Classic Columbus Haunts: TAT Ristorante di Famiglia

From the 10/06/2010 edition

First meal served: 1929

Down memory lane: To pronounce TAT correctly, you must spell it out - the letters stand for Transcontinental Air Transport. Why name it that? Well, because that now-defunct sky taxi service used to touch down frequently in Columbus.

You want more of an explanation? Then try to figure out the complicated workings of a large Italian family called the Corrovas. Over eight decades, they've opened the reputed first Italian restaurant in central Ohio, launched several competing eateries (The Florentine's owners are cousins), frequently moved their businesses around, served the very first pizza ever in Columbus (1934) and eventually merged together at TAT's present-day East Side location.

Between the aisles: Outside, you're greeted by a quaint white building with a pitched roof and the place's name loudly written in the colors of the Italian flag - right beside an airline pilot, naturally. Inside, photos of Catholic clergy plus Roman and Renaissance statuary knockoffs mix it up with pictures of great grandchildren, misty Rococco Italian city scenes and frosted glass. The overall effect is - and I say this with affection - like walking into the official grandparents' abode of the Real Housewives of New Jersey.

On the plate: Red sauce and homemade pasta, of course. Check out the wonderful Special Lasagna - it's a tangled mountain of thick and texturally terrific housemade egg noodles loaded with a rich, onion-and-oregano-inflected tomato sauce rife with meatball-y beef. Atop that massive load is a dome of provolone cheese blistered under the broiler. Also, you can't beat TAT's huge steal-of-a-giant-$10-meal - their "early bird" specials.