CMH Gourmand – Eating in Columbus & Ohio

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Pizza Tour Confidential

Posted by cmh gourmand on July 8, 2020

Pizza Tour(or) Stories

Columbus Brew Adventures merged with Columbus Food Adventures at the beginning of this year. It was win win for everyone, then Covid. I’m still a guide emeritus when tours resume but it will be a while before some of the tours come back. The pizza tour I created called Pitchers and Pizza had a final run at the end of 2019. One of the sites has closed for good, so that version of the tour as it was operated will never return. I do have a couple routes in mind for the future but a lot needs to happen for me to guide a new version of the pizza tour. I usually enjoyed the diverse groups of people that joined me on my Pitchers and Pizza Tour from 2013 to 2019. There were a few experiences that led me to question my profession. I can now tell the untold Tour(or) stories of the tour.

The scariest moment in tour operation occurred in 2018. A mentally disturbed gentleman screamed about the dangers of pepperoni as I was talking about the history of Late Night Slice with my guests. He would not disengage from me or my group and his voice got louder and louder and his proximity to my face became closer and closer. I used every mental health trick in my book to get him to disengage from us but none of them worked. Eventually, I gave up. As I was trying to escort my tour guests out of Ledo’s the bar staff had to step in and throw the man out just before we made it out the door.

My favorite story involves Meisters. I showed up one day about 10 minutes before the tour which is late for me. A few of my guests had already arrived. I noticed the kitchen was dark and that is when “E” came out to see me. He had come in for his shift to find the oven was broken. He thought someone had called me (nope). He was waiting around just in case I came in. By this time most of my guests had showed up. At this point he said he did not want to leave me hanging so if I could find him an oven, he could make the pizza for my group. I spent about a minute racking my mind about what to do. I then made a call. Iacanos was our second stop and the manager Chris was a stand up guy. I explained the situation and he said E could come to cook his pizza on their ovens….if he could get a slice. The deal was done. I told E where to go and who to talk to, then I stalled to give him time to cook his pizza. I had about 30 minutes to kill so I covered my normal content at Meisters then took the guests in to see the small kitchen and talked about pizza peels. When we arrived at Iaconos, we had Meisters and Iacono’s pizza waiting for us. E made two pizzas in case there was an issue with the ovens. There was not, so we had double the normal amount of Meisters minus a slice which ensured everyone could take some home.

Another Meisters story involves the Cleveland Browns. Meister’s has long been a Browns Backers Bar. This typically meant a good sized crowd on Sunday afternoons and I would have to come early to help clean up the Bird’s Nest where we started the tour. The crowd kept staying later and later and seemed to get drunker too, so I kept pushing back the start time of the tour. In 2018, the Browns were having a good season and the place was now packed to capacity. One Sunday, I was threatened by a couple of the fans in front of our guests which did not make the best impression but I asked my customers to stick it out. A few weeks later, I was dreading going to Meisters. I do not follow sports but that morning I decided to check on the game. It was a playoff game, the first the Browns had in a long time. Initially it was to start at 1 pm and would have a TV blackout but as I read more, it turned out the TV black out was cancelled and the time had been changed due to fan protests……too shortly before our tour start time. I had to change my plans quickly. I contacted all of my guests and told them we would still meet at Meisters but outside instead of inside and we would end the tour there.

When I pulled up the Brew Adventures van to start the tour – all of my guests had beat me there and a few looked terrified. The visual at Meister’s looked a lot like a scene from Lord of the Flies. The place was beyond packed and there were no parking spots on the length of the street. Two of my guests had to park at Kroger, almost one half mile away. I assured my guests that everything would be OK by the time we returned. Ledo’s was our second stop for the night. As I watched the game there, it appeared that it might go into overtime and the Browns might win. I was terrified of the vision of what Meister’s might look like if the Browns won. I was even more terrified of an overtime option that would place the game as still going on when we were to arrive at Meisters. I have never hoped for the Browns to lose but I did that night. At Houndodgs I snuck away to watch the game and with a few seconds left, it looked like the game might go into overtime. I decided to stall as long as I could. As we were leaving, the Browns lost in the last few seconds and no overtime happened. I still took my time getting to Meisters. When we arrived it was still busy so I asked my guests to wait outside while I checked out our area. I found one person semi- conscious in a chair and crushed PBR cans at a depth of two cans covering the entire floor of the Birds Nest. It took me ten minutes to partially clean up the area before I could lead my guests in. E saved a pizza just for my group – all of the food had been wiped out long beforehand. I vowed never to run the tour during a Browns game again.

My last best story involves Late Night Slice. In January of 2015 a few hours before tour time, I received an email from the manager of Clintonville Late Night Slice. He wondered if anyone had told me that they were having their all company holiday party that night therefore all of the locations were closed. Nope. I had just over two hours to figure out my game plan. I could not cancel because most of my guests were coming from out of town and were already on the road. My wife saw the wheels spinning in my head and suggested I sub in Adriaticos, one of our favorites and the pizza we served as the late night snack at our wedding. Initially I said no, because they would be too busy and did not have craft beer which was a part of the tour. After considering all of my other options, I determined that Adriaticos was my only possibility. I also figured that If I called they would just say no. So I went in person to beg. I also needed to be on site to figure out where I could park a 14 passenger van on a crowded campus. I explained the concept of the tour and how much I would pay. The manager thought it was a neat idea. But he said no. When we saw the look on my face he elaborated, “next Sunday is one of our busiest days of the year, that is when all the students come back”. I smiled. I told him, I was looking to arrive in just a few hours….today. The manager said that would be perfect because this particular Sunday was probably the slowest day of the year.. So for one time only, the tour featured Adriaticos – with cans of Seventh Son and Four String to take home since I did not have a craft beer to sample at Adriaticos. Mission accomplished.

Posted in Food For Thought, pizza | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

Columbus Style Pizza Not Your Thing? Try These Other Regional Styles Inside 270

Posted by cmh gourmand on July 1, 2020

Columbus has changed a lot over the last twenty years. Franklin and Delaware counties are among the fastest growing in the country. Today, many residents are transplants to our city. This may come as a surprise to some of you but there are some among us that do not like Columbus style pizza – thin, cut into squares and piled with pepperoni. There are others that do have an affinity for our preferred pizza pie but want to expand their horizons while staying in place this summer and fall. If you can’t travel to the style of pizza, I’ll tell you where you can find it here in Columbus.

New York Style Pizza

The first pizzeria in the United States was most likely Lombardi’s in New York City opening in 1904. Over the years, New York style pizza became defined as a pizza with the thin, floppy crust with a thick, dense and chewy crust ring and high gluten flour. Can cut into big triangle slices. Most New York transplants assume a good version of this style is not be be had in the capital city. They are mistaken. Here is where you can find bona fide New York slices or pies.

Paulie Gee’s

The Paulie Gee’s in the short north is the first westward expansion of Paulie Gee’s in Brooklyn. Terry Gibbs crafts authentic NYC style pies with high end ingredients and some of his own variations as well.

Borgata Pizza

Borgata Pizza now has two locations. In the early days, it was a little known spot on the Northeast side of Columbus. Today, even expat-New Yorkers make an effort to find their way to the doors of either Borgata.

Sarafino’s
This long time North Market fixture continues to please the taste buds of even the more hard core slice eater. Grab a slice while you support other North Market merchants on your next shopping trip.

Late Night Slice

Unicorn (formerly Slut Sauce) need I say more?


Detroit Style Pizza

Detroit Style pizza is definitely different. The origins of this style go back to 1946 at a place called Buddy’s Rendezvous (still open today as Buddy’s Pizza). This style has some relationship to Sicilian style pizza – it is rectangular in shape, thick like focaccia bread and originally baked in drip and parts pans used by automotive dealerships. It is also typical to char the ends of the crust to make it extra chewy and crunchy.

Paulie Gee’s

The aforementioned Paulie G’s also makes incredibly good, albeit pricey, Detroit style Pizza. The quality of the ingredients justify the price but $20 for six slices is hard to swallow on a regular basis.

Jet’s

Yes, I am mentioning a chain. Jet’s Pizza makes a respectable Detroit style pizza and I have heard many local foodies quietly admit that they have a hankering for the Turbo Crust at Jet’s.


Sicilian

Adriaticos

Adriaticos’s makes three types of pizza, the most beloved is their Sicilian Pizza in the form of a Buckeye Pizza. The Buckeye is a large 18 x 24 sheet of Sicilian style pizza that can feed 10 – 12 or more people with ease. It is offered at a bargain price on Mondays and Tuesdays.


Chicago Style

Chicago style pizza has origins going back to 1943. Ike Sewell had a vision to make pizza a family meal and as thick as a pie so it could be eaten with a knife and fork. The guy back in the kitchen figuring out how to make this new style work was John Malnati. Ike’s place changed names a few years later to Pizzeria Uno. Lou Malnati’s took his fathers know how and recipes to start a chain of his own. Chicago style pizza is thick. It is cooked at lower temperatures for a longer period of time, typically about 40 minutes. The order of ingredients is typically different that other styles – sauce on top, then cheese, then toppings resting on the dough in that order.

Yellow Brick Pizza – Tristano’s Chicago Stuffed Pizza

Tristano’s Pizza in Grove City closed in 2016. Before the end, Yellow Brick apprenticed with Lou Tristano to learn how to make his version of Chicago style pizza. I considered Tristano’s among the best in Columbus. Lou made a good pie. He started working in his family’s Chicago area pizzeria before high school. The Yellow Brick version is about 94% as good as his, I will take that any day.

Giordano’s Pizza
Yes, the legendary Giordano’s pizza has a location in the Columbus area located near Polaris. I like their salads more than their pizzas. They are good but something is lost in the move to Columbus.

Meister’s Pizza

Meister’s Pizza is hard to find, tucked in the back corner of Meister’s Bar but it is worth the effort to find.

Massey’s Pizza
Massey’s does a respectable version of Chicago style pizza which I need to try again.


Rhode Island Style Pizza

Typically served in strips – this pizza sometimes features a sauce with a kick. It has roots in what is called Tomato Pie.

Yellow Brick

Yellow Brick has Rhode Island roots and inspiration but not quite a true to style Rhode Island Pie.


New Haven style Apizza

New Haven style pizza goes back to the 1920’s at a place called Frank Pepe’s. This is a thin crust pizza, coming out of a coal fired oven. Traditionally this is served as sauce with some pecorino romano sprinkled on. If you want mozzerella you need to ask for it (this is similar to the early pizzas in Columbus). White Clam Pizza is a signature style at Frank Pepe’s which was adopted by other pizzerias in the area. It is white style pizza (no red sauce) with littleneck clams. Frank Pepe’s and Sally’s Apizza are the most famous of the shops. I went to both in one day. I like Frank Pepe’s better.

Taft’s

Oddly, you can find a good version of this style of pizza in Franklinton, at Taft’s Ale House which is based in Cincinnati.


Steubenville / Ohio Valley Style Pizza

DiCarlo’s

Steubenville style pizza, also called Ohio Valley Pizza, originated in the 1945 in Steubenville by the DiCarlo family. It is a thick crust, rectangle shaped pizza that has a layer of sauce and a dusting of cheese when in comes out of the oven. Cheese is then dumped on the hot pie with the original concept being that it will melt by the time the customer gets home. In the old days this was not always the case. Today DiCarlo’s has a Columbus location and you can decide if this style works for you or not.


Cincinnati – not really a style

If are from Cincinnati, you have heard of LaRosa’s Pizza. If you miss it, there is a location in Dublin.


Let me know what I missed.

Posted in culinary knowledge, pizza | Tagged: , , , | 6 Comments »

Top 13 Independent Columbus Pizzerias to Support During Covid (and After)!

Posted by cmh gourmand on April 21, 2020

Let’s just say Covid and the Ides of Covid have been a trying time. Many of my friends own and/or work in local restaurants, breweries and distilleries. The stories of their grit and determination to keep going are amazing. It is expected a large percentage of restaurants may not come back when we return to whatever the new normal becomes. There is one sector of food service that has seen a glimmer of “Okayness” during Covid – PIZZA!

Although pizza sales have slumped 8% this year, that is nothing compared to double digits in other food industry sectors except grocery stores. Whereas other food businesses are laying off staff, the big pizza players such as Papa John’s, Pizza Hut and Domino’s are hiring thousands of staff to meet increased demand for delivery. It is great that jobs are created, so many people need a paycheck. And I would say so many people need pizza, however, the chains will survive Covid or not, our around the corner shops, may not.

This is a crucial time for our local mom and pop pizza shops. For the last two decades the number of independent pizzerias has rapidly declined due to fierce competition from corporate chains. In Columbus, the former Pizza Capital of the USA (true fact in the 1990’s), the decline of independent pizzerias has had a more shallow curve than most other cities, but is still significant. During the heyday of Columbus Pizza, there were more pizzerias per capita here than anywhere in the country, today, Columbus does not even place in the top fifty. The end of 2019 saw several old school Columbus pizzerias close including the original Minelli’s on Sullivant. The closing trend was expected to continue during 2020.

Before Covid, many of our local independent pizzerias were struggling to keep their doors open. A bevy of factors contribute to the teetering fate of mom and pop pizza shops: fierce competition in the pizza industry, a greater variety of food choices that can be picked up and delivered, more late night food options, the high price of quality ingredients and more. The biggest hit to the continuation of independent shops has been a lack of desire of third and fourth generation children to take over the family business. Families today are typically smaller than their first generation pie slingers which means – less family to work the business to continue the legacy and cut down on payroll. A profitable business and strong local support might change a few minds about shutting off their pizza ovens. Covid can slow the decline of independent shops and each of you can do something to help with that, order from a neighborhood pizzeria.

My primary research tool on Columbus pizza consumption is Instagram, which seems to show a lot of pizza consumption from local shops. Keep it up, support your neighborhood shop and try to add at least one new spot to your list – ideally one per week, but once per month would be OK.

Here is a list of favorites (not in exact order). And there are more than 13 that are list worthy.

Tommy’s

Iaconos

Adriaticos

Hounddogs

Meisters (hours may be very limited)

Pizza House

Little Sicily

Enricos

Dantes

Josies (The Bottoms)

Rubinos

Panzeras

Gattos

Posted in pizza | Tagged: , | 22 Comments »

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 »

Enrico’s Pizza & Restaurant since 1988: An Immigrant Story

Posted by cmh gourmand on October 30, 2019

Regular or even infrequent visitors at Enrico’s, are often on a first name basis with Tiziana who runs the front of the house of this small, modest restaurant tucked in a strip development on the border of Dublin. She and her family commuted a long way to start their business, they are all first generation Italian immigrants to central Ohio. They settled in Grandview in 1968. Tiziana’s mother, Angelina, worked as a seamstress and Ottavio, her father, found work in construction. Both parents liked to cook so when Tiziana’s uncle opened Dante’s Pizza in Clintonville in 1973 it was only natural that they would lend a hand. Her mother’s brother, Joe Apollino, had arrived several years earlier and learned the pizza business working a variety of positions at Leonardo’s, an iconic Columbus pizzeria chain.

All of the family members worked at Dantes at different times over the years. The family, now including Tiziana’s husband Rick, decided to open Enrico’s in March of 1988. (Guess where Rick met his wife…..while working at Dante’s). The restaurant started as a largely scratch kitchen and has remained that way since day one. They make their own dough, sauce, pastas (especially beloved ravioli’s), house salad dressing, meatballs and sausage. One thing they do that few shops still practice is grinding their cheese from blocks of provolone instead of using shredded cheese. They have not changed a menu item since opening in 1988 and if they did “our customers would tell us.” It has always been a word of mouth business, they do not advertise and don’t offer coupons. Enrico’s has a loyal base of regular customers who plan in advance for the two times per year the business closes for a week for vacation. Tiziana says one of the best aspects of running the business is watching families grow up with Enricos by seeing customers bring their children and then seeing the next generation of children grow up and bring their own children in. Special orders are not uncommon with some customers asking for their pizza “extra crispy”, or triangle cut, or with all the pepperoni on top. Long time customers are familiar seeing Tiziana by the front counter greeting customers while “mom and pop” are in the back in their kitchen whites cooking away. Where does the name Enrico come from? The restaurant is named for one of Tiziana’s cousins from Abruzzo. They have visited each other in their respective home cities many times over the years. Maybe one day one of Enrico’s children will continue the tradition of coming to Columbus, starting a pizza place and naming it in honor of a relative.

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

A Tale of Two Cities Pizza Company, Mason

Posted by cmh gourmand on July 19, 2019

While pizza was a possibility for the day, actually any day in our household, Two Cities Pizza was not on our radar because we did not know it existed. The CMH Family was wrapping up a full 24 hours of activity in Cincinnati: (The Duke Energy) Children’s Museum, Gameworks (so CMH Griffin could play his first game of Pac Man), The Hampton Inn in Newport which is a convenient five minute walk to the Newport Aquarium which was our destination for the following day and EnterTrainment Junction (a chance discovery the year before). Of all of those experiences, the one that CMH Griffin enjoyed the most was….the Hampton Inn. In fact, he was very upset when we loaded up the car to leave after the aquarium. He thought we were going back to the hotel and repeated over and over for the next 10 minutes….I want to go to the hotel, I want to go to the hotel…….. When I debriefed him about his love of the hotel the next day he explained that he liked the elevator, the view of the city and the free cookie at the hotel. Consider that a five star review. If you are going to the aquarium and making a day of it in Cincinnati, I would suggest Hampton Inn as well.

After EnterTrainment Junction (Trains, Trains, Trains, a play area and currently a wonderful exhibit on marbles) we were hungry and wanted to have a good meal after a slightly disappointing trip to a bakery earlier in the day. I did not expect to get a great recommendation from the staff of EnterTrainment Junction (since they have in house food) but we asked the right guy in the toy store there and he suggested Two Cities Pizza and a few other places on Main Street in Mason. I was skeptical about Two Cities, it sounded like a gimmick – a pizza place serving both Chicago and New York City Pizza. However, when we pulled up I was instantly smitten. Two Cities Pizza Company is located in a 1930’s Art Deco building. Old Yellow Cabs which look like they were pulled out of NYC or the Windy City sit awaiting delivery orders. The interior has a great bar set up, plenty of industrial vibes and elements of New York and Chicago intertwined throughout the decor – signs, posters and a restroom area that looks like it was pulled from a subway station. Keeping the two cities motif going, beers from both cities are features in draft and well as select Ohio craft beers.

We started with Bootleg Bread – a mound of fresh dough, baked to be pulled apart with in fist sized chunks. The hard hat sized loaf is infused with garlic, herbs and cheese – both gooey and crispy. It is served with marinara and house made ranch dressing. The ranch was so deliciously dilly (with plenty of fresh dill embedded in the base) CMH Spouse bought a jar to go.

Moving on to the pizza we order a small New York style and a small Chicago style, both with pepperoni. We were playing it safe because we were not very hungry after the bread even though the specialty combinations looked amazing. We were pleased with both of our choices. Getting a personal sized pizza works against the core attributes of a NYC pie. The size of our pizza precluded the distinctive crust ring but everything else was true to style – the dough was dense and chewy with great flavor.

The Chicago style pie was spot on as well. The flaky, almost pastry like dense crust was true to Chicago tradition and featured a chunky tomato sauce with a touch of spice and plenty of depth from top to bottom. Any Windy City Pizza purist would find no fault with this pizza.

Our experience was great across the board. As a trained restaurant mystery shopper, every check box on my list received a check plus. Our service was great. Hearing this was our first trip to Two Cities, the operating manager came to talk to us and shared a treat from the kitchen. We studied the menu selections for future trips. It is my hope that on future trips to Cincinnati, CMH Griffin will say his trip to Two Cities was his favorite part with the Hampton Inn a close second. A dad can always have hope.

Two Cities Pizza Co. Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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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.

Posted in Best Pizza in Columbus, Clintonville, culinary knowledge, pizza | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Adriaticos OSU Campus (2.0) Carries on the Legacy of Great Pizza

Posted by cmh gourmand on July 7, 2019

I have some history with Adriaticos, almost anyone that attended The Ohio State University or worked at the OSU Medical Center does as well. When rumors started to circulate that the original building of Adriaticos was going to be demolished and the future of Adriaticos, at least on campus was uncertain there was some community despair. As one of my favorite pizzas I experienced some trepidation. A scenario involving an off campus location offered some positives such as less traffic and parking challenges but morally, I had some struggles knowing a relocation of that nature would steal an important source of sustenance from OSU students and decrease the productivity and morale of medical center staff by a minimum of 11%. An off campus location would compromise the character of the place. I’m not sure what magic staffing formula owner Greg Fortney uses to recruit and retain staff but the attitude and service provided by the largely college aged staff has always been top notch. Moving off campus would have compromised that equation. When it was later announced that a location had been secured just around the corner, there was much rejoicing.

However, I still had worries. Many restaurants lose a element of je ne sais quoi when moving to a new location. Such is not the case here. The original Adriaticos could never be recreated but the new location preserved as much as it could. First, the new Adriaticos is just a few hundred feet from the original spot. Salvaged from internment in a landfill, the original front door is mounted in a place of honor situated between the bathrooms in the new location.

The original location offered cramped, bare bones seating often surrounded by stacked boxes of supplies and ingredients, the new location offers plenty of seating. A larger kitchen allows for an expanded menu but no change in the flavor or quality of the pizza. There is an expanded beverage selection, especially on the craft beer side of the menu, which means no settling for a bottle of Bud Light. There is a bar with plenty of TV screens (a bane for me but I’d like the place to stay profitable). On a final note, and what I am most excited about, is a full case of well crafted gelatos, filling a former desert like dearth of dessert options.

Parking nearby for picking up a pizza was never easy in the past but the worst case scenario was having to pay a quarter at a meter nearby if you could not get one of a handful of designated spaces. Today the new location offers a handful of additional parking spots but most conveniently, guests with pick up orders can park in the loading zone directly in front of the entrance which makes access to Adriaticos that much easier. Adriaticos has more than survived the transition to the new location, it is thriving more than ever without losing any of the qualities that made it a great pizza parlor.

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Pats Donuts & Kreme (& Pizza?!), Lima: Ohio Donut Trail

Posted by cmh gourmand on February 20, 2019

My schedule for 2019 so far can best be described as chaotic with a strong dose of frenetic. That being the case, you will be introduced to another character in the Gourmand Universe. Long time readers are aware of the Grumpy Old Man, CMH Spouse, CMH Griffin and Mr. Suit, we now have the addition of Father of Elation (FOE).

FOE is a doctor and was sent to Lima for a week by his practice. Fortunately he had me to give him some unsolicited suggestions on how to spend his free time (away from his wife and three kids). One of the suggestions FOE did take me up on was Pats Donuts & Kreme. Pat’s has three locations in Lima. One of the locations is open 24/7 and offers pizza in addition to donuts. I knew this could create just enough interest to spur FOE into action so he was sent to do my bidding.

His report was as follows: “Pizza was quite good. Crust just the way I like it, thick and doughy but crisp.” An observation was made about how it is easier to order pizza toppings without a spouse or children present but I will not elaborate on that to keep FOE out of trouble. In regards to the donuts, the report was “…took me back to my childhood and the Holmes County institution Norman’s Bakery. I got a chocolate Creme stick and cinnamon fried cake. High marks for both.”

It should be noted that FOE fell asleep mid report and had to continue his report via text the next day.

Other items of note about Pat’s: 1) FOE did not bring any donuts back for me – so he is on probation for future scouting missions 2) Pat’s has been family owned since 1983. 3) Pat’s serves ice cream, sandwiches and other items in addition to donuts.

Pat’s Donuts & Kreme

If you have been to Pat’s or another Lima donut institution Mello-Creme, let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Posted in donuts, Ohio, Ohio Donut Trail, pizza, Road Trip | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »