Bexley institution still going strong even as it approaches retirement age
Rubino's Pizza turned 65 years old this year, but shows no signs of retiring — or of even slowing down. Actually, the little place seems busier than ever. This is not due to the landmark Bexley restaurant evolving to keep up with the times. In fact, it’s the exact opposite.
Here’s what you won’t find at Rubino’s: TVs, garage-door windows, IPAs (or any alcohol), music or any clue that the 21st century is well underway.
What you will find, if you follow the arrow of light bulbs twinkling from a 1950s drive-in-style sign pointing toward a humble, small building, is one of the most endearingly idiosyncratic — and most affordable — pizzerias in the region. If you love thin-crust, old-fashioned pies, I strongly suggest you follow that glowing arrow.
Upon stepping inside the cash-only establishment with faded yellow walls, plus a pinball and Ms. Pac-Man machine, you’ll likely be greeted by smiles — the busy servers in Rubino’s are among the friendliest anywhere — and the sound of a seemingly ever-ringing telephone. It’s a rotary phone, of course.
When I expressed amusement about this wonderfully clunky dialing dinosaur, my server said, “Oh, we keep boxes of them in the back so we’ll never run out. It’s part of the aesthetic.”Another blast from the past only available at Rubino's? The pizzeria still gets the weekly print edition of Alive. (OK, not really.): Guess you better go ahead and sign up for our daily newsletter.
That aesthetic includes a one-page menu that takes about 10 seconds to read, and chilled water presented to each table — I’m partial to a red-vinyl booth — in a capped plastic pitcher accompanied by foam drinking cups.
The aesthetic also includes house-made dough and rich-yet-tart house-made sauce transformed into delightful pizzas with extremely thin crusts that audibly — and very satisfyingly — snap between your teeth when you bite into the rectangular-cut pieces. Garnished modestly with blistered provolone and routinely wrapped in tented paper for transporting (boxes are available only upon request — and cost 50 cents), Rubino’s pizzas are a singular treat.
So is its house sausage, which arrives on pies in thinly sliced squares fragrant with sage. The pepperoni is also terrific: zesty disks locally sourced from Ezzo’s Sausage Company that arrive shiny, crisp-edged and cupped up.
Veggie fans will fare well with onions and fresh mushrooms, which are both sliced razor-thin so they don’t exude excessive water or weigh down the rather dainty pies. As for other toppings, well, selections don’t stray from the old-school canon with one wacky exception: pickles (odd, but kind of fun).
Large one-item pizzas are $11.50 to $11.75; “combos” (two items or more, I think — it’s complicated) are $12.75 to $13.25.
If those prices sound inexpensive, and they are, how does a blast-from-the-past Large Italian Salad that serves two for $3.50 sound? Pepperoni, provolone, pepperoncini, cabbage and a gratifying, on-brand house vinaigrette lend interest to the iceberg-lettuce base.
Rubino’s Spaghetti Dinner — which is actually prepared with angel-hair pasta — isn’t going to put nearby Giuseppe’s Ritrovo out of business, but it’s OK, and it might be the best bargain here. Topped with a thick and rich, yet bright and acidic house sauce, plus a mostly meat house meatball (extra meatballs, which I recommend, are $1.50 apiece), the entree can feed two and costs only $6.
Loads of those hearty orbs are sliced in half and jammed into the good Meatball Sub. The Sausage Sub, which stars multiple slices of house sausage, is also good.
Both hefty sandwiches come on crusty, oven-toasted sesame-seed buns garnished with house sauce, melted provolone, onions and banana peppers. Both arrive with ridged potato chips scattered on top, cost $5.50 and are only available at lunch. Sure, you might try ordering one for dinner, but do you really think Rubino’s is going to suddenly abandon its abiding aesthetic?