Travel back in time with the old-school feel, flavors of Gatto’s Pizza
Save some time this holiday season by serving up eats from this decades-old Clintonville classic
At this late stage of your holiday season, maybe everything is looking great: prettily wrapped, terrific presents (purchased well in advance and at a relatively inexpensive price) are perfectly arranged in a spotlessly clean house glittering with festive decorations and fragrant with expertly baked seasonal treats.
Or you could be like me: behind the 8-ball hung like an unconvincing Christmas tree ornament.
I can’t help with presents or the state of your house (the list of people who would vouch for this is likely alarming). But I can recommend a place that will save you precious time and energy by making (and delivering) an affordable, household-serving takeout dinner that will be as delicious tonight as it was when the eatery opened seven decades ago: Gatto’s Pizza.
The “OG” in “Gatto’s” seems fitting, as this landmark eatery — a family-owned fixture in the Clintonville community since 1952 — is the oldest Columbus pizzeria to operate continuously from the same location.
For regulars like me, to know Gatto’s is to love Gatto’s. But as landmarks go, this pizzeria with a nondescript storefront is unremarkable to the naked eye.
Get news and entertainment delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our daily newsletter
Viewed through the lens of nostalgia-colored glasses, though, the tiny shop’s interior offers a rare peek into a bygone era. It's an endearingly creaky and narrow space with personable counter service, well-used ovens, old family photographs and — completing the stage-like setting — virtually unusable seating at two cramped tables with red-and-white-checked coverings.
The pizzas hearken back to the past, too. They’re assembled with flavorful house-made sauce, industry gold standard Grande cheese (a provolone/mozzarella blend) and house-made dough baked into thin-and-crisp, rectangularly sliced crusts with a delightfully yeasty-and-toasty flavor. When enhanced by toppings like Ezzo pepperoni, house-made sausage and house-made meatballs, the pies embody the old-school Columbus style.
Online ordering, credit-card payments, some younger hires and newer menu items speak to fairly recent updates. But Gatto’s longtime claim to fame — terrific pizzas ($15.50 for one-topping 14-inchers) — speak to important things staying the same.
For example, the “classic pepperoni” pie I devoured last week was a beauty. Spicy, crinkly “cup-and-char” meat discs were stacked atop attractively browned cheese brightened by good sauce ladled onto a thin but sturdy base that was crunchy at the low, golden-brown edge and gently crisp in the puffier center.
The same foundation was an excellent showcase for Gatto’s standout sausage. Fragrant with fennel seed and black pepper and slightly spicy with chile flakes, it arrives on pies distinctly sliced in strips and with oven-crisped edges.
Oven heat also textures the tips of the garlic-kissed and inhalable pork-and-beef meatballs — an unlisted but wonderful pizza topping. When joined by sausage and banana peppers and, if you’re feeling frisky, “ham” (read: spicy capicola), they create a nearly unbeatable Gatto’s pizza team.
Veering from the pizza path, I encountered more great flavors but occasional textural and temperature issues. For example, I really enjoyed the super-comforting meatball sub ($7) and killer double Italian sub ($9.75) but wanted their rolls (sesame seeded from Auddino’s) to be toastier.
The mammoth spaghetti dinner ($10) was an excellent value that could feed two famished diners, especially if partnered with Gatto’s old-school garlic bread with cheese ($3.50) and its iceberg lettuce-based house salad, sold by the quart ($5.75), with house vinaigrette plus loads of pepperoni, mozzarella, olives, banana peppers and more. While that old-fashioned feast hit many Italian American cuisine buttons, one of its two huge meatballs had a very cool center.
Gatto’s offers wings now, too. Mine ($7 for six) tasted good, but their oven-browned skin had softened in the chuggable garlic-parmesan sauce.
To ease the holiday crush, then, Gatto’s lovable pizzas are a great way to go. Tip: Leave a couple pieces out for Santa (dude gets more than enough cookies), and he’ll gratefully remove you from the “naughty” list.
2928 N. High St., Clintonville