Restaurant review: DiCarlo's Pizza

G.A. Benton, Columbus Alive

If you know about Ohio Valley-style pizza, you know about DiCarlo's - and probably crave it regularly. If you don't, this type of pizza will probably seem half-baked.

As with most regional foods, Ohio Valley pizza derives a little flavor from its origin story. But first, a definition: Ohio Valley pizza is a square-cut, dough-and-sauce pie that has its cheese and toppings applied after being removed from the oven. So, although the crust is crisp and the sauce is hot, the cheese and toppings are uncooked. Stop making that face, it's good stuff.

The origin story I referred to adorns a wall in the small, no-frills Hilliard branch of Dicarlo's Pizza. It relates how, upon returning home from a World War II tour of duty in Italy, Primo DiCarlo - whose family ran a Steubenville bakery - was determined to recreate a favorite treat he'd enjoyed while in Italy. The story doesn't identify the treat, but perhaps it was pizza al taglio, the not-baked-to-order (meaning its toppings wouldn't be hot) snack hugely popular in Rome.

In any event, Ohio Valley pizza - aka "Steubenville-style" pizza - was born in 1945 with the opening of DiCarlo's Original Pizza, one of Ohio's first pizzerias. An instant hit, shops baking it soon opened in nearby West Virginia (Wheeling, 25 miles away from Steubenville, became a second home) and eventually spread to Pittsburgh.

When I visited the to-go-focused Hilliard DiCarlo's, I was told that 90 percent of its business came from folks who'd lived in the Ohio Valley - primarily in the Steubenville-Wheeling area. True to form, while I waited 20 minutes for my pizza to be made, every customer who entered was an Ohio Valley expatriate on a jonesing pilgrimage.

One, "Bruce from Steubenville," had driven hundreds of miles out of his way. Another, "Lisa from the Antrim Lake area," is a weekly DiCarlo's patron who was righting the wrong of an unsatisfactory pizza she'd tried to eat elsewhere that evening.

What we all got was a pie (mediums are $8.50) with an audibly crackly, golden-brown, medium-thick crust flattered by a tangy, crushed tomato sauce. Because the Ohio Valley-approved toppings of good-quality provolone and pepperoni are just warmed through, the pizza doesn't burn the roof of your mouth or form pools of grease. A little odd for first-timers? Sure, but this history-rich pizza and its sturdy crust are easy to love.

DiCarlo's Pizza

4142 Main St., Hilliard