City Quotient: What is Columbus’ definitive local food?

By
From the August 2014 edition

Cincinnati makes a big deal out of goetta. What is the equivalent native food in Columbus?

Darn. We thought City Quotient knew Cincinnati: We’ve stayed at the Netherland Plaza, shopped at Kidd’s bookstore, eaten Skyline, Chili Time, Empress and Price Hill chili. Heck, we even knew who Al Schottelkotte was.

But goetta? Zip. Zilch. Never heard of it.

Think sausage, but not quite. Goetta (pronounced GET-uh) is, no big surprise, German in origin; in the 1800s, strongly German Cincinnati was a big hog-slaughterer nicknamed “Porkopolis.” Goetta, still made today, was usually ground pork and oats, sometimes onions or vegetables, seasoned with rosemary, thyme, salt and pepper.

As for Columbus, our iconic native dish has to be Johnny Marzetti. It’s oven-baked and made of noodles (typically elbow macaroni), tomato sauce, cheese and ground beef. Sometimes it also has green or black olives or celery.

This tasty creation originated at Marzetti’s restaurant, opened in 1896 across from Ohio State University at Woodruff and High. Italian immigrant Teresa Marzetti named her dish for her brother-in-law, and by the 1920s it had become widely popular. Those of a certain age will recall Marzetti’s. The High Street location closed in 1942; a second opened on Gay Street in 1919 and moved to 16 E. Broad St. in 1940. That one closed in 1972, and the site was eventually occupied by the restaurant 16 East and later by Skyline Chili (yes, CQ ate there, too). Oddly, Johnny Marzetti became popular in the Canal Zone in Panama, where it’s known as “Johnny Mazetti” and is believed by the locals to have originated there.

Jeff Darbee is a preservationist, historian and author in Columbus.

Send your questions to cityquotient@columbusmonthly.com, and the answer might appear in a future column.