Restaurant review: New Leonardo's pizza is bringing classic back

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From the September 26, 2013 edition

“Bringing back a classic” announces a sign above the no-place-to-dine-in, tiny building that houses the seven-week-old “Original Leonardo’s” pizza shop on Hague Avenue. Truer advertizing words were never spoken.

FYI: I’m related to a slew of Upper Arlingtonians and Grandviewers whose memories of Leonardo’s pizza swerve past classic and verge near blasphemy. My goal was to discover if this wasn’t actually hyperbole or apocrypha. (Spoiler alert: not really.)

I’ll confess to loving the stuff myself, but my recollections were foggy as this was back in the primordial days of Columbus pizza when Leonardo’s, Gatto’s, Rotolo’s, Rubino’s and Donato’s held sway with most sauce-and-crust cognoscenti (apparently “o”-ending names were a prerequisite for great pies then). Anyway, after about five decades during which its success spawned a mini-chain, the last beloved Leonardo’s went bust (I was told by the present-day owners) around the turn of the 21st century. Enter this classic-bringer-backer, whom I’m happy to strongly recommend.

Run by the son and daughter-in-law of the former (original original?) Leonardo’s owner with pride, a commitment to high quality and small town-like friendliness (a box of “free, take some” homegrown peppers was sitting out), this place can restore your faith in old school, mom-n-pop pizza shops.

I suppose I’d call the unpretentious fare I tried there “pre-boutique-era excellent.” Price and pizza-wise, “retro” mostly applies (a large one item is $13). This means super-pleasing pies with zesty, herby and honest sauces (that aren’t inexplicably sweet) plus yeasty, rectangular-cut, cornbread-dusted, medium-thick crusts that bulk up in the middle and, though not crackery, offer a baked-right snap. Above this homemade base go a judicious amount of not-corner-cutting cheeses (note the plural) and toppings like crisped-up pepperoni and fennel-seeded, lusty sausage clumps. In Columbus, pizza doesn’t get more classic than that.

Leonardo’s also dabbles in cuts-above Romaine lettuce salads (like a gigantic, tricked-out “House” for $6) and homemade daily dressings (e.g. an old-timey, celery-seeded Sweet Italian).

The menu also includes appetizers (like softish pretzel sticks with a bold and viscous homemade beer cheese, $6), lotsa subs, soups, pastas and good calzones ($6; try the killer “Original”).

And don’t go home without some of the baked goods, like a cream puff ($3). Though long-fridge-incarcerated, my lovely vanilla cream-starring light pastry was “classically” impressive.

Photo by Ryan Young