Pick-up Artist: Bucci's Pizzeria
"Whenever we wanted to celebrate, it was always Mama Bucci's," said a good friend of mine with a longing, far-off look in his eyes.
He was describing the mom-n-pop pizzeria he grew up loving in Zanesville and the fact that he'd discovered a Columbus-area, next-generation chip off that traditional old block.
A quick tip-off that this pizza shop - the Hilliard-situated, year-old Bucci's Pizzeria (Mama is no longer involved) - adheres to the family pride and demanding standards that produced my friend's delicious memories is Bucci's personalized pizza box.
This might sound trivial, but that box turned out to signal that this place refuses to settle for average. Of course the proof would be in the pizza, and Bucci's is very, very good.
Using handed-down family recipes for everything from dough and sauce to their wonderful meatballs, Bucci's carefully made, nice-priced pies shame the bulk of their nearby competitors.
But Bucci's makes more than pizzas. In fact, gazing around the small, table-less shop decorated in the colors of the Italian flag, I spotted Craig Krenzel's jersey. Noticing this, an owner informed me that Krenzel is a regular who loves their lasagna.
Here's a little taste of Bucci's high-quality goodies.
Pizza (large one-item, $13.50): The very pleasant, snap-producing crust had some heft to it but wasn't at all doughy; in other words, it offered the best of both the thin- and thick-crust worlds. The sauce was rich and tangy, with a restrained touch of oregano. As for toppings, Bucci's top-quality cheese stood out as did its big clumps of garlicky and fennel-seeded sausage. In general, toppings were far above average (like real, not canned, mushrooms) and applied quite judiciously.
Italian Sub ($5.25): Meaty, spicy, salty and vinegary, this is the kind of old-school sub I love. On a nicely toasted sesame roll were really good, crisply broiled Italian deli slices (capicola, salami and pepperoni), all the expected fixins, a good base of melted rich mozzarella and a lively, family-recipe ("golden Italian" style) dressing.
Meatballs: The big, pliant, garlicky and cheesy meatballs were a real standout here - get 'em on a pizza, a sub or spaghetti made with a zesty homemade sauce.
Lasagna: Krenzel's favorite might not be as good as your grandma's, but I bet it's as least as good as your mom's. Ruffled pasta enveloped rich sauce, those terrific meatballs (chopped) and strata of creamy ricotta with parsley.
E-mail food news and dining tips to firstname.lastname@example.org