The joke was on me at Ha Ha Pizza in Yellow Springs

By Paula Johnson

Photo: Pizza, topped with tofu, pesto, falafel, and ricotta, at Ha Ha Pizza in Yellow Springs; photo: Paula Johnson

There was a certain, less-than-delicious irony that the day PIP (Palate In Progress) and I met DCP pals for lunch at Ha Ha Pizza was April 1. One of the quartet was Morgan, DCP’s native Yellow Springs “fixer,” who could offer the inside dope (an apt term in this case) on all things Ha Ha Pizza. A lifelong devotee, Morgan even did a stint as a server back in the day, and was thus intimately versed to advise us on the history and running of the place. She filled me in on the lore, the myth, the legend, the religion that is Ha Ha, like how no one is really sure where the name came from. I was anxious to give Ha Ha a whirl. Actually, another whirl—PIP and I stopped in a few years back, and I was hoping the memory of that experience might be expunged.

Morgan waxed rhapsodic about toppings like falafel and tofu. She liked the calzone. She talked of the rumors, and I wanted to know if they were true. If you ordered a “Ha Ha” pizza with just the right emphasis and eyebrow raise, would you really get one with that kind of mushroom? She could neither confirm nor deny the story, but posited since it was the early 1970s, pretty much everybody in Yellow Springs was into that kind of thing so probably, yeah.

For Morgan, Ha Ha is a place of familiar comfort and great affection. It’s a place that aging hippies and freshly minted hipsters nod in agreement about—a place that’s so universally popular I would be out of my mind not to drink the psilocybin Kool-Aid. Except I can’t. I’m tasked with having to review a place that’s the stuff of grand local legend to which I have no attachment, nearly always resulting in me having to say the emperor has no clothes. So I’ll cut to the chase: Dude’s naked.

We arrived late in the afternoon hoping to avoid the dinner crowd to find an already filled vestibule of people lined up for a table. Behind the counter, all manner of frenetic pizza prep was happening as we watched while awaiting our booth in the adjacent seating area. Ha Ha’s dining room has a sort of grungy patina of pizzas past—not exactly spic and span. Do I expect to eat off the floor at a pizza joint? No, but just giving a fair warning to think twice about the five second rule—if it drops, you should stop.

Pretty low bar

We made some ordering decisions, beginning with salad. Ha Ha has a salad bar with a popular all-you-can-eat option. While Morgan assured me the pizza crust was homemade, she admitted the salad dressings were store bought, something that’s a deal breaker for me. Oil + Vinegar + S + P. Mix it up in a big vat. Your profit margin just went way up. Really problematic was that there was virtually nothing on the salad bar to put dressing on. PIP returned with tomatoes, cucumbers, and other toppings, but scant lettuce. He returned again to find the lettuce bins nearly empty twice more before giving up.

We remaining three picked a Calzone with pizza sauce and cheese, an Eggplant Parmesan Sub, and a white Pizza, half with olive oil and garlic, topped in the spirit of Yellow Springs: tofu, pesto, falafel, and ricotta. The other half had sausage and black olives. The Sub turned out to be the best thing on the table, with a nice slab of breaded eggplant dressed in sauce with cheese. But then there was the bun, straight out of a plastic bag, soft and gluey as Wonder Bread, no match for the pizza sauce, which rendered it slimy on contact. A thick, crusty, toasted Italian roll could have saved this sandwich. We ditched the bun and ate it without.

Chalk talk

But we really came for the pizza. It arrived and I tasted. The first recorded reference to pizza is found in a 10th century Latin manuscript. Ha Ha’s crust was of the similar brittle nature I imagine that manuscript to be today. In most things, salt and grease are things to limit and look for in moderation. A pizza completely devoid of these elements is chalky, dry, and tasteless, reminiscent of the unsalted soda crackers my grandmother was consigned to after high blood pressure set in.

Bite after bite, it struck me how bland, insubstantial, and—I’ll say it again—chalky this pizza was. I kept taking another bite, searching for that feeling of fullness and satisfaction that just wasn’t happening. The toppings could do nothing to enhance the dry shell they were scattered over. The red sauce on the calzone might have slightly helped with taste but didn’t really salvage that either. The one positive note I can add is that at least this pizza was sliced like a pie should be, instead of those little squares I can’t abide.

Ha Ha pizza leaves me thinking of that famous description of Los Angeles: there’s no there there. Despite the amount of food we ordered, much was left untouched, and I left hungry. None of this matters to those who embrace the cult of Ha Ha. Yellow Springers will line up in legion to get a seat. Those living elsewhere will return for a pizza. The world will note little or long remember what I’ve said here, and Ha Ha will successfully carry on as it always has. These were my thoughts as I stopped for a pizza on the way home.


Ha Ha Pizza is located at 108 Xenia Ave. in Yellow Springs. For more information, please call 937.767.2131.


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Dayton City Paper Dining Critic Paula Johnson would like every meal to start with a champagne cocktail and end with chocolate soufflé. As long as there’s a greasy burger and fries somewhere in the middle. Talk food with Paula at

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