Papa Giorgio's pizzeria dishes up simplicity and freshness
What we need is a new Christmas carol that celebrates pizza. Oh, look. I have one. (The following yuletide opus should be sung to the music of “Silver Bells.”)
It’s pizza time in the city
From Papa Giorgio’s
Soon it will be pizza time
Okay, maybe I’m a glutton for pizza. But another reason for that silly but timely ditty is that many winter holiday traditions actually have Italian origins.
For example, evergreen tree displays, decorative lighting, feasting and gift-giving in late December are all traceable to the ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia.
Plus, considering that the "most wonderful time of the year” is often the most hectic, what’s more seasonally convenient than a good pizzeria? The answer is a very good pizzeria whose crowd-pleasing fare is often quickly prepared.
If you live at all near the Bethel Center Mall, the answer is Papa Giorgio’s.
Some of the appeal of this unpretentious, scratch-cooking business that opened just before the pandemic struck — and was forced to close shortly thereafter, and then reopened months later — is revealed in a menu section that David Letterman might’ve inspired called “Top 7 reasons to visit Papa Giorgio’s.”
The list accurately touts a super-friendly staff and the use of premium ingredients such as pepperoni and sausage from Ezzo Sausage Company (a venerable Columbus operation) and Grande brand cheese. Another item on the list tempers pandemic-time seriousness with jokey self-deprecation: “We NEED the money!”
But the No.1 spot on the list is reserved for the kind of dough that is eaten. As Papa Giorgio’s menu reports, “Everyday, we take 5 simple ingredients and create dough that is amazing.”
That triumph of simplicity and freshness — “simplicity and freshness” is Papa Giorgio’s de facto aesthetic — results in pizza crusts that are similar to the New York-style, only thinner. That’s a win-win in my book.
Purists should try the Cheese Pizza ($12; all prices are for 14-inch pies). Its simple components are amply rewarding: lively sauce, flavorful oven-browned cheese and sturdy-yet-pliable crust.
Want more oomph? Try the terrific Meat Pie ($17) with springy meatball chunks, sizable hunks of decent ham and bacon bits, plus Ezzo’s first-rate pepperoni and sausage. If you enjoy counterpoint notes in such a lusty composition — I do — the pizza is even better with banana peppers ($1.25 extra). Note: Toppings are characteristically applied with restraint, ensuring that diners are not confronted with inordinately sloppy or greasy gut-bombs.
Cubes of Southwestern-spice-scented chicken breast graced two other fine pies I tried: the Pesto Chicken pizza ($16), whose squiggles of rich pesto sauce played off loads of fruity sun-dried tomatoes; and It’s Smokin Gouda ($17), with bacon bits and wispy onions, plus creamy-and-tangy cheese.
A supple house-made bun plus plenty of good salami, capicola and pepperoni garnished with the expected fixings (including a surfeit of Italian dressing) translated into a pretty impressive Italian Sub that’s a steal for $7. I also enjoyed the homemade Lasagna ($9) — a mammoth slab of edible comfort assembled with sausage and ricotta that was more tomatoey than cheesy.
The eatery excels at calzones and stromboli. Unlike countless versions around town, they aren’t heavy and bready things that become boring after a couple bites. Credit this to exemplary proportions of house-made dough and commendable fillings.
Such qualities elevated a stromboli with spinach and salami ($12) and a calzone with sausage and pepperoni ($12) to the top of their classes. The savory pastries also benefited from a side of bright-and-pulpy house marinara sauce.
Feel like a treat? The Buckeye Calzone ($5) — one of four dessert calzones — hits pay dirt with house-made peanut butter showcased by exterior chocolate drizzles.
5216 Bethel Center Mall, Northwest Side