This amusing, generally strong-performing Cincinnati export specializes in good New Haven-style pizzas and house beers
Thin-crusted, rectangular-cut pizzas blanketed in pepperonis are native to Columbus, but a growing number of pizza styles associated with other cities are featured around town nowadays, too. These include delicate disks similar to those that originated in Naples, Italy; hefty-yet-crisp, New York-style slices; Chicago-inspired deep-dish creations; and rectangular, Detroit-esque pan pizzas.
With the recent opening of Taft’s Brewpourium — a Cincinnati-based operation that began as a brewery — you can add New Haven-style “apizzas” to the list.
“Say what?” isn’t an unreasonable reaction to the previous sentence. But any bewilderment dissipates once you bite into a delightful Taft’s pizza served inside its wacky new Franklinton “brewpourium.”
Some background: New Haven-style pizza is a considerably crisper relative of the thin, Neapolitan pies prized by the southern Italian immigrants who settled in New Haven, Connecticut. That apizza designation — it’s officially pronounced “ah-beets” — is due to the southern Italian dialect of its inventors. The reason Taft’s specializes in these is because its namesake — William Howard Taft, a Cincinnatian, U.S. president (from 1909 to 1913) and chief justice of the Supreme Court (1921 to 1930) — attended Yale University in New Haven.Alive-style pizza is only available online. Sign up for our daily newsletter
You’ll encounter multiple, amusing depictions of the establishment’s eponymous and famously rotund president throughout Taft’s large, playground-like space in the splashy Gravity development. The 19th-century-born (1857, to be exact) dude is goofily inserted into scenes from popular movies, TV shows and a mural recalling a Chuck Close portrait in which William Howard’s eyes are functioning dartboards. The eatery also features a large bar, highly polished, picnic-style tables, abundant tile work, a game room and hard surfaces that amplify the place’s echoey acoustics.
Near the counter where personable servers take orders — orders should include some of Taft’s 13 stylistically varied house draft beers (most are $6) — you’ll see coal-fired ovens where pizzas are baked at around 1,000 degrees. In true New Haven fashion, the high heat singes sections of the audibly snappy edges of Taft’s toasty crusts. Pies are available in two sizes: 10-inchers that are crisp throughout, and 16-inchers that droop toward the center.
The stripped-down Original Tomato Pie ($8 and $13) is a triumph of simplicity: Taft’s good crust topped with crushed Italian tomatoes, a heavy dose of salty pecorino, plus a little olive oil and garlic. It tastes like a skillful chef’s riff on a Chef Boyardee boxed cheese pizza kit.
The tomato-free White Clam pizza ($16 and $24) is Taft’s winning take on another New Haven classic. This terrific pie showcases loads of lemon-brightened clams with a comforting blanket of melted cheese, roasted-sweet whole garlic cloves and garnishes of olive oil, pecorino and oregano.
With a zippy tomato base, creamy melted fresh mozzarella and lightly applied prosciutto and fresh basil, the delicious Ham and Cheese pizza ($14 and $21) demonstrates how Taft’s makes a less regionally distinct pie.
A one-page menu expands the offerings beyond pizza. Meatball fans will find a big and flavorful (if not-so-tender) orb topped with whipped ricotta and ladles of tart marinara ($8). The generously portioned, battered-and-fried Spicy Cheese Curds ($7) are another solid option, especially when dipped into the side of cooling tzatziki.
My favorite starter is the somewhat overdressed but still impressive House Salad ($8) with toasted pistachios, romaine lettuce, radicchio, beets and a bright citrus vinaigrette playing off chunks of blue cheese. The salad is even better when accentuated with plentiful warm, good chicken ($3 extra).
In fact, the only item that I sampled that came up short was the Roasted Cruciferous sandwich ($13, served with crispy tots). I blame excessive goat cheese and balsamic vinegar, but perhaps offering a healthful vegetarian assembly that features brussels sprouts, cauliflower and mushrooms is an act of hubris for a restaurant named after a 350-pound president.