3 Ohio Pizza Styles and Where to Get Them
The Buckeye State’s distinctive pizza styles may not be as well known as the ones hailing from New York or Chicago, but these three have long histories. Here is where you can try them.
Columbus Style, Massey’s Pizza
A thin, crispy crust and a party cut are hallmarks of the pizza style that gained popularity in our capital city.
Massey’s Pizza refers to Columbus as the “pizza capital of the world” when it comes to the number of shops per capita, and we can certainly vouch for this pizza-maker’s role in pioneering and promoting a particular kind of pie throughout our capital city.
Columbus-style pizza has a circular thin crust with a bottom dusting of cornmeal and toppings that meet the edges. It is also served with a party cut — that’s a round pizza cut into rectangular strips instead of wedges. Massey’s Pizza has set the standard for the style since the 1950s.
Jim and Dan Massucci worked for Columbus pizza pioneer Romeo Siri, eventually launching Massey’s Pizza and opening several stores across central Ohio. Guido Casa perfected the dough recipe that is still used. Current owners Dave and Jim Pallone expanded the menu, but the signature Columbus-style pie is still the favorite.
Pizzas are cooked directly on a revolving-shelf oven at a sizzling 525 degrees. The distinctive cornmeal bottom serves a few purposes: It adds taste and texture, keeps the pizza from burning and gives it some slideability when rotated in the oven. As chief marketing officer for Massey’s Pizza, Richard Folk can have his pick of pies, but he is a purist at heart.
“My family loves trying different things,” Folk explains. “But we come back to the large pepperoni. It’s our flagship.”
Pepperoni slices are meticulously placed by hand on each pie, with a slight overlap, over a mix of provolone and mozzarella cheeses.
“There will always be 155 pieces of pepperoni on a large Massey’s pizza,” Folk says. “Our pepperoni is made by Ezzo Sausage Company, here in Columbus. It’s a custom recipe just for us.”
As the pizza cooks, the little discs of pepperoni curl upward, cupping droplets of flavorful grease as their edges lightly char. It’s addicting and crave-worthy. If you move away, Massey’s will ship four partially baked pizzas, frozen and packed in dry ice, to most U.S. states including Alaska and Hawaii.
Massey’s Pizza has 15 locations throughout central Ohio and one location on Pawley’s Island, South Carolina. For more information, visit masseyspizza.com.
Other places to find Columbus Style pizza:
Rubino’s Pizza, Bexley: This red-and-white-checkered pizza spot delightfully hangs on to another era and is still cash only. 2643 E. Main St., Bexley 43209, 614/235-1700, rubinosofbexley.com
Tommy’s Pizza, Various Locations: Try the loaded All-The-Way pizza at this spot that has locations near The Ohio State University campus as well as in Upper Arlington and Dublin. tommyspizza.com
Terita’s Pizza, Columbus: Pizza Connoisseurs of Columbus named this family-run spot Central Ohio’s Pizza of the Year in 2018 and 2019. 3905 Cleveland Ave., Columbus 44324, 614/475-2100, teritas.com
Brier Hill Style, St. Anthony of Padua
This Youngstown church has been selling the region’s working-class-inspired pizza style as a fundraiser since the 1950s.
St. Anthony of Padua in Youngstown’s Brier Hill neighborhood had been serving its signature style of pizza for decades before the pandemic forced it to put its weekly Friday sale on hold. When the church brought back the sale on Saturdays in 2020, Ernie DiRenzo — a retiree who manages the volunteers who work the fundraiser — was concerned customers might not return. It turns out he had nothing to worry about.
“The first week, we sold out in a couple hours,” he recalls. “The second week, it was an hour. The third week, it was half an hour.”
St. Anthony of Padua’s Brier Hill style of pizzas — comparable to Philadelphia’s tomato pie — is deceptively simple: red sauce topped with red and green peppers and Romano cheese. DiRenzo says they’ll add hot peppers or sausage upon request, but that’s about it.
The style of pizza has its roots in the Youngstown working-class neighborhood named for former Ohio Gov. David Tod’s estate, built on a hill festooned with brier plants. The area drew scores of immigrants, first the Welsh who mined the coal seam, and eventually the first Italians in Youngstown.
Soon coke and blast furnaces — many operated by the Tod family’s companies — sprung up throughout Youngstown. And in Italian neighborhoods, communal brick ovens were built, stoked by the men before leaving for work at the mills. The women would bake bread, and any scraps of dough too small for bread would become pizza, adorned with whatever could be found in a working-class Italian home — basically cheese, peppers and tomato sauce.
“It was a result of their creativity,” DiRenzo says. “I’m 72 years old and I grew up eating it. Who knows how long my mother was making it before I was born.”
St. Anthony of Padua began making the pizzas as a church fundraiser during the 1950s. During the 1970s, the parish priest, the Rev. John DeMarinis, made a marketing contribution to the fundraiser and started calling the style Brier Hill pizza. The name stuck, and even today, you can walk into any pizza place in the area, ask for Brier Hill pizza, and they’ll know what you want.
St. Anthony of Padua in Youngstown offers pick-up pizza sales. Pre-orders start Wednesday; call 330/360-7663. Pick up is Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon. 1155 Turin St., Youngstown 44510
Other places to find Brier Hill Style pizza:
Avalon Downtown • Youngstown: Brier Hill pizza is a staple at this Italian spot. Pick it up hot and ready or take and bake. 17 W. Federal St., Youngstown 44503, 330/740-0000, avalondowntown.com
Wedgewood Pizza • Various Locations
No less an authority than Food Network recognized Wedgewood Pizza for its Brier Hill style. Locations in Austintown, Boardman and Howland; wedgewoodpizza.com
MVR • Youngstown
Take in the bocce-league action and eat Brier Hill pizza at this classic spot. 410 N. Walnut St., Youngstown 44505, 330/746-7067, youngstownmvr.com
Ohio Valley Style, DiCarlo’s Pizza
Steubenville is the epicenter of this hot-cold pizza style and where the DiCarlo family perfected its approach.
If you know, you know. Those who grew up in the southeast quadrant of the state are raving fans of Ohio Valley-style pizza, a variety that originated in Steubenville with the DiCarlo family.
DiCarlo’s Pizza began as an offshoot of the family’s bakery, known for its Italian bread. Primo DiCarlo introduced a pizza that was like the ones he enjoyed in Italy during World War II. In 1945, he and his brother, Galdo, opened the first licensed pizza shop in the state of Ohio.
The rectangular, square-cut pie offers an unusual hot-cold taste sensation in every bite. It has its share of skeptics — those who simply can’t imagine a pizza garnished with unmelted cheese and cold toppings.
“When it is prepared properly, you take one bite and you’re hooked. I’ve been eating it my whole life, and I am never sick of it,” says Anna DiCarlo, who today runs DiCarlo’s Pizza with several family members.
It’s surprisingly simple yet difficult to perfect. The company’s signature Italian bread dough is stretched into rectangle sheet pans and coated with a naturally sweet, lightly seasoned tomato sauce and baked, unadorned, at a high temperature.
Right out of the oven the base is cut into squares and topped with a generous mound of freshly grated aged provolone and uncooked pepperoni, or other items if desired. The cheese melts just enough. The bread stays crisp. Mouth and mind are, momentarily, confused.
“If you hear a crunch, it is done right,” DiCarlo says.
She recommends ordering the basic cheese and pepperoni and maybe adding a side of a few banana peppers or house-made fried chili oil. DiCarlo offers an important piece of advice to those unfamiliar with the style.
“It’s meant to be eaten quickly. It’s instant gratification,” she says. “It’s sometimes referred to as parking-lot pizza.”
Back in the day, when her dad and uncle were making pizzas, it was called “poor man’s cheesecake.” It was an affordable luxury. It still is. Two squares with pepperoni cost less than most coffee shop drinks.
Another upside: You’ll never burn the roof of your mouth on the first bite.
DiCarlo’s Pizza has seven locations throughout Ohio and operates shops in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. For more information, visit dicarlospizza.com.
Other places to find Ohio Valley Style pizza:
Ray’s Pizza • Wintersville: Locals know and love this no-frills spot, located in a village just west of Steubenville. 754 Main St., Wintersville 43953, 740/264-9235
Ohio Valley Pizza Co. • Medina: Dave and Amy Byers opened their shop in 2020, after they couldn’t find their favorite pizza style locally. 426 S. Court St., Medina 44256, 330/952-2627, ohiovalleypizza.com
Iggy’s Pizza & Pasta• Toronto: This spot along the Ohio River is known for its traditional Ohio Valley-style square slices. 1332 Franklin Ave., Toronto 43964, 740/537-4847, iggyspizza.com