying these trucks on their own so we added a map, listed out key terms, etc. We kept finding more trucks and the site kept getting bigger. We learned a a lot along the way. We found taco trucks, and trailers and buses offered much more than tacos. We found foods from all regions of Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Colombia, and more. It turned out that about 10% of the population of Columbus was Latino and there were rich “hidden” communities on the West side and the Morse Road/Cleveland Avenue corridor. We met people young and old, poor and….less poor but always rich in experience and passion.

To help people embrace these small businesses on wheels, meet-ups were coordinated. Then a Night of 1000 Tacos , then a Night of 1001 Tacos, and television appearances with Johnny DiLoretto and so on and so on. Ten years later, Taco Trucks are common place in our community and no longer the new and novel “adventure” to people they once were.

There were a lot of outcomes from Taco Trucks Columbus. Bethia and Andy started Columbus Food Adventures and offered a tour of some of the best Taco Trucks in Columbus for many years. Many of the trucks received a much needed boost in customers and acceptance. I believe that the interest in taco trucks helped pave the way for more types of mobile food in Columbus, starting in 2010.

I have many memories connected to Taco Trucks Columbus. The most poignant involved Lidia from Los Potosinos. When we discovered her original trailer, it was tucked behind a car wash in a bad location on the west side. I discovered some of best chicken I have had in my life. When we first met her, she was making a handful of dollars each day. She did find a better location, but not before she and her family were evicted from their apartment. I will never forget the day she invited us to share some chicken with us. We were not prepared for her to send each of us home with mounds of food made just for us while she packing up her belongings to move due to being evicted. That act moved me in many ways, I will never forget it. It was humbling.

I met countless people I would not have met while discovering Taco Trucks. I befriended the owner of Taco Nazo and learned about many of the things he does to support the community. I even arranged for him to serve food at my work place at the time. In this instance, it was the first and in many cases, probably the last time any of those co-workers had truly authentic Mexican food.

Our early morning TV appearances with John Diloretto led to a radio show called Foodcast including him on WCBE for three years. In my case, I became even more interested in mobile food. I attended Hot Dog University to learn how to operate a hot dog cart. I wrote a business plan to run a food truck rental business which indirectly led me to the Food Fort, an incubator for mobile food vendors that I ended up working for. I also served on the Mobile Food Advisory committee for the city of Columbus helping to create the regulations that govern trucks today. I received a Community Award at the second Food Truck Festival for my work with the mobile food community, so yes, this inspired a big part of my life for several years. I also began to appreciate the middle school Spanish classes I ignored, the high school Spanish I endured and the college level Spanish I never thought would have a practical application later in my life. Just being able to say a few words in Spanish opened up a new world to me. I learned a lot, I had a good time and I met some wonderful people. All of this as the result of being curious about one taco truck that I could easily ignored or forgotten about, or more typically written off as not worth the effort.

Here are links to a few selected Taco Truck adventures.

Taco truck trek viva la vida taco

Los Potosinos

Taco Truck Tour

We had not had an opportunity to update Taco Trucks Columbus in over two years. It is not due to a lack of desire, just a lack of time. I wanted to do a “Taco Truck Census” and update the list of active trucks, with hours, and etc., but again, there is just not time to take on a project like this right now. My hope is that a collective effort might be orchestrated that we could update the list of trucks in time for the 2020 Census with a few “census workers”. That might happen, we will see. If you want to volunteer to be a taco census worker, make a comment and maybe we can figure out a way to update information for the new decade.

Posted in culinary knowledge, culinary misadventure | 2 Comments »

The Search for Great Gluten Free Pizza in Columbus….(has ended?)

Posted by cmh gourmand on January 28, 2019

In July of 2018, CMH Spouse and I were tasked with making some dietary changes for CMH Griffin to see if he might benefit from any of them. We were highly motivated to make this work. One of the items limited from his diet is gluten. I love gluten. CMH Spouse LOVES gluten. Griffin was a fan as well. He has a foragers sensibility to food selection and he likes to eat everything, especially most fruits and vegetables but he has very special place in his evolving palate for pasta and pizza. We did a lot of researching and my wife has engaged in a lot of trial and error to find reasonable substitutes for CMH Griffin. Some have been successful, some have been mildly disappointing and more than a few have been dismally horrible. Our great challenge was pizza. We made it our mission to make sure our little man would not miss out on this staple of our diet which is often a key component of our weekly food pyramid. We also needed to make sure we could eat what CMH Griffin has as well, to ensure he was not suffering but to also prevent him from dumbing down his pizza palate.

We were determined to leave no pizza stone unturned in our quest to make sure our child would have access to not just good gluten-free pizza but very good and we dared dream that we might even find great pizza in the process.

We established these criteria to allow us to guide CMH Griffin on this gluten-less journey. Some of these were added later after a lot of trial and more than a bit or error.

1) Will Griffin eat it
2) Will he eat a lot of it
3) Does it taste good to us
4) Is it still edible 4 hours later
5) Is it edible the next day
6) Can you reheat it
7) Can it be eaten cold without regret
8) It can not cost a fortune.

We have not tried every gluten-free pizza out there, but we have tried most. We have not tried every recipe for homemade gluten-free crust, but we did try a few of the best according to the internet. While this is still a work in progress, these are our findings so far – these are presented in order of best to not so much.

The default toppings for CMH Griffin are either ham and pineapple or pepperoni.

1) Iacanos: So far there is no gluten-free pizza that holds a candle to Iacanos. This was a slam dunk the first time we tried it and it has never failed us since. The pizza pie crust/shell is one of the few things they do not make in house. I have not been able to determine who they source their shells from. We do know from observation, they us use high quality cheese and other ingredients including house made sauce. They cook the pizza longer than most other places but not too long. The crust is thinner. The combination of this crust and longer cook time seems to be the key to gluten free pizza success. Iacanos gluten free pizza tastes great later in the day and is still edible 24 hours later.

2) Pizza House We are two for two on this one. Very good. I liked this more than their regular pizza we tried side by side the first time.

3) Donatos: This is a strong third place finisher but still does not come close to Iacanos. Because we can have this delivered to our home, this has become a frequent flier into our kitchen table. I have decided I like the gluten-free version slightly better than the gluten version of Donatos. The crust is not thicker but it seems denser. It seems to have a trace more flavor. It holds up very well to the next day test. CMH Spouse says that because the cheese goes to the edge, the crust is less disappointing. We like this one, probably more than we want to.

4) Kroger: Not Krogers or Kroger’s by the way, Kroger. The frozen, thin gluten-free Kroger brand pizzas are value priced and a frequent emergency lunch for our little man. The sauce is a bit weak, but overall, this one has the best cost to benefit ratio of any pizza we tried. It has earned a strong fourth place ranking.

5) Teritas: Good. Mainly due to the quality of ingredients and a longer cook time. We have only tried this once. If the location was closer, we would have more empirical data.

6) Masseys: The main failing for this was, and it may seem nuts to say this, too much toppings. The toppings to pizza ratio for Massey’s is always above industry average. In the case of a gluten-free pie, it takes away from the pizza by not allowing it to cook evenly especially the crist. This is still a good gluten-free pizza but to better test this one out, next time we will get cheese only.

7) Tarantos: I can’t remember anything about this one except that it was consumed fairly quickly. We need to test this one more.

8) Hounddogs: I am a long time, unapologetic fan of Hounddogs Pizza. The first gluten-free pizza we had here was the best individual gluten-free pizza we have ever had. Unfortunately, we have never been able to get another gluten-free pizza from here that was 75% as good. We see the most inconsistency here. The gluten-free pizzas range from good to OK depending on who is manning the oven. This is a heart breaker we had the best but it appears to have been a fluke.

9) LaRosa’s: This chain does a good job of making sure their gluten-free pizzas have a special prep area, cook sheet, etc, to minimize cross contamination with gluten. We liked this one but we did not love it and we can’t recall why.

10) Mellow Mushroom: Mellow Mushroom gets a lot of points for providing a lot of detail about their gluten-free pizzas – how they make them, where they make them, using a separate kitchen, etc. As for delivery of the product to the table, our service was horrible causing me to complain stridently and the pizza itself, was worse than the worst frozen pizza you have ever tried. I rank this a firm D-. I would give it an F but I did not spit it out.

We still have a few more to try on our list. If you have tried any of the following, let me know your thoughts in the comment section. This is what we are still curious about trying: Pizza House, Marcos, Harvest and Mama Mimi’s.

These are our general complaints about most gluten-free pizzas.

A) They often have a grainy texture

B) After a short period of time, they develop a paste like texture and consistency

C) They have a “nuclear shelf life” measured in minutes and sometimes seconds after they come out of the oven. They get noticeably less appetizing after an hour and often are inedible 4 to 24 hours later, even in the most perfect conditions.

D) They lack gluten


Special Thanks to CMH Spouse and CMH Griffin for persevering in our quest to find a decent gluten-free pizza.

Post Post Script: Friends have strongly suggested trying out the following places, so we will soon: Pies & Pints, Blaze and Goremade

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