CMH Gourmand – Eating in Columbus & Ohio

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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 »

Product Review: Folios Cheese Wraps

Posted by cmh gourmand on September 20, 2019

As a food writer, blogger, mystery shopper, social media person and more, I get a multitude of press releases to try new food items. Sometimes these pitches offer free samples. Often the sample is barely enough to get a true sense of the product or the offer itself is unappealing. While I will write for food, I would prefer more than one bite per byte. In the case of Folios Cheese Wraps such was not the case – their pitch was strong and the product seemed appealing.

In my hierarchy of pitch responses, the word FREE might get my attention, but the word CHEESE will demand my attention.

New Jersey based Lotito Foods is a specialty foods manufacturer and importer of Italian foods. They were kind enough to send one each of their three varieties of Folios. At first I was a bit skeptical. The products have the magic marketing words of Gluten Free and Lactose Free but typically for me, free in this context does not demand my attention. Lactose Free cheese (?), I pondered (very quickly) how that was possible. Before I became emotionally invested in the outcome I decided to see how I liked the cheese by tasting it as is immediately out of the package. It tasted pretty good, not how I would expect lactose free to be. (In case you are thinking…duh, why would you wonder, I have a BA not a BS). So here is what the Folios website has to say about how this is possible.

“Folios are naturally lactose free. The wraps are made with aged cheese; during the cheese making process, enzymes naturally convert the lactose to lactic acid over time. Typically, people with lactose sensitivity can still eat aged cheese, like Parmesan, Swiss, and aged Cheddar.”

Continuing my detective work, I wondered what made these folios functional as a replacement for gluten filled wraps – how could they be more rigid than a slice of cheese yet sturdy enough to hold fillings. My hunch was that there was something unnatural involved, so I checked the website again. Here is what I found for ingredients for each.

Cheddar: Pasteurized milk, salt, enzymes and annatto coloring.

Jarlsberg: Pasteurized part-skim milk, cultures, salt, rennet

Parmesan: Parmesan Cheese made from non GMO pasteurized cow milk, enzymes, and salt.

Ok, nothing unnatural here. The only thing I did not recognize was Annatto, which some Googling indicates: “is the ingredient used to dye cheese bright yellow, orange or bright red. Annatto is a natural ingredient, created from the pulp of the Achiote tree seed and is used as a natural food additive for cheese, as well as other foods”.

So far so good. The directions suggest letting the folio rest for 5 minutes before using (instructions for my use are similar). My testing suggests that letting the cheese acclimate to room temperature does allow one to enjoy more flavor but it is not critical to the cheese experience.

Each folio slice is placed on a piece of parchment which for at least short bursts of time in a microwave and conventional oven held up well and did crisp the cheese if needed. Each of the three types has recipe suggestions on the package for the specific variety of cheese folio in the package. I tried some of these out and I created some of my own. The Jarlsberg made for a good wrap with tuna salad. The Parmesan did well as an extra layer of cheese on a frozen pizza and it performed well as an Italian style wrap. The Cheddar was a good all purpose wrap for lunch meats and vegetables. I tested a sample of each with my resident expert on the eating habits of a four year old, CMH Griffin, and he approved. He liked the Jarlsberg the best of the three.

Each package has four servings each. The size, shape and consistency are comparable to a typical wrap (see the image at the end that compares a paper towel, flour wrap and folio for size). The cheese flavor is good. The only challenge I had was trying to figure out how the PEEL & RESEAL feature on the front side worked but by the third package I had it mastered.

Currently, Folios are a bit hard to find in the marketplace. They are available locally at the three Central Ohio Fresh Thyme locations. They can also be purchased online: Supermarketitaly.com

Folios serve as a good substitute for someone looking for a wrap without gluten or for a person that appreciates a more portable cheese source.

Gourmand tested, (CMH) Griffin approved

Posted in cheese, In the Grocery Store | Tagged: , | 3 Comments »

R.I.P. and Reflections on The Grumpy Gourmet, Doral Chenoweth

Posted by cmh gourmand on September 17, 2019

The King (of local food writers) is dead. The Grump is gone.

Doral Chenoweth, best known locally as the Grumpy Gourmet, missed his first deadline, when his passed away on Sunday (September 15th). I had not heard from him for a while so I checked in with him via Facebook earlier last week. I hope that if he did see my message, he knew he was in my thoughts.

The “Grump” was the “food critic” (a term we both detested) for the Columbus Dispatch from 1982 to 2000 as both the Grumpy Gourmet and Doral Chenoweth. His writing was engaging, authentic, personal and reflected his wry and sometimes subversive sense of humor. I miss him, he was a true free spirit, revolutionary, big thinker and old school journalist that shared countless stories of misadventures and mishaps he survived throughout his life. Before the Dispatch he wrote for the Columbus Citizen and the Columbus Star.

I first met him in the early 1990’s when he would invite readers to share a meal with him and assist in writing a review. We dined at Chef’s Place in Hilliard. At that time, I was fumbling for way to become a writer of some sort and because I enjoyed his style of writing so much, I jumped at the opportunity to eat with him. I was not disappointed. He was the curmudgeon I expected but also a caring person who offered me a lot of wisdom and some tip sheets on food writing. Later in life, I dined with him socially, instead of professionally, at Bono Pizza which was operated by his good friends Bill and Peggy Yerkes. I then visited the Grump at his home many times where I had the opportunity to sit in his office filled with countless stacks, piles and shelves of books, articles and archives galore. Peggy Yerkes was still in his life, this time, as a caregiver for his wife and later the Grump himself. He loved ham salad from the Hills Market so I would take a quart with me whenever I saw him as my tribute.

The mold, if Doral could ever be temporarily confined, was broken when the Grump was born, we don’t have writers or personalities like the Grump anymore. He did shape my style of writing in many ways. He did not compromise on using his own “voice” in his writing which mirrored how his spoke. His approach, at least later in his Grumpy Gourmet days was to visit a place several times before he wrote an actual review and where possible, if he could offer constructive feedback, he did so, with the goal of making the place better. We both were of the opinion, that a bad restaurant did not need a poor review as extra help in closing but only rated such a negative review if the owner(s) needed to be knocked down a notch or two or if they were resting on assumed laurels.

I have been reading a lot of old Grumpy Gourmet columns over the summer (you can too by reading through the Columbus Dispatch Archives via the Columbus Metropolitan Library) which has brought back memories of my own misspent youth when I always looked forward to what he had to share each week. Later in my writing life there were more than a few times I would receive a call from the Grump beginning… “Ellison, I have an idea……” He was never 100% sure about this blogging thing but I took some satisfaction in his statement that I “was one of the good ones, and did it for the right reasons.”

The Grumpy Gourmet is unlikely to Rest In Peace, my guess is that he is already Ranting, Inciting and Pranking wherever his soul may be.

Goodbye Grump, it was a good ride.

(If anyone has any memories of the Grumpy Gourmet, please post and share with the rest of us).

Posted in culinary misadventure | Tagged: , , | 5 Comments »

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 »

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

Posted in Ohio, pizza, Road Trip, Travelfoodalogue | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Bonomini Bakery, Cincinnati: On the Ohio Donut Trail

Posted by cmh gourmand on July 18, 2019

The road on which the Donut Trail is paved is not always sugar and spice and everything nice. Last year, I attempted to visit Bonomini Bakery but when I showed up I found a sign on the door that the business was on vacation for a week. This year, I missed that vacation by a week. A lesson moving forward for those that visit Bonomini, and you should, if it is July, call ahead and make sure they are open.

The baking tradition of Bonomini owners goes back to the 1950’s but Bonomini’s origins started when when the family took over Blue Rock Bakery in 1976.

Bonomini has a lot to offer. The bakery is cited for having incredible cakes, especially wedding cakes and has earned plenty of accolades in that category. There is no shortage of baked goods to choose from in this bakery. The go to item by reputation and by seeing this up close would be the German kasekuchen (cheesecakes). It would be impossible for these to be anything but good. However, it was a very hot day and we had a long drive with multiple stops ahead of us and I did not have a cooler. So alas, I could not take one of these with me.

Because of my duties to the Donut Trail, I was here to get donuts. There we plenty to choose from. They all looked amazing. Of course being Cincinnati, I had to get a Klunker. A Klunker is basically a malformed, not quite square, not quite round, lump of dough for a – most say donut, some say Danish, that has a light sugar glaze to it. It tends to be darker than a typical donut and seems to have some German heritage to it. Only three places (maybe a handful more) in Cincinnati have them (Holtmans and Silverton Donut Shop – both already detailed on my donut trail) and this is one. People in Cincinnati love them but so far, for me, they are donuts without holes.

There are so many things I loved about Bonomini. The exterior and interior exude classic old school bakery. The woman that helped me was incredibly kind, helpful and patient with all of my questions. I also heard about an unknown donut type, the “pull through” (see photo above) with is a long, twisted donut. They tie their carry out boxes with string – which they pull from big cone of string. This is so old school. The only other places I have seen this still in practice are classic bakeries in Boston. I gathered an assortment of treats from Bonomini and got to my car holding CMH Spouse and CMH Griffin just before the rain started. I offered my wife first bite of an eclair …and she did not care for it. I hoped it was a fluke and gave her first shot at a raspberry filled donut with vanilla icing and she did not like that either. I could see the filling, about the size and depth of a dime hiding in the center…. bummer. She was disappointed with this offering as well. I then handed CMH Griffin a donut. He loves donuts. He even has a special intonation of the word when he sees one or asks for one. He ate his quickly but he did not ask for another one. That has never happened in his four years of donut consumption.

I tried a Klunker….it was OK. I tried another type of donut….it was OK. When we got home, I sampled more but I just did not get excited about any of my selections. Maybe it was the summer heat. Maybe a pinch of salt or 1/2 cup of sugar was missed. Maybe something did not make it to the mixing bowl while getting ready for vacation but they all lacked something. As a whole, the donuts tended to be a bit dry and a bit lacking in base flavor. The glaze/icing was good, but everything else was..meh.

I’m assuming I may have arrived on an off day. I do wish I had taken the risk to get the kasekuchen to bring home (see below). So while this stop may not have panned out for me, I would still say this is a place worth to dropping in to explore, but if you have only one donut stop to make while in town, you may want to save those calories for Holtman’s. Reflecting on my donut trail experiences to date, I find that places that just do donuts are really the places I get the most excited about and also, if donuts are a sideline for a place, you have to give some consideration for that….or try them with a grain of salt….or sugar.

Bonomini Bakery
1677 Blue Rock St
Cincinnati 45223
(513) 541-7501

Open 5:00 am – 6:00 pm Monday to Saturday

Posted in donuts, Ohio, Ohio Donut Trail, Road Trip | 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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