You love pizza. Always have. Ever since the days when you and your friends rode bikes up to the Montgomery LaRosa’s and plunked down your hard-earned grass cutting money for a medium pie, a plate of pizza bread, and a pitcher of Pepsi. Over the years, you have savored many varieties. You’ve reveled in steaming thick chunks of deep dish at Gino’s East on a frigid winter night in Chicago. Scarfed down massive slices of spicy thin crust pizza at Benny Tudino’s in Hoboken—slices so big they flopped over the edge of the paper plate. Inhaled rhomboid-shaped pizzas lovingly baked by artisans in small college towns. Devoured rectangular, table-top-sized pies at dearly departed Adrica’s in Mt. Adams. You’ve even tolerated a Thai chicken pizza (or two) from California Pizza Kitchen (weirdly, on the streets of New York, though never actually in California) when your guard was down. You draw the line at “Hawaiian pizza” (pineapple on a pizza? Sacrilege) and avidly defend LaRosa’s when the haters slag it for being too saucy and sweet.
To recap: you love pizza. But you never truly realized how much bad pizza there was out there—on the streets of Cincinnati alone—until you graciously agreed to judge a pizza competition at the CincItalia Festival last year in Cheviot. Let’s be crystal clear: the poor representation in the pizza competition had nothing whatsoever to do with the good folks running the festival. It had everything to do with the entrants. Particularly the ones who insisted on entering pizzas paved over with half-inch thick tarmacs of glutinous cheese, crusts with the consistency of extra chewy ballpark pretzels, and anything topped with chicken and ranch dressing. Yep: ranch dressing. That’s not just revolting; I believe if you reported it to the authorities in the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (an honest-to-God international governing body for first pizza principles based in Naples, Italy) it might be a crime.
To be fair, there were a handful of pretty good pies. But you came away knowing that you had to search the countryside and come back with a critical report on the state of pizza in Cincinnati in 2011. And so, with the sharp minds and palates of your staff honed for the task, over the course of a month you ate more pizza than humans should be allowed, critiqued every slice that passed your lips, tallied the scores, and came up with a list of the 50 best pizza makers in and around the Queen City. Is it a definitive list? We may have missed some fine pies (and if we did, let us know). But it’s a solid indication that good pizza is experiencing a rebirth here. And that we’ve got ranch dressing on the run.