Restaurant review: Bono Pizza is better than ever

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From the June 12, 2014 edition

Bono doesn’t do normal. And for that, I thank the benevolent pizza gods endlessly. Besides, if you want normal, there are scores of pre-fab sauce and bought-it-frozen dough drones out there only too happy to fill your conventional order.

No, as the first great Italian pie maker leading the new wave of artisanal pizzerias now gracing our ever-luckier city, Bono started off, more than five years ago, creating its beautiful discs in the off-hours of Rigsby’s almost-no-place-to-sit Eleni-Christina Bakery. This immediately fired up a fevered sensation among pizza gourmands willing to wade through long waits and eccentric protocols to practically eat in the street. And thus was the legend of the superlative and anything-but-normal Bono Pizza born.

Seeking more autonomy and space — but characteristically embracing eccentricity — Bono later moved into the back of a convenience store in Grandview. It was pretty cramped in there, and drinks were limited to sodas and such, but if you wanted authentic Italian-style edible pizza artfully cooked in a wood-burning, handmade domed oven roaring at about 1,600 degrees, well, you just had to belly up to Bono.

More bumps in the road — landlord issues and the eventual shuttering of that convenience store — derailed Bono again last winter. But when fate deals Bono lemons, it makes limoncello.

This brings us to the newest location for Bono in the Heritage Apartment complex, just up the street from its previous Kwik-E-Mart spot. This bright, cheery and roomier Bono iteration (though still pocket-sized, it now offers six tables and three stools) shares space with a lived-in neighborhood watering hole called 14 Twenty Bar and Grill. Fortunately for adult beverage fans, you can score a potent potable at 14 Twenty (they have $4 CBC IPAs on tap) and ferry it back to the red-and-white vinyl tablecloths of Bono’s charming little space — which largely operates on a friendly, first-name basis.

Fortunately for cheap pizza elitists, Bono still sells all its primo pies for only $10 apiece (and offers a semi-famous 3/$25 “menage a trois” special Mondays-Wednesdays) and it recently got another custom-built wood-burning oven up and running. This oven is the source of the consistently best pizza crusts in Columbus.

But first, let’s enjoy Bono’s Traditional Caesar Salad ($5), because this bright and light version leaves most others in the dust. Instead of a rich and gloppy white dressing, Bono tosses its sliced fresh romaine with a lively and lemony vinaigrette. Shavings and gratings of Parmesan cheese and optional anchovies seal the palate-popping deal.

Bono’s 20 pizzas (everyone’s a gem) feature crusts that are thin, chewy, yeasty, char-spotted, toasty, smoke-scented and just wonderful. I tried three of Bono’s newest pies, and found they liked to riff on their wood-supplied smokiness.

For instance, the indulgent Zingaro — the only pizza I’ll break my “no pineapple” rule for — pits smoky Smithfield ham and “caramelized” bacon against foils of brie, gorgonzola, Swiss and mozzarella cheeses. These creamy, rich, salty and smoky notes, along with accents of garlic, onion and basil, find resolution in the chunks of canned fruit. Wowzers.

The racy Palermo has a way of making familiar flavors taste fresh again. Its salty thrusts from bacon, pepperoni and Parmesan gain momentum with pickled banana peppers above a zesty and herby homemade tomato sauce cooled off some by mozzarella and bits of basil.

On the lighter side is the veggie-heavy Goddess. This chalkboard special topped with arugula flatters uncommonly tender grilled chicken strips with roasted red peppers and a sorta deconstructed pesto of fresh basil, garlic, olive oil, Parmesan cheese and spinach. Customarily, it’s deliciously far-from-normal.

Photos by Meghan Ralston