The Central Ohio Pizza Myth

I grew up 60 miles from New York City. As a youth, I enjoyed the only pizza I knew at the time. It was thin and crispy with mozzarella cheese and usually pepperoni. While I enjoyed it very much I didn’t realize how much I’d miss it after moving to Ohio.

When I moved to Ohio in the 1980’s and started sampling the local pizza it became apparent to me that they don’t really know what pizza is in the area. Locals will recommend several places that are supposed to be “excellent” but I have never found what I considered to be “real” pizza in the area.

First it was suggested that I try “Rotolo’s” in the Grandview area. Locals would say it was one of the best. I found it ho-hum at best. While it was OK, it was not what I thought of as pizza. After trying some other places I started to realize that I was facing a type of pizza universally sold in the Columbus area that was different than New York pizza. At first I couldn’t put my finger on it but I knew it was different.

Then there are the local chains such as Donatos Pizza. Donatos advertises “edge to edge” toppings, which means a lack of crust. For the life of me I cannot understand why this is supposed to be a plus. When I first tried Donatos I was shocked that they cut it in squares! Who dreamt this up? Isn’t it called pizza “pie?” As such it should be cut in to pie pieces, right? Plus the squares don’t seem very ergonomic. Soggy pieces in the middle and crispy little pizza cookies around the edge; very strange.

As my quest went on I found there were several variations in town. I started to analyze what was different than the pizza from New York. The first thing that hit me was the grease was different. Central Ohio pizza has a “gloppy” sort of grease that sits on top of the cheese. The pizza I knew back east had grease that dripped. What caused the difference I wondered? After listening to pizza ads on radio and television advertising various cheeses such as provolone I remembered that pizza is supposed to be made with mozzarella. No where in the local ads did you hear any mention of mozzarella. “That’s it” I thought. Mozzarella was the cheese with the drippy grease. Mozzarella as I remembered had a buttery taste as well that was missing from the local fare.

So I set out to find a local pizzeria that featured mozzarella. A local chain called Minuteman Pizza has a product they call “Lotsa Mozza.” Excitedly I tried it! Well it indeed has lots of mozzarella but ends up being a big doughy crust with a gum like slab of cheese that separates from the crust below.

Some of the local joints will offer what they call “thin and crispy.” Thinking this might be what I was looking for, I tried it. Around here, thin and crispy means cracker or toast like. They just don’t get it. The thin and crispy I was used to would still flop down in your hand not hold up like cardboard. I’ve the feeling that the folks making pizza around here have never been to New York.
When I went back to New York for a visit some years ago, one of the first things I did was go to a local no-name pizza joint for a few slices. Ah� there it was� the pizza I knew. It had a thin and crispy but floppy crust with a thin layer of mozzarella and a generous amount of pepperoni. Grease ran down to my hand just like it was supposed to.

Since I’ve moved to an eastern suburb of Columbus, I’ve had the chance to sample some mom-and-pop pizza joints such as Cappy Joe’s pizza on Broad St., Ohio route 16 at Taylor Rd., Hornet’s Nest Pizza on Summit Station road and Classic Pizza on East Main St. in Reynoldsburg. All of these varieties are very similar and not bad but not what I would call real pizza. At least they cut it like a pie and they have a crust. The cheese is something decidedly not mozzarella but it’s not too bad.

I’ve had to learn that this is what they refer to as pizza around here. It’s not a bad dish but it’s not pizza. Not my pizza.

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