When trying out a new pizza place, my wife likes to use the Margherita as a litmus test: a good Margherita—a pizza stripped down to its most basic components—is indicative of a restaurant that knows how to make a good pizza and ensures a return visit. Unfortunately, trips to several restaurants over the past few years have yielded pizzas that haven’t quite passed the test. Some had decent flavor, though many ran the gamut from bland to disappointing. The underlying problem with most seemed to be a poor crust: floppy, soggy, flavorless crusts that couldn’t stand up to the bare minimum of toppings. One crust, however, was exceptional and the pizza it capably supported passed the Margherita test with flying colors. Natalie’s Coal-Fired Pizza in Worthington had earned a return visit.
Natalie’s is a cozy little restaurant that sits slightly off High Street and doubles as a music venue, booking folk/blues/jazz/bluegrass/country acts. While our early dining habits have prevented us from experiencing the live music firsthand, they have allowed us to benefit from the happy hour specials. Running from 4pm–6pm, Tuesday through Sunday (closed Mondays), Natalie’s happy hour highlights Ohio businesses by offering locally produced craft beer and liquor at some of the best prices we’ve encountered. One-topping pizzas are featured on the food portion of the happy hour menu as are appetizers, including my favorite, the meatball. Made with the traditional trio of veal, beef, and pork (all Ohio-raised), the full-flavored meatball is topped with marinara and is an excellent value at its happy hour price of $5.00.
The centerpiece of Natalie’s is, of course, the coal-fired oven. Placed strategically between the kitchen and serving area, the oven is viewable from the dining room, which not only adds to the ambiance of the restaurant, but affords diners the opportunity to witness their pizza come to life. Fueled by anthracite coal (which Natalie’s notes is cleaner burning than most fuels, including wood), the internal temperature of the oven rises to over 1000˚ F. This high, intense heat is responsible for creating the beautiful char on the crust while leaving the inside chewy, yet firm enough to support toppings. On our recent visit, we ordered the Funky Funghi (assortment of wild mushrooms, gorgonzola, roasted garlic, truffle oil), the Mt. Etna (prosciutto, topped with fresh arugula), and a Create-Your-Own, which we added both hot and sweet sopressata. All were topped with fresh mozzarella that left melted pools of creamy, stringy cheese in each bite, and all had that perfect, coal-fired crust. In addition to their menu of specialty pizzas, Natalie’s offers a list of high-quality ingredients (including free-range chicken, applewood bacon, goat cheese, ricotta, and asparagus) from which you can choose your own topping combinations.
My wife’s litmus test proved accurate; subsequent pizzas from Natalie’s have not disappointed. The coal-fired oven produces the perfect crust—a solid foundation for any combination of quality ingredients Natalie’s offers. My only regret is that I have yet to catch a show here, though hope to rectify this soon. After all, they passed the Margherita test and are guaranteed a return visit.