The bigger, more accommodating space is new, but the beloved pizzeria fare from this long-running campus institution is as good as ever
Greek philosopher Heraclitus famously said that no one can ever step in the same river twice because the river, and the person, wouldn't stay exactly the same. That observation on the inevitability of change was made about 2,500 years ago, and — irony alert — it's still true.
Here's what else is true: You can't ever step in the same Adriatico's Pizza that was an Ohio State campus institution for more than three decades, because the tiny joint was demolished last summer. Also true: You can still enjoy Adriatico's crowd-pleasing pies by traveling to its new site, which is only a calzone's throw from the pizzeria's original location.
Locals who bemoan the loss of idiosyncratic dives on Ohio State's revamped campus have a valid point, even if they sometimes romanticize the shabby “charm” of a bygone haunt. In the case of Adriatico's, though, I wonder how many diners would prefer the cramped and dingy old space over the much larger and more accommodating new spot.
Bright, sleek and tidy, the modern Adriatico's has padded booths, brick walls, vintage-looking photographs of Buckeye sports stars, enough TVs to operate as a sports bar, plus an amusing conversation piece: a mural of Ohio with every city seemingly represented. Even when service becomes a tad disorganized as the restaurant gets packed — and it gets packed most evenings — the friendly staff remains upbeat and allows patrons to place orders while waiting for a table.
Along with more seating, the bigger digs have brought more beers on tap — 18 are offered — plus more equipment in a roomier kitchen (such as fryers, which the previous iteration lacked) and thus more dishes.
Among the latter, the popular Chicken Wings (10 for $7.49) — I'm partial to the vinegary sting of the spicy garlic sauce — are solidly executed and provide a nice diversion while pizzas are baking.
Salads have a romaine-and-iceberg base and are above average for an old-school-style pizzeria. The simple “tossed” ($3.89) and the substantial meat-and-cheese-loaded Antipasto ($6.99) benefit from the interplay of banana peppers and the recommended sweet-tart house cider vinaigrette.
Cutting to the reason for Adriatico's staying power, its New York-style pizzas are as irresistible as ever. Some newer options are available, but the time-honored standard model is still a winner: semi-sweet sauce accented with oregano and chili flakes, a blanket of brown-spotted good cheeses and a sturdy golden-brown thin crust cut into pie slices. A thicker-and-doughier Sicilian and an extra-thin crust are offered, too. All three taste like fresh Italian bread and are pretty good, if only fully crisp along the edge.
During my college days, I practically ate my increasing weight in Adriatico's pizzas topped with hearty clumps of lusty Italian sausage (garlicky, fennel-seeded), wide pepperoni disks (thin-and-crisp) and banana peppers. That greasy flavor-bomb combo ($23 for a huge “large”) still tastes pretty great.
I also recently enjoyed a couple new-addition pies with respectable chopped chicken ($16.89 for a medium): the Chicken Pesto with ricotta swirls and the BBQ Chicken with fiery pickled jalapenos, crisp bacon and a smoky sauce. Unlike many veggie pizzas elsewhere, Adriatico's cheesy Vegetarian ($16.89 for medium) succeeds because its minced green olives, mushrooms, onions and peppers don't arrive watery.
If you prefer an inverted pie, try the shareable Meatball Zoni ($8.69). It's like an herb-sprinkled loaf of fresh Italian bread baked around halved, pleasant meatballs, banana peppers, plus loads of diced onions, sauce and melted cheese.
After a couple bites of the meaty, just-right Italian Sub ($7.49 for a “half,” the size of a more-traditional whole), I wanted to tell old Heraclitus that no, this wasn't the same sub I loved in college, but it tastes just as good.