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The search for Johnny Marzetti, Columbus’ unofficial signature dish

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Philadelphia has the cheesesteak.

Boston has clam “chowda.”

And New York and Chicago are forever at odds over whose style of pizza is superior.

But did you know Columbus has its own signature dish?

Once an outsider from the East Coast, I thought Johnny Marzetti sounded like someone who might play shortstop for Reds or halfback for the Browns. Despite this lazy lasagna’s legendary following, the uninitiated often learn about it first from new friends and neighbors who eagerly share childhood memories of the dish and its local origin.

That doesn’t mean everyone from the New York Times to Saveur hasn’t reheated the same tale of Teresa Marzetti naming the unassuming entrée of pasta, ground beef, tomato sauce, and cheese after her son-in-law, and how she served it in the family restaurant decades before the name Marzetti became synonymous with salad dressing. Even the Ohio History Connection seems to support the story.

Though the restaurant was real (two of them in fact, run by two families both named Marzetti) not a single advertisement or menu from either over the better part of a century mentions the dish. Teresa was also very real, though the company that still bears her name is equally adamant that any relation to Johnny Marzetti is likely more folklore than fact.

But that doesn’t mean folks love it any less. It kind of makes it a legit urban legend. An Italian matriarch, fresh off the boat from Florence, pulls together some modest ingredients and creates a sensation so deceptively simple that more than a hundred years later petite cuisine and molecular gastronomy still can’t beat it? Who wouldn’t eat up that story, even if the details are still suspect? It sure beats calling it the long-lost cousin of Hamburger Helper.

Johnny on the Spot

These joints still serve up the city’s long-lost culinary creation—but days and times vary

Tommy’s Diner 914 W Broad St.

Nancy’s Home Cooking 3133 N High St.

Paul’s Fifth Avenue 1565 W Fifth Ave.

India Oak Bar & Grill 590 Oakland Park Ave.

German Village Coffee Shop 193 Thurman Ave.

Kolache Republic 730 S High St.

ClusterTruck 342 E Long St.

Service Bar 1230 Courtland Ave.

SEE BELOW FOR MORE DETAILS

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Teresa Marzetti’s Original Recipe

(maybe, maybe not)

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

3⁄4 pound mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

2 pounds lean ground beef

3 1⁄2 cups tomato sauce

1 1⁄2 pounds cheddar cheese, shredded

1 pound elbow macaroni, cooked and drained

Sauté onion in oil until limp, about 3 minutes.

Add mushrooms and fry until juices are released, about 5 minutes.

Add beef and cook, stirring, breaking up clumps, until no longer red.

Remove from heat and mix in tomato sauce and all but 1 cup of cheese.

Transfer to greased 9- by 13-inch baking dish and add macaroni.

Toss gently to mix. Scatter remaining cheese on top. Bake, uncovered, in 350-degree oven until browned and bubbling (35 to 40 minutes). Serves 10 to 12.


At Tommy’s Diner, like most places that secretly serve Johnny Marzetti, even though it’s not on the menu, it’s not exactly off the menu either—nor is there just one recipe. Most often macaroni, rotini, or bowtie all work just fine. Vegetables include onions, green pepper, and mushrooms. (Though I highly recommend throwing in some zucchini.) Choice of cheese seems to fall into three schools. Cheddar is the most popular, but mozzarella makes a strong showing as well. Tommy’s tops theirs with a generous portion of grated parm. Opinions also vary on whether it goes into the oven for a quick brown and a bubbly finish, or straight to the plate with shreds or just a sprinkle. Whether original or avant-garde, everyone seems to agree it’s not exactly a chili mac or just another name for goulash.

Nancy’s Home Cooking in Clintonville actually does have it on the menu, but only makes the comfort food classic on Tuesdays. Paul’s Fifth Avenue, India Oak Bar and Grill, and German Village Coffee Shop quietly rotate traditional, yet individual, versions through their daily specials. Kolache Republic sometimes stuffs it into their savory pastry to make it more portable, and Columbus newcomer ClusterTruck will even deliver it to your door. None of them have it on the menu. Service Bar in the Short North does, offering an upscale variation for $21. (That’s quite the price hike from the 45 cents Teresa used to charge at the restaurant back in the 1920s — maybe she did, but probably not.)

By  / Originally Mar 26, 2018

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Clintonville Brunch Crawl: We dare you to squeeze all 3 stops into 1 day

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Clintonville is lovely this time of year, especially when you make three separate stops for brunch. 

Whether the weather is gracing the charming little burgh with a healthy dose of vitamin D or giving it a couple spins around the Lazy Susan that is Ohio’s climate, a trifecta of morning food destinations is sure to keep your mood afloat.

BLunch  • 2973 N High St.

blunchcolumbus.com

Yes, we know that Columbus now is home to a Drunch AND a BLunch.

Snicker all ya want—if you do, you’d be missing out on one of the culinary scene’s welcome newcomers—a half-day cafe that carries the comforts of a First Watch, but with the sophisticated execution of Tasi or Katalina’s.

The White Family has decades of hospitality under their belt—the family owned Galena’s Mudflats until recently, and dad Jeff has been running the OSU Faculty Club for the past 20 years.

Those two were training grounds for son Jeff, once a young, eager dishwasher and now head chef for the White’s new “daylight eatery and bar.” Mom Jane, despite her own admission that in the family’s tavern-running days breakfast didn’t get served until halfway through afternoon, now relishes an intimate spot where people can maintain their own balance between booze and breakfast.

A full-bar at brunch is a rarity in the peculiar little burg, and positioned near Lineage, Old Skool, and Condado, BLunch could be the perfect starting point for a casual Clintonville crawl.

Then again, you may not have another stop after Chef Jeff gets done with ya. He and the White family have concepted a bennies-and-batter focused menu, where you’ll be sure to come back after a healthy amount of indecision. Me? I’ve been dreaming about the Bananas Foster pancakes (topped with ice cream) and the huevos rancheros over masa cake for weeks. – Travis Hoewischer

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Dough Mama • 3335 N High St.

Dough-mama.com

Dough Mama is the top of my list for my favorite breakfast joint. I love so much about this place.

The atmosphere is super chill, laid back, and inviting. The food is so so good. I would call it comfort food with an extra sprinkle of love and thought.

From pie to salad, it’s all good.

They use a variety of local and seasonal ingredients and support some of my favorite local delicacies with Dan the Baker bread and Thunderkiss coffee … YUM! They also have a variety of vegan and gluten-free options.

I am smitten with the Gluten-Free Lemon Poppy muffin. This place is my go to for a yummy drippy egg, roasted potatoes, salad, a sweet treat and a perfect cup of coffee.

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My husband loves Grammie’s Sammie and a piece of Maple Bourbon Pecan Pie. I somehow manage to splurge here and feel really really good about it.

Their menu has some great staples but they also always have specials that look and are amazing.

Right now they serve both lunch and breakfast during the day and I’ve heard it through the grapevine that they will soon be open in the evening and serving dinner. I cannot wait to see what delicious dishes they create for that menu. – Jana Rock

Baba’s • 2515 Summit St.

babascolumbus.com

Baba’s is my go-to breakfast spot in Columbus. You can grab a breakfast sandwich on their homemade griddle muffins (aka little pillows of heaven), order a rack of ribs, or in the spirit of Alabama Worley, have a slice of perfect pie and a cup of Thunderkiss coffee.

Their delicious baked goods are made in house, they smoke all of their own meats and their produce and coffee are all sourced locally, though their espresso will send you to the moon.

The service is fast, their team is super-friendly and there are never any pretentious vibes in the super chill atmosphere they have created on the corner of Hudson and Summit.

They’ve made a beautiful impact in their short existence in the SoHud neighborhood, fostering local artistic connections and bringing beautiful new mural art that rotates different artist from the community throughout the year. Don’t forget to grab one of their perfect cinnamon rolls for later. — Vanessa Jean Speckman

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Harvest Pizzeria sowing last seeds in German Village

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Eight years ago, Harvest Pizzeria cropped up in a small space in German Village. Today, the local pizza chain announced the closure of its flagship location.

Harvest Pizzeria German Village will open its doors for the final time on Saturday, April 27th.

“Despite the success of Harvest in German Village and our strong ties to the neighborhood, the owner of the property will not honor our renewal of the lease,” wrote founder Chris Crader in an email. “…the landlord’s demands for a new lease at a higher rate would not allow our little pizzeria to remain viable.

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Crader added that he is proud of the strides Harvest German Village has made over the years, and thankful for the community that’s supported it. He hopes they can return to the neighborhood when the right spot presents itself.

As far as the employees go, Crader wrote that with the success of the other locations, the German Village workers will be able to join a team at another restaurant.

“Harvest sincerely thanks all of its loyal supporters and we hope to see you at our other locations soon,” wrote Crader.

This news follows the announcement of the Grandview Harvest closing back in February. Read more here.

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Crawfish boils claw their way into Columbus Saturday

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What’s the deal with crawfish boils? Sure, they’re delicious, but as a true land-lubbing midwesterner, my knowledge of this particular culinary phenomenon is fairly lacking.

That said, I definitely can’t tell you why there are multiple crawfish boils going down this Saturday. Best not to overthink it—just enjoy the experience!

Pecan Penny’s |113 East Main Street
Saturday at 4 PM – 7 PM

Sponsored by Brewdog, downtown BBQ joint Pecan Penny’s is kicking off patio season with an all-you-can-eat Crawfish boil, complete with giveaways and a DJ.

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Rehab Tavern | 456 W Town St
2 PM – 6 PM

Rehab’s own 4/20 crawfish boil kicks off at 2:00. Your $15.75 entrance fee will net you a pint of beer in addition to all-you-can-eat crawfish and fixins’!

Can’t make either of these, or want to try the boil experience before committing to a large-scale event? Check out Kai’s Crab Boil or Boiling Seafood Crawfish—both on Bethel Road —for first-rate seafood experiences you won’t soon forget.

Why are there two crawfish boils on the same day? Why are there two crawfish restaurants on the same road? We may never know, and honestly, who cares? Crawfish is the bomb! Just put on your bib and get crackin’!

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