Finding a slice of the Big Apple—and a pizza tossing champ—at Leone’s Pizza.
Since my family moved to Columbus from Brooklyn in December, something has been bothering my four-year-old: the pizza. Specifically, the Columbus method of cutting pies into rectangles. He’s a kid raised on classic slices, with crusts that fold into your mouth and frame the toppings with a crisp exclamation. So began my family’s quest to find New York pizza in our new hometown. When Googling brought me to a photo of Ryan LaRose, owner of Leone’s Pizza, tossing a crust that was literally on fire, I added his shop to our must-visit list.
Leone’s has the feel of a Brooklyn pizza shop, right down to the limited seating. (LaRose tells me that about 70 percent of his business is carryout). Still, there was another family of four eating there the night we visited, and LaRose immediately helped us settle in. When I tried to order two small pies, he suggested getting a large half-and-half instead, saving us money. Fifteen minutes later, LaRose placed a bubbling pizza, half cheese, half Tartufo (mozzarella, mushrooms, and truffle oil) in front of us. My son’s eyes widened at the sight of the golden crust as he exclaimed, “Finally! Triangles!” We ate it all, save for one slice we took home to try with a beer (Leone’s is on the waiting list for a liquor license). I’m happy to report it held up.
I spoke with LaRose and Manager Sidney Sanders to learn more about Leone’s. It was the day after they captured the People’s Choice Award at Slice of Worthington 2018, and LaRose was proud to add to the prizes he’s accumulated for both acrobatic pizza tossing and his outstanding food.
What’s the Leone’s story?
RL: I’ve always wanted my own shop. I’d just lost my job at a pizza shop around here, and I was on Craigslist looking for a job and this place was up for sale… So, alright, I’ll open my own place. Got it, and there’s 10 trophies [recognizing Leone’s] sitting around here.
What do you recommend a first-time Leone’s visitor order?
RL: Cheese. Because, If you don’t do the dough, the sauce and the cheese right, than why… would you get anything else there?
How did you get into dough tossing?
RL: “Acrobatic pizza tossing.”
RL: The first pizza shop I worked at, they had these magazines, and on the back there’s an advertisement for a plastic throw dough. So I bought one. I’m 17, and I’d just started making pizzas. I went to [my] first competition in 2007, [and] I won… I think if you’re going to do something like [run a pizza shop], everyday, its the same thing over and over. So if you’re going to do something for the rest of your life, why not make it fun and win shit?
What’s your signature move?
RL: There’s a move called the bicycle (he demonstrates holdinging the dough vertically and spinning it backwards towards him). What I did was reversed it and made it roll forward. The guys call it the LaRose.
Where is the coolest place your pizza tossing has taken you?
RL: Paris [as a member of the US Pizza Team]. We had foie gras on top of the Eiffel tower, and then they asked us to toss pizzas because we’re all pizza guys, and we did. We took the elevator down to the bottom and did a show right in front of the Eiffel tower. I had one of those stupid berets on too.
Do you have a memorable pizza tossing mishap?
RL: In 2009… when I got 4th place [at the World Pizza Olympics in Italy], I should have won… but instead, I thought, “let’s try something new,” and I laid on my stomach, and I tried to toss pizzas like (he makes tiny hand gestures)…
SS : …with an inch of space!
RL: I guarantee you, if I didn’t do that, I would have won. I was the first person to light dough on fire in a competition! And that was the [competition]… I was so mad at myself.
What made you decide to do New York style?
RL: It’s what I love. I mean, it’s what I grew up on, that’s what my family ate on Fridays, that’s what I was taught…
SS: That’s what the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Ate.
RL: That’s what the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ate! That’s actually fair.
(I tell them about my son’s enthusiastic reaction his first New York style pizza in Ohio.)
RL: He’ll never forget that. I think that’s the main reason why I opened this place. You remember the first pizza you had. When you see that again when you’re 30, your heart breaks.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. Leone’s is located at 5413 Sinclair Rd.