You have probably heard of New York- and Neapolitan-style pizzas, among others, but did you know that our fine city showcases a style of its own?
Columbus was ahead of the curve in putting pizza on a menu; the first slices were served at TAT Ristorante in 1934. However, pizza and pizzerias did not take off until the 1950s—the genesis of the Columbus style.
So what is Columbus-style pizza? It is cut in squares or rectangles (a.k.a. tavern or party-cut). The crust is thin, often with a dusting of cornmeal on the bottom, with little to no doughy “ring” at the crust edge. Columbus style also leans toward provolone instead of mozzarella cheese on top. Many capital city pie-tossers also lean towards a healthy dash of oregano mixed into a sweeter tomato sauce.
In 1951, the first pizzeria (at least first place with the word “pizza” in it) opened in Columbus, Romero’s Pizzeria at 1576 W Fifth Ave. (The first pizza place in the region may have opened as early as 1949 on E Main St. in Whitehall). This is where several pizza dynasties began. The guys behind the counter were Romeo Siri, Guido Casa, and the Massey brothers (formerly Massuci) and they taught generations their spin on how to make a pizza. Guido Casa and several generations of Masseys would form Masseys into a mini pizza empire in the 1960s and after.
Squares vs. Triangles
So why is Columbus-style pizza cut in squares? The anti-triangle approach to slices is common throughout the Midwest, going as far west as St. Louis. The smaller squares make pizza easier to share, and some say make it easier to pile toppings. Another reason we lean toward squares dates back to the day before pizza boxes. Some old school pizza makers recall that when pizza was slid into paper bags for carryout orders, squares were easier to slide than triangles.
Thomas Iacono opened his first restaurant on Fifth Avenue in 1952, using his own family recipe brought over from Italy. The two Tommy’s locations on Lane Avenue are OSU campus landmarks. In the same year, brothers Joe and Jimmy launched their eponymous Gatto’s in Clintonville. In 1954, Rubino’s Pizzeria and Spaghetti opened in Bexley, and it retains a cult-like following today. Newspaper columnist Bob Green made Rubino’s famous, writing his memories about growing up in Central Ohio. The pizza pioneers of the 1950s established the template for what the city would expect to see sliced in front of their eyes.
A high school kid by the name of Jim Grote was working in one of these early places in the 1950s. He then bought the same shop, which he called Donatos, in 1963. The Grote family took Columbus-style pizza to the next level and beyond, opening many locations throughout the Midwest. McDonald’s purchased the company in 1999, but after a few years, McDonald’s attempt at McPizza faltered and the Grote family purchased the company back (for less than what they were paid) in 2003.
Today pizza still makes the cut in the capital city. There are over 450 pizzerias in the Columbus Metropolitan area. Columbus is home to NAPICS—North America Pizza and Ice Cream Show, which is one of the biggest industry trade events in the world. Columbus may not have an iconic food like other cities, but our pizza style is definitely memorable.