I couldn’t have asked for a more cinematic entrance to Jean Paul’s Paradiso. As my friend and I entered the brightly lit shop, we noticed a man sitting behind the counter looking at the television hanging from the ceiling in one corner. He (Jean Paul) seemed completely oblivious to the perfectly shaped pie he cradled in his hands.
“So where is the owner from?” I asked Jean Paul’s helper from my perch at one of the two tables in the restaurant. (They will be adding more space to dine in soon). French, which his name might indicate? German maybe? “Swiss” his employee confirmed.
Switzerland might have been his origin, but Jean Paul came to Cincinnati by way of West Africa, Sardinia, the Caribbean, Puerto Rico and Florida. His years of travel are reflected in the line of rocks on the front windowsill that are labeled with dates and places like Eiger, England and Colorado.
His menu reflects his travels as well. Along with the self-proclaimed “best pizza in the universe,” you see influences of the old world and new. The restaurant offers pasta, salads and sandwiches including items like the Cuban Black Bean Soup ($4.20), a Bourbon Street Muffelatta ($9.90), Chicken Marsala ($11.10) and a Sicilian Panini ($7.80).
Most of the restaurant’s business is carryout: While we were there a steady line of regulars were picking up pizza orders. But if you do have a chance to stop in, you won’t be disappointed. Even though the restaurant doesn’t focus on dining in, Jean Paul and his small staff do an excellent job of taking care of you. The young employee manning the pizza oven came out to take our order, got our silverware and checked with us on a more regular basis than many servers do at much more expensive restaurants.
The atmosphere is what I would imagine in a small, family European restaurant. Many of the decorative items embody the owner’s personality. Along with the line of rocks is a rooster someone crocheted and left on our table and a clock that sings different birdcalls at the strike of every hour. Perhaps the most eye-catching item is the apron that hangs prominently in the room displaying his grandfather’s name, his hometown and the year 1776. Jean Paul said that it was the apron his grandfather wore at his mill.
We started our dinner with a bowl of vegetable soup ($4.20) and a Grecian Salad ($5.70). While the soup was a bit too salty for me, the salad was fresh and wonderful, topped with loads of feta and kalamata olives and served with a thick, homemade balsamic dressing. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen someone hit the mark on the mustard to add to this: Jean Paul got a bull’s eye.
For entrées we had the Panini Voodoo ($8.10) and the Pasta Bolognese ($10.50). The sandwich came with slices of tender blackened chicken, roasted peppers, onions and tomatoes and an herb cream cheese. When my friend offered me a bite, I groaned and said, “Oh this can’t be good for me — it tastes too good!” My pasta, a heaping portion of penne with a rich meat sauce that didn’t drown starch, was pretty much perfect.
We were stuffed but we couldn’t pass up tasting the universe’s best pizza so we got a large Grecian to go
($20.10) for the men folk. The Grecian, topped with pesto, kalamata olives, red onion, artichokes, tomatoes, feta and pine nuts was, if not the best pizza in the universe, easily one of the best. The homemade dough was crisp, and every bite burst with flavor.
We contentedly continued to sip decaf (they don’t have a liquor license), watch a new game show and eye
the array of dessert options in the display case while we waited for the pizza. It would be easy to ignore your mother’s advice and just give into the urge to go straight to dessert when you enter Jean Paul’s. Along with being a Master Chef he’s also a Master Baker, and the case was filled with chocolate wonders and homemade pies. We showed fortitude, however, and just took two items home — a Linzer Torte cookie ($1.50) and a Hamataschen (a Jewish cookie) with an apricot filling ($1.25).
Now don’t take what I’m about to say the wrong way: I wouldn’t pass up a fancy dessert with a spun sugar cage any more than the next guy, but perfection lies in the simple Linzer Torte. The crisp, buttery cookies sandwich a sweet raspberry filling and it’s all covered with a delicate dusting of confectionary sugar.
By the time our pizza was ready we had been talking in loud voices to Jean Paul and his helper across the
kitchen counter for close to an hour, and I found myself wanting to bus the table. If there’s room for one more regular at Jean Paul’s Paradiso, I’d like to apply!
JEAN PAUL’S PARADISO
Go: 6732 Clough Pike, Anderson Twp.
Hours: 10:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday-Saturday
Entrée Prices: $7.50-$13.50
Payment: Visa and Mastercard
Red Meat Alternatives: Vegetarian salad, pizzas, pasta, chicken
Accessibility: Fully accessible