Photo by Brian Kaiser.

Pizza Pilgrimage

Head north to sample some out-of-county pies.

Full disclosure: most of the time I’ve spent driving on Route 23 has involved either a stressful commute or a trip to a mall—also stressful. It’s fair to say it’s not my favorite road. But I decided to give 23 a chance to prove itself by planning the least stressful trip I could imagine: a pizza roadtrip to Delaware County. If pizza can’t redeem a heavily-trafficked highway, I’m not sure anything can.

I mapped out three spots I’d heard about but hadn’t tried, and started on my way. The good news: the drive was worth it. The pizzas I tried drew from the traditional Columbus tavern style, but weren’t quite like what I’ve tasted in the city. And if you’re not ready to make peace with 23, 315 and 71 will get you there as well.

Taranto’s Pizzeria

1282 E Powell Rd.

Good for: Celebrating with the whole family

Style: Columbus thin crust tavern-style or hand-tossed (pie cut)

Delivery: Yes

Beer/Wine: Yes

Staff Recommends: Original thin crust pizza with pepperoni, Italian sub, stromboli

Why it’s unique: Taranto’s has an event space where they host receptions, birthday parties, and craft nights.

What to do nearby: Visit Highbanks or Alum Creek State Park. Taranto’s will even deliver to you there!

The Taranto family has been in the pizza business for 25 years, using a recipe passed down through generations. When Debbie Taranto decided to open her own restaurant near Polaris 17 years ago, it was a completely different area than it is now. “Where Chase [bank] stands today… was a farmhouse, and I literally went and knocked on the farmhouse door and asked, Where can I put a pizzeria? She ended up in a space at the corner of a strip mall that she expanded two years ago to accommodate weekend crowds, events, and organized craft nights. Taranto’s also hosts children’s birthday parties where young guests make their own pizzas and tour the kitchen.

Even though the original family recipe was for thin-crust pizza, Taranto adapts her menu to suit her clients. “[The] Polaris area is such a transient area… everyone was looking for [the pizza] they grew up with,” she said, adding that many newcomers wanted a New York style pizza. “We probably spent like six months … until we got to one what that was not the same as everyone else’s [and] had a great flavor profile, and it was a hit.”

That’s the one I sampled. The thick crust balances the sweetness of the sauce and the gooeyness of the cheese. “You always have to do quality,” Taranto says. “There really is a difference in the type of sauce that you use, the type of cheese, the meats.” This carries into the dough, which is made on-site. Taranto’s is pizza you can eat while you party, craft, or camp.

Shorty’s

554 W Central Ave., Delaware

Good for: Watching sports while drinking craft beer

Style: “Shorty’s” (medium-thick crust)

Delivery: No

Beer/Wine: Yes

Staff Recommends: The Buckeye pizza topped with pepperoni, sausage, bacon and ham; chicken wings; all washed down with a Shorty’s Golden Ale

Why it’s unique: Experimental craft brews on tap and award-winning chicken wings

Though you wouldn’t know it from its funky downtown, Delaware is a community built on horseracing. When Thom Ibinson and John Cordas bought Shorty’s three years ago, they inherited the building’s legacy as a place locals came to watch the races. They kept the tradition going and started showing other sports, notably Buckeye football. Talk between patrons about the games is one of the ways Shorty’s brings people together.

Building community has always been part of the Shorty’s vision. “It’s a destination spot… because we don’t deliver and we do that on purpose… We want people to feel like when they come here they’re part of a family almost,” Cordas said. The connections are apparent in the relationships Shorty’s has with neighboring businesses, notably Downtown Delaware’s Restoration Brewers. “Frank, the owner, would come in here and get his pizza for his family. And we just got to talking with him one day and next thing we know, we’re making our own beer… “Shorty’s Golden Ale.’”

They also make their own dough. “That’s the most important thing because you can control the texture and flavor,” Ibinson tells me. They call their crust “Shorty’s style,” and true to their description, it’s unlike others I’ve sampled—chewy yet light and not overly thick. “Between the homemade sauce, the homemade dough, and the artisan cheese, that takes it all to the top,” Ibinson said. They recently opened a second location in Powell with a full bar and 26 taps, including growlers available for carryout—another stop you can make off the beaten path of 23.

The Pizza Cabin

5808 Columbus Pike

Good for: Those days you want dessert after pizza, rustic ambiance

Style: Columbus thin crust tavern-style

Delivery: Yes

Beer/Wine: No

Staff recommends: Pepperoni or cheese pizza, meatball sub, cheesecake

Why it’s unique: The Pizza Cabin is located in the only log cabin on Route 23

What to do nearby: Visit the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and Downtown Powell, or grab a pizza after visiting the Polaris area or playing laser tag in Lewis Center.

You can’t miss The Pizza Cabin—an actual log cabin located near the midpoint between Downtown Columbus and Downtown Delaware. Built in the 1950s, it feels in some ways out of place amidst the new development, and yet it’s exactly what you hope to find on a roadtrip: something unexpected. The building’s history is as alluring as its architecture; in addition to housing several different restaurants over the years, it was once a leather tack shop. “Rumor is the Victoria’s Secret models would come here and [the owner] made them leather underwear,” owner Preston Runyon said. This is a place to bring your friends if you want to hear stories, and write some new ones of your own.

“We kick it old-school,” Runyon tells me, “stone ovens… scratch product… lots of toppings edge-to-edge.” The pizza hits all the right notes. I tried one topped with pepperoni and mushroom; the meat was crisp and flavorful, complementing the tang of the tomato sauce. And while Runyon recommends any first-time visitor try the pizza, he adds that, “we really talk about the scratch meatballs, the scratch cheesecake, the smoked wings” as other standouts on the menu. The meatballs recipe was developed through a partnership with a local Italian bakery, and the cheesecake is topped with fruit compote in whopping half-pound slices—another patron worried that it would weigh my car down on the drive home. Luckily, my Honda could handle it, and we made it safely to our final destination.

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