Pizza in Cleveland: Il Rione Pizzeria

Il Rione Pizzeria | 1303 W 65th | Cleveland, OH

Il Rione Pizzeria is nestled in Gordon Square.

My wife Tiffany and I have been to New York City a bunch in the past 18 months. As corny as it sounds, the thing I love—and miss—most about the city is its pizza. It doesn’t matter if it’s in a restaurant or from a nondescript street vendor—there’s something about a New York slice that makes my tastebuds tingle. The thin and wide slices … the foldable crust … the crispy texture … the toppings above the cheese. Excuse me for a moment while I dream about this culinary masterpiece.

Okay, I’m awake. I think Cleveland’s pizza scene is solid. Establishments like Citizen Pie, Vincenza’s and Pizza Whirl—which are all excellent, btw—employ New York-style pizzas. But they’re not the same as the real thing. So, when my friend Mike, a home pizza maker himself, told me about a New York-style pizzeria in Gordon Square, I was thrilled. Tiffany and I hopped in the car to meet our friend on the near west side of Cleveland.

Il Rione sports an elegant bar.

Upon entering Il Rione, I was immediately charmed. The restaurant is quaint and stylish, featuring exposed brick, industrial ductwork, warm lighting, piped-in music and a small bar (with no TV). There isn’t a ton of seating … I’d say there are around 15 tables, with most of them set up for two to four guests.

I’m a big fan of the atmosphere at Il Rione.

I appreciate the simplicity of Il Rione’s menu—it’s small and focused. Other restaurants should follow suit. Concentrate on what you do well rather than worrying about having something for everyone. As the old saying goes: jack of all trades, master of none. Il Rione’s offers one appetizer—a meat and cheese platter, three salads, three traditional pizzas and six “suggested” pies. Diners also have the option of building their own pizza from a list of 10 toppings.

We were clearly excited for pizza.

The three of us ordered an appetizer and I’m glad we did—the meat and cheese platter was the best I’ve ever had. Beautifully presented, the dish featured fresh Italian meats, exquisite table cheeses and thin slices of French bread.

I highly recommend the appetizer.

Mike ordered an arugula salad, which consisted of arugula, romaine, honey-lemon dressing, creamy cheese, croutons and toasted almonds. I’m no detective, but based on the fact that he consumed it in about 15 seconds, I’m going to say he liked it.

Pizza artists hard at work

Now for the main event, a half-pepperoni, half-sausage pizza. While the pie didn’t transport me back to New York City, I’m more than okay with it—Il Rione’s offering was uniquely delicious. Made in a traditional pizza oven, this was some of the best crust I’ve experienced in Cleveland. Golden brown, light and crispy, I marveled in its consistency and uniform texture. The sauce, toppings and mozzarella cheese complemented one another nicely, making for a balanced and easy-to-eat pizza. Side note: I’ve heard great things about the restaurant’s clam pizza. I think I need to head back soon to try it.

That, my friends, is a work of art.

Il Rione’s hours of operations can be found on their website. They’re legitimately in a neighborhood, so you have to find parking on the street. Prices, considering the quantity and quality, are reasonable. Il Rione’s doesn’t take reservations, and rumor has it they get crowded on weekends. Don’t let that deter you, though—this place is worth the wait. See you in Gordon Square. Cheers!

Coming Tuesday: We’ll be checking out The Merchant Tavern, a restaurant in an area of Akron known as the Valley!

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