In The Top Half Of The Top Ten

Congratulations to family and friends at JT’s Pizza and Pub, which finished fourth in the voting for the best pizza in Columbus by the Pizza Connoisseurs of Columbus, a central Ohio Facebook foodie group. More than 4,000 votes were cast in the balloting, which was reported on by (614).

I’ve never had any of the pizzas that topped JT’s in the poll, but I can honestly say that I’ve had a lot of other pizzas served up by local joints, and I’ve never had one that was better than JT’s. If you’re in the mood for a pizza tonight, I highly recommend JT’s–its crust and sauce is excellent, and the topping options can satisfy just about any taste buds.

Pickles on Pizza

Last night I went to an event at a local establishment where the food supply was a number of different pizzas from Donato’s. When I decided to go over to check out the pizza options, I saw a cheese pizza, a pepperoni pizza, an appalling vegetarian pizza, a chicken pizza, and then at the end of the line, a pizza with pickles on it. I had to do a double take to make sure that my eyes weren’t deceiving me.

Sadly, it was true. Donato’s is now putting pickles on pizza. We’ve apparently broken through the longstanding, previously inviolate “no pickles on pizza” barrier. With that sorry development, it is not clear whether there are any remaining restraints on decency in pizza preparation, and apparently anything is possible. It’s just another tangible sign of a once-great civilization’s unholy slide into degeneracy.

We’ve seen new frontiers in pizza preparation over the last few years, but I had thought there were still thoughtful pizza makers who recognized that the Hawaiian pineapple pizza was as far as you could or should go in pushing the pizza envelope. Experiment with non-traditional pizza meats like chicken and ham? Check. Drizzle toppings like buffalo chicken sauce over the toppings? All right, sure. Create breakfast pizzas and dessert pizzas? Okay, I can adjust my world view to grudgingly accommodate that.

But at least respect the pickle boundaries that your learned pizza-making forebears had intuitively created! Understand that sodden, lumpy, sour-tasting pickles should be reserved (if at all) for a cheeseburger or a fried chicken lunch, and should never be permitted to soil the top of an otherwise well-made pie and pollute it with pickle juice that will leave an unmistakable taint even if the pickle itself is carefully removed!

What’s next? Have all unwritten but important standards that help to establish and regulate a well-ordered society gone out the window?

Three Pizzas

I’d been eager to try some Sicilian pizza, and when we took a break from our fruitless search for the Mazara del Vallo city hall it presented the perfect opportunity to scratch that itch. We stopped at the La Vela restaurant on the road running along the harbor and ordered three pizzas—the frutti di mare pizza, the porcini mushroom pizza, and the mortadella pizza. We didn’t have a clear sense of how big they were, and when they came to the table they were much larger than we expected. Still, we dug in to the challenge, and ate everything but one piece.

When you order pizza in a new place, you always wonder about the crust, the sauce, and the toppings. Our pizza had a nice, crunchy crust that was on the thinner side of the crust spectrum, a light layer of sauce, and more than ample and absolutely fresh toppings. These were definitely knife and fork pizzas. I also liked that each pizza was served with a fresh ball of mozzarella cheese. All of the pizzas were great, but the mortadella pie, shown below, was my favorite.

On The JT’s Rave Train

JT’s Pizza and Pub has done it again. The premier Columbus-area pizza emporium and sports bar, located in Linworth, has received another rave, this time from Jim Ellison of Columbus Underground.

As Mr. Ellison explains in the article linked above, he treats pizza as a serious culinary experience. In fact, his wife and son basically demand nothing less. And his approach to pizza analysis is intriguing. He thinks it is important to use a tried and true standard as the starting point for evaluation:

“The standard order for evaluating a new pizza place is large pizza, half pepperoni and half cheese. This is Columbus so the need to evaluate the quality, quantity and pairing of pepperoni with the rest of the pizza is critical. For any pizza, regardless of style, location, philosophy, etc., it is important to be able to try it plain sans toppings. A cheese pizza without any other ingredients – lets me evaluate the base pie without anything else to interfere in my assessment. A plain cheese pizza has nothing it can hide behind.”

This rational approach to comparative pizza analysis makes a lot of sense to me, as does the Ellison clan’s focus on the crust, which I think is a crucial element of any excellent pizza. And I’m happy to report that JT’s passed the Ellison family acid test with flying colors. You can read Mr. Ellison’s detailed analysis of JT’s offerings–as well as an interview of proprietor (and my nephew) Joe Hartnett and a shout out to my brother-in-law, the namesake of JT’s legendary Big Al pizza–at the link above. Congratulations, JT’s!

More Praise For JT’s

I’ve written before about the many accolades being garnered by JT’s Pizza and Pub, my nephew’s bar and restaurant (see, e.g., here and here). So I hope readers will forgive me if I give JT’s another shameless plug by calling your attention to the nice article about JT’s in Columbus Alive, which observes–aptly–that JT’s gives Columbus diners what they want. This article even calls out the “Big Al” pizza, named for my brother-in-law–which makes this shameless plug for JT’s even more of a family affair.

If you haven’t tried JT’s and live in the area, you really should give it a shot. Why not go somewhere that will give you exactly what you want?

Salt Intolerance

Do human taste buds and flavor tolerances change as human beings age?  Or are they just putting more salt — much, much more salt — into some foods these days?

I’m guessing it’s a little bit of both.  

I’ve definitely changed my application of salt to food as the years have gone by.  I used to reflexively salt things like cheeseburgers, steaks, eggs, and corn on the cob, but have long since stopped doing that.  These days, I rarely put salt on anything.  I’m a big fan of black pepper, and I like to apply seasonings like paprika and cayenne to give food an extra flavor kick.  But salt has moved to the back of the seasoning cabinet.

But I think it’s also true that many restaurants simply are a lot more liberal with their salting.  I’ve had to edit my list of restaurant foods because some orders are simply too salty to be enjoyed.  I’ve long since stopped getting carryout Chinese, because most places have so much sodium in their General Tso’s chicken that you kind of wonder whether the General was some kind of pathetic salt addict.  And McDonald’s fries are also at the verboten end of the salt spectrum.  Lately some pizzas also seem to be edging toward the forbidden zone.

Sometimes it’s just too tempting to try that piece of pizza, but I always end up deeply regretting it.  I find myself drinking glass after glass of water to make up for the salt intake, and I wake up at night feeling like every ounce of moisture has been sucked out of my body and you could use a straight razor to shave salt crystals off my tongue.  And then I vow that another food item must go onto the roster of banned items.  

This summer the GV Jogger generously got me a great t-shirt that says “Stay Salty.”  It refers to my personality, not my taste buds.

The Random Carryout Tour

All this working from home has made me very hungry tonight. Starving, in fact. And thirsty, too.

Just because the restaurants are closed at present doesn’t mean you can’t get some high-quality food in Cbus. It just means that carry out is the ticket. Tonight Kish and I visited JT’s Pizza, up on 161, where I got a sausage, onion and meatball pizza and Kish opted for a chicken salad. I think JT’s makes the best pizza in town, and their sausage, onion and meatball pie is great. I got the 14-incher so I will have some cold pizza available for lunch tomorrow, but after having a few bites I’m not sure I won’t just polish it off tonight.

And if you go to JT’s Grab n Go, just across the street, you can buy something to wet your whistle, too. JTGNG has a wide selection of fine wines, beer, and other items to tide you over during your stay-at-home period.

So get out of the house and support your local restaurants, already! And if you go to JT’s, tell my nephews Joe and Danny that Uncle Bob sent you.

The Random Restaurant Tour — XXXVII

Yesterday the Soprano Litigator and I went across the street to Due Amici for lunch.  Due is one of the cornerstone restaurants in the food corridor that makes Gay Street the coolest street in downtown Columbus.  It’s a more high-end lunch spot than some of its Gay Street brethren and, come cocktail hour and dinner time, is a place to see and be seen.

I normally don’t have pizza for lunch, but yesterday pizza sounded like just what the doctor ordered.  I opted for the sausage and onion pizza, whereas the Soprano Litigator went with the veal meatball and pasta — which also looked very tasty, indeed.  When my pizza came, it was great, with a flavorful sauce, big chunks of sausage that had a snap when you bit into them, and a golden brown, crunchy crust.  I attacked it with gusto (and with knife and fork, incidentally, so as to avoid unsightly spotting on my suit, white shirt, and tie).

But here’s the thing:  the pizza is just too big for lunch.  Even for someone who is hungry, as I was, a pie with eight pieces is a lot.  Long after the SL had finished her meal I was still carving away at the remaining pieces until my plate was empty.  I suppose I could have asked for a to-go box, but I don’t like lugging them around.  In my view, when you order lunch you should receive a meal that is reasonably consumable by one reasonably hungry person over the noon hour.  In short, careful portion control is key.  Due’s pizza stretches the outer boundaries and is geared more to someone with the appetite of a truck driver rather than one of a nearby office worker.  Perhaps the name Due Amici — “two friends” in Italian — means the portions are intended to be shared.

Due isn’t alone in this.  How often have you gone to a restaurant and received a plate that is groaning with two much food — typically, an oversized mound of french fries to accompany an already sizable cheeseburger?  Even those of us who proudly boast of being charter members of the Clean Plate Club can’t possibly down so much food.  We leave some on the plate and then feel guilty about it, knowing the food will be wasted.  It’s an area where I think the great restaurants in Columbus could become even better.

The Golden Age Of Pizza

I’m in Boise for work. Last night I felt like pizza for dinner, so I asked the desk clerk for a recommendation. She raved about the pizza at The Wylder, and particularly the Honey Badger. The Wylder had the advantage of being only a block away from my hotel on a rainy night, so my choice was an easy one.

The Wylder offers lots of interesting pizza options, but I felt I needed to go with the clerk’s enthusiastic endorsement– and I’m very glad I did. The Honey Badger is one of the best pizzas I’ve ever tasted. It’s a white pizza that starts with a crunchy sourdough crust and is topped with fennel Italian sausage, caramelized onion, ricotta cheese, and some kind of chili-infused honey and garlic oil. Taking a bite results in a flavor explosion in your mouth, and the combination of tastes and textures is incredible.

As I sat, happily munching away on slice after slice, I reflected on the development of pizza cuisine in my lifetime. My first pizza was a red sauce mozzarella cheese pizza, where the sauce probably came out of a can and the crust and cheese had zero flavor. Over the intervening years pizza has moved from a convenience food to a chance for chefs to strut their culinary skills with great concoctions like the Honey Badger.

I think we’re living in the Golden Age of Pizza.

The Detroiter At Buddy’s

Last night we had dinner at Buddy’s Pizza, a Detroit institution for decades and also home to rectangular, “Detroit-style” pizza.  Russell and I split a “Detroiter” — pizza loaded with meats and cheeses, with the cheese placed on top to maximize the meaty flavor and avoid charring the pepperoni.  

The Detroiter was fantastic.  That should come as no surprise, because Buddy’s is frequently identified as one of the very best pizza establishments in the U.S. of A.  The crust was perfection itself — light and crunchy, without the doughy gumminess you find in many “deep dish” pizzas — and the cheese on top approach really does enhance the flavor.  We also enjoyed a pitcher of Buddy’s beer, a very refreshing lager with hints of citrus that went well with the pizza.

I’m pretty sure there will be another trip to Buddy’s in my future.

Arch City Tavern

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Richard, Russell, and Julianne were all in town yesterday, and we decided to celebrate the happy homecoming by heading down to the Short North and having lunch in the first interesting place we found.  We ended up in the Arch City Tavern — so named because Columbus used to be called the arch city because it featured lots of arched lights over its main streets — and that was a happy occasion, too.

It was about noon, so there were two crucial lunch decisions to be made.  First, heavy or light?  It was a hot day out, so I went for a choice on the lighter side, with an arugula, fig, prosciutto, and goat cheese pizza.  It was excellent, and had a particularly delectable and crunchy crust — which any pizza aficionado knows is a crucial element of the entire pizza experience.  So far, I was one for one.

Second, beer or no beer.  It was a holiday, sure, but noon is pretty early for me.  I took a chance and ordered a Monk’s Cafe Flemish Sour Ale.  It was so good I promptly had another.  It had an excellent tart taste that went well with the hot weather, and it really held its own against the goat cheese.  So, I was two for two — or perhaps three for three, since I had two of the beers.

I’m going to be on the lookout for places that sell the Monk’s Cafe by the six pack.

Giving Pizza A Bad Name

1024x1024Richard has a good story in the San Antonio Express-News about a cheap scam that is plaguing San Antonio hotels.  It involves people sneaking into the establishments, slipping fliers for local pizza under the doors of hotel guest rooms, and then when hungry and unsuspecting visitors order a pie, they frequently get inedible crap.  Richard did some digging, found some people who were victimized by the scheme, and even got to try one of the awful pizzas — which look terrible — in the process.

Only a real crook would make a scam out of pizza.  Why, that’s unAmerican!

JT’s Grand Reopening

If you’re in the Columbus area today, you should stop by and join us at the grand reopening celebration at JT’s Pizza & Pub.

The work to reconfigure the place into something with more of a sports/brew pub atmosphere has been completed, and today the new business officially reopens with food and drink specials.

The drink specials include $1.50 for bottles of domestic beer and $3.00 for bottles of craft beers, $3.00 craft beer drafts,  $2.00 well drinks, and $3.00 for selected specialty shots.  The food specials include $10.00 for large 1 topping pizzas — and I can attest from personal experience that the pizzas are great — and half price appetizers.  There also will be some prize giveaways during the day.

JT’s would be a good place to grab a brew, enjoy some grub, and watch the excellent sheet of college football games today that culminates in the Buckeyes’ game tonight against Minnesota.  In doing so, you not only would be getting some good chow in a fun and festive atmosphere, you’d also be supporting a locally owned business run by an young entrepreneur — who also happens to be my nephew.  We all should be interested in supporting the jobs creators in our communities!

JT’s is located at 390 W. Dublin Granville Road, and the grand reopening runs from 2 p.m. until midnight.  We’ll probably be there this afternoon.  Hope to see you there!

JT’s Pizza And Pub

UJ and I have written before about JT’s Pizza, our nephew Joe Hartnett’s business up in the north Columbus area, on Route 161.  It serves great pizza and, in UJ’s view, the best Philly cheese steak sandwich you can get anywhere in the Midwest.

Now JT’s Pizza has acquired the former Bier Stube North bar located right next door and will become JT’s Pizza and Pub, offering both great food and drinks and, from time to time, live entertainment in the location at 2832 West Dublin-Granville Road.  Renovations of the interior and exterior of the building have begun, and the goal is to give the new business more of a neighborhood sports bar vibe and better integrate the backyard and patio into the operation.  A “rebranding and relaunch” of the new business is set for November 7.

Our Dad ran a business, and he would be proud of what Joe has done with JT’s Pizza.  It takes some courage to start a business — statistics tell us that a lot of new start-ups fail within the first year — but Joe has produced tasty products, focused on customer service, paid attention to the bottom line, and grown the business from a shop that prepared pizzas for the bar next door’s patrons to an operation that now offers an extensive menu and has lots of carry-out and delivery customers in addition to providing the food service at the Bier Stube North.  Buying the Bier Stube North and consolidating the operations is a big next step, but it’s also a logical one.  And it all starts with pretty darned good pizza.

So here’s a tip of the cap to JT’s Pizza and Pub and its owner Joe Hartnett, one of those small business owners who take risks, create jobs, and help our economy grow.  If you find yourself in north Columbus with a hankering for a pizza, a Philly cheese steak sub, or a cold adult beverage, stop by JT’s Pizza and Pub, won’t you?

Mellow Mushroom Moves In

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They’ve just finished a new building project in the Market Street area of New Albany, a short walk from our home. A Mellow Mushroom Pizza Bakers shop is moving in and will be opening soon.

For years, Eagles Pizza has dominated the New Albany dine-in pizza market, without any real competition for the crown. Now there will be competition. Does anyone know if Mellow Mushroom makes a good pie?