With boutique pizza parlors steadily popping up the last few years, pizza has come a long way in Columbus. For some, it's gone too far.

With boutique pizza parlors steadily popping up the last few years, pizza has come a long way in Columbus. For some, it's gone too far.

If you fall in the "too far" camp, or sometimes find the new wave of artisanal pies too dainty, fancy or pricey for your present mood, I can report that Little Sicily's Pizza prepares soulful, old-school pizzeria fare.

Testifying to its prowess are the frequent crowds who've patronized this East Side mainstay for about four decades. These loyal fans are willing to pay more than they'd spend at myriad nearby chains for Little Sicily's quality.

Many also go out of their way geographically. Operating in a modest shop off the beaten path on Brice Road, Little Sicily's motto is "The pizza worth the drive." While said drive is only around 15 minutes from Downtown Columbus, when you walk inside, you'll feel like you've traveled farther - like back to the 1970s, when Sicily's opened.

Embracing a decoration theme that might be described as "Vintage Buckeye finished basement," scarlet and gray dominate. Old brick walls display a trove of sports memorabilia - such as Woody Hayes photographs, Earle Bruce autographs and football-shaped wooden plaques starring "classic '70s" Brutus Buckeye (a huge buckeye shell with human legs peeking out). Except for contemporary TVs, it's a veritable snapshot of the past.

Nostalgia fans will also enjoy Sicily's regulars-heavy small-town vibe. Cost-conscious imbibers nostalgic for inexpensive beer prices will enjoy pitchers of Columbus Pale Ale for $7.75 - to be poured into chilled plastic steins, natch.

Time for pizza. Sicily's crispy, scratch-made crusts are medium-thick in the middle and thin around the edge. This provides a sturdy foundation for the generously applied garnishes.

If you're craving a lusty toppings-fest, The Works ($21 for a large) earns its name honestly. One of Sicily's "specialty pizzas," it's a heavy-duty pie mounded with a grocery list of provisions. Surprisingly, it still managed to eat coherently instead of like a greasy mess.

Its flavor layers came via judicious amounts of cheese, fistfuls of pepperoni, oven-seared onion and green pepper strips, little rectangles of ham, canned mushrooms, clumps of spicy Italian sausage (fennel-seeded, garlicky) and banana peppers.

If something less "whole hog" is calling, you can't go wrong with a half-and-half of that brawny sausage and the equally fine chopped meatballs ($14.50 for a large).This pie arrived with attractively blistered cheese and, since it wasn't overloaded like The Works, an even snappier crust. Good stuff.

Scanning Sicily's non-pizza offerings - fried bar snacks, submarine sandwiches and a few pastas - the "roasted in-house" menu descriptor routed me toward a roast beef sub ($8). A toasted, sesame-seeded torpedo roll held lettuce, tomato, melted mozzarella plus lots of flavorful meat with a mildly pesky dryness quickly remedied by a dab of potent horseradish sauce. The sandwich went great with Sicily's terrific Fresh Cut French Fries ($1.75 for a half - which easily serves two).

The self-proclaimed Famous Sub ($7) was also several cuts above. Heat-seared salami, capicola, pepperoni and ham exhibited their expected affinity with romaine lettuce, tomato, banana peppers, scorched mozzarella and bright, self-applied house Italian dressing.

Extreme comfort seekers should try the mammoth Homemade Lasagna dinner ($9), served with a forgettable salad helped by Sicily's Italian (or house French) dressing plus a gigantic serving of garlic bread coated in melted cheese. My lasagna was an amorphous mass of pasta ribbons, creamy ricotta and meat swamped in semi-sweet, herby tomato sauce - and a blanket against the winter.

If you'd like to wrap yourself in old-fashioned pizza shop food and ambiance - and don't mind a bit of a drive or inconsistent service with a smile - Little Sicily's is worth checking out.

Photos by Meghan Ralston