The closest thing Cincinnati has to signature style pizza is Larosa’s. But its sweet, acidic sauce is often discounted by pizza lovers. So, maybe we can borrow from the rich history and culture of another city known for its pizza? That’s just what former Chicagoan, Don Laden, had in mind when he opened Chi-nnati’s Pizza in Madeira.
As a Cincinnatian with a long time love of Chicago style pizza, I was optimistic about the opening. But after several visits to the restaurant, I’m left feeling that something is being lost in translation.
First of all, the interior at Chi-nnati’s is suffering from an identity crisis. It’s both sporty (with multiple hanging televisions), and trendy (with dark wood furniture and high-end mosaic structures hanging from the ceiling).
And while it’s not a chain, it definitely feels like one. The space actually has the large, overly produced feeling of a Fridays. The ceilings are high, the artwork is contrived, and even the highly graphic menus seem to signal a team of marketing people in overdrive.
The starters don’t help spark my passion, either. Though Don Laden calls Chi-nnati’s a “destination restaurant,” I will be surprised if it actually becomes one. The buffalo wings, though appropriately spiced, are as generic as the space surrounding them.
The same goes for the Caesar salad, which tastes like a bunch of mayonnaise was dumped into the dressing. Further, the house salad is a simple plate of veggies with a mounted collection of unripened tomatoes.
All of this aside, I know that Chi-nnati’s is defined by it’s Chicago style pizza. Indeed, the crust is classically made from olive oil and cornmeal. And the toppings are in standard reverse order: cheese, then toppings, then sauce.
The pizza is decent. The ingredients are fresh and the sauce is garlicky and pleasant. But the thick crust — so important to the pizza’s overall flavor — is on the bland side. I don’t mind waiting 40 minutes for it to come out — that’s what I’d do if I were sitting in the original Uno in Chicago. But I expect it to be drool inducing when it comes to the table. In the several times I’ve visited Chi-nnati’s, it has just been okay.
So, maybe all of this confusion is stemming from the fact that the restaurant is inspired by the culture and tradition of another city. (Admit it, the fact that there are Skyline Chili restaurants in 4 states feels a little odd — as if the one in Clearwater, Florida could ever live up to the original one on Glenway Avenue.)
Or maybe the folks at Chi-nnati’s are still honing their recipes and dining aesthetic. In either case, I’m going to sit the next round out.