Newsflash to snoozers, ostriches and stuck-in-a-rutters: This ’burg is positively crackling with an unprecedented string of top-notch pizzeria openings. Our newest pie-shop jewel uses the same blazing hot fuel as the oldest (and first) pizza maker in America. I’m referring to (in order) mightily impressive Natalie’s in Worthington, super-clean-burning anthracite coal and the venerable Lombardi’s, licensed to thrill 107 years ago in New York City and still earning deserved raves.
Getting the crust right is most of the battle with ambitious pizza, and Natalie’s does that triumphantly. The kitchen turns out thin and delicately chewy, edge-charred beauties from a huge custom-built circular showpiece oven clad in glittery copper tiles. Observing hardworking dudes hand-toss and meticulously bake the sourdough-based pizzas beneath a gussied-up industrial ceiling is actually a source of entertainment in the friendly, if frequently beehive-busy, bar-and-patio-equipped Natalie’s (reservations are recommended at this instant sensation).
Those crust masters aren’t always the sole performers — as Americana tunes and dining tables decorated with classic album covers (with a folk/ blues/ country/ R&B bent) plus a handsome new stage attest to. See, Natalie’s — whose ownership lineage directly links it to the legendary Aardvark video store — sometimes doubles as a music club.
Naturally not everyone’s here for a band, and though a few kinks are still being worked through (maintaining a music club/ restaurant identity plus an ever-burning coal fire meant to blast out 1,000 degrees are not easy tasks), right off the bat Natalie’s has emerged as a locally unique and attractive spot at which to eat, drink and hang out. A buzzy vibe plus personable service help ameliorate lengthy primetime waits.
So do cocktails, like the righteous All-Natural Margarita and Negroni I tried (both $8). Each was potent and balanced, with the former distinguished by fresh lime juice and the latter powered by Watershed gin. There’s also a great beer list; wines are TBA.
Starter-wise, the arancini ($7) were crowd-pleasers, but my favorite app was the killer Macceroni al Formaggio ($6). Crisply panko-crusted, alluringly singed on top and creamy underneath, it’s one of the best mac-n-cheeses in town and not one of those death-by-dairy ordeals.
The perkily champagne vinaigrette-dressed salads are also fresh and nice, with the simpler and cheaper House ($4) edging out the capicola and apricot-loaded Serious Salad ($7).
Pizza-wise, you absolutely cannot go wrong with any of Natalie’s Italian-style pies starring elegant crusts showcased by high-grade toppings applied with restraint. Meat abstainers will fall veg-head over heels for the racy and balsamic-sweetened Verdura Trebbiano ($12.50, with fresh mozzarella, snipped asparagus, herbs, peppers and onions) or a Greek-ish, briny and therefore appropriately titled The Odyssey ($14, feta, capers, marinated artichoke hearts, bright tomato sauce, herbs, kalamata and cerignola olives).
Garlic gorgers should score a titillating Trevi Fountain ($13, sharp bites of roasted cloves plus crispy, salty pepperoni smoothed out by blobs of creamy ricotta plus fresh mozzarella all cleansed by fresh basil). If more familiar flavors are calling, take a trip to Greenwich Village ($13.50, a classic mix of roasted sweet peppers and onions married to fennel-seeded Italian sausage lovingly leavened by rosemary).
Poultry pursuers should peck on a Pollo Genovese ($15), a “white” pizza enlivened by free-range chicken and drizzles of housemade pesto. Because the authentically un-busy Mt. Etna ($15, prosciutto, arugula and fresh mozzarella) took me back to the first pizza I ever ate in Italy, I’ll be taking myself back to Natalie’s frequently. See you there.