Thankfully little has changed at this duly beloved, 60-year-old bar and pizza parlor
In 1960, telephones were bulky objects with rotary dials. Back then, such clunky machines could do one thing: Allow users to converse with people outside of screaming distance.
In 1960, most American households had but one screen on which to view electronic transmissions. Throughout the majority of the country, these thick and sometimes flickering TVs could pick up three channels.
And in 1960, the DiSabato family opened a bar and restaurant on the West Side. The joint attracted a loyal clientele with crowd-pleasing, Italian-American fare that starred a relatively new, local sensation: pizza.
Clearly, the world has changed immensely in the intervening 60 years. But not when it comes to that DiSabato eatery, which is called Emelio’s Restaurant and is still owned and operated by the DiSabato family. At Emelio’s, which is practically within screaming distance of Hollywood Casino, canny customers show up to eat, drink and party like it’s 1960.
OK, mostly like it’s 1960. Seating in the charmingly retro establishment is on stools at a vintage bar that occupies a large part of the main dining area, and in a few booths that seem like they could be 60 years old. (Tables are offered on a covered patio and in a brightly lit, multi-purpose storage room, too.) Now, though, multiple flat-screen TVs beam games into this sports-happy place where old-fashioned, wood-paneled walls are plastered with photos of athletes and family members — and sometimes both, as several DiSabatos have been highly prominent in wrestling.Get news and entertainment delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our daily newsletter
Emelio’s menu advertises “tried and true” beers such as Rolling Rock, Budweiser and Bud Light ($2.50), but offers a “craft brew” section, too, where you’ll find selections from the Columbus Brewing Company, Brooklyn Brewing and Goose Island ($3.50).
When it comes to food, though, Emelio’s little menu is defiantly old school. Its beloved pizzas typify the irresistible, if often-underappreciated, classic Columbus style: pies with house-made sauce atop thin-and-crisp, scratch-cooked crusts cut into rectangles.
Staying true to that form, Emelio’s showcases spicy “old-style” (aka “old-world”) pepperonis that arrive as delightfully crisp cups gleaming with grease. Order a pizza with these ($14 for a large) and you’ll receive a lusty treat loaded with the meat.
Emelio’s good, thin crust stays preternaturally crisp underneath the onslaught of its well-proportioned, highly recommended “All the Way” pizza ($21 for a large) topped with pepperonis, mild-but-flavorful Italian sausage crumbles, appealingly oven-singed onions and green peppers, mushrooms and uncommon (as a pizza topping) chile flakes.
Distinct touches elevate many of Emelio’s other offerings as well, such as its Special Salad. The mountainous appetizer ($7.50 scores a quart) is an endearingly familiar ensemble — iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, ample provolone and pepperoncini overdressed in a good, house vinaigrette — that is made special by a huge amount of crunchy, cooked pepperonis, i.e. amusing replacements for croutons and bacon bits.
An alluring price, toasted sesame-seed roll, plenty of melted provolone, lively tomato sauce and tender, house-made meatballs add up to a Meatball and Cheese Sub ($7) that’s comforting in the mouth and on the wallet.
I’d also place the inexpensive and enjoyable Sausage and Cheese Sandwich ($4.50) in the doubly comforting category. A toasted, very pleasant roll — think artisanal hot dog bun — holds a mild Italian sausage link, tomato sauce and a thick blanket of melted cheese.
The Super Sub ($6) is better (and costs less) than most other Italian subs. As I aggressively demolished that flavor torpedo inside the confines of friendly, old Emelio’s, my suddenly grinning dining partner yanked out her phone to Instagram the moment. Immortalized with a surprised face shining from delectable salami and capicola oil, I began to question just how much technological advances have improved our lives.