Seriously delicious pizza is no laughing matter at this Yellow Springs eatery
By Tom Baker
About 15 years ago I was told that the reason Ha Ha Pizza got the name was the “magic” mushrooms they’d put on the pizzas. I guess you might buy that considering the reputation of Yellow Springs, but I can personally confirm that this is no longer the case. Instead, if you’re looking for good pizza in a laid back environment, you’re in the right place. Most people around Dayton have preconceived notions or opinions about Yellow Springs, but not only will you find street musicians and regular anti-war protests, you’ll also find a lot of good food.
Located downtown next to the bike path, Ha Ha Pizza has been around since the early 1970s when it was opened by a group of Antioch students. Since then, the place has changed hands twice and is currently owned by B.J. Walters, a former employee who purchased the business in 2005 after working there for several years. Walters seems to have kept things pretty much the same, as the location, staff and quality seem to have remained fairly consistent.
Walking in past the open kitchen and shelves of soft drinks (no adult beverages available), the dining room is full of booths and a small salad bar — and the walls were bare and yellow (unfortunately they’ve either stopped featuring art or were in between artists). We were greeted quickly by the friendly server, and ordered a round of drinks, a trip to the salad bar, breadsticks and a couple of pizzas with their highly regarded whole wheat crust.
The salad bar is small, but offers an impressive array of items you can add to your plate. This isn’t Dorothy Lane Market, but there are beets, chickpeas, black beans, broccoli, kidney beans and several other options as well as a handful of dressing choices. One trip is five bucks, but considering the scope of your choices at the bar, we didn’t feel it was terribly inappropriate. The drinks arrived followed closely by the breadsticks along with a dish of marinara. The breadsticks at Ha Ha are lighter and smaller than most and the sauce, with just a bit of spice, was very good and a bit of a surprise. Sauce is, of course, a key component to a good pie, and this was a good sign going in.
Anticipating the pizzas, I merely picked at the appetizer and saved stomach space. We ordered one with spinach, mushrooms and garlic, and one with falafel, black olives and feta. Ha Ha’s pizza is unique in more ways than one. Not only can you find your standard ingredients such as pepperoni, sausage and onions, but you can also get more unique ingredients such as bananas, tempeh and soy cheese (c’mon, it’s Yellow Springs). The crust and the sauce are made in house, and the recipe for the sauce is a secret verbally passed down, according to Diane Chiddister of the Yellow Springs News (props for background/history presented here from her 2/10/05 piece), it’s an oral tradition.
Also, you have the choice of regular or whole wheat crust — I always go for the whole wheat, which is a bit more substantial, probably a little healthier and very tasty. Both pizzas were very good and it is always fun to see someone try falafel on pizza for the first time. The spices of the falafel were interesting with the more conventional pizza cheese and sauce combo, but it works. The real winner was the garlic, spinach and mushroom pizza – ample garlic, fresh mushrooms (no canned abominations here) and spinach are a favorite of mine and didn’t disappoint.
Service had been spotty in the past, but this time was attentive and friendly, albeit a bit on the slow side. Based on past and current experience, it appears that they usually only staff the dining room with one server. Regardless, it doesn’t seem to change the attitude or quality, just the speed with which you’re served. If you’re in Yellow Springs for a power lunch you’re probably in the wrong place. If you are in a hurry during the day, they offer a slice of pizza and visit to the salad bar, but I’d prefer to wait for a fresh pizza, and enjoy a root beer and some people watching.
Ha Ha was as good as I remembered it, maybe a bit better… so next time you’re out for a hike or coming in from a ride on the bike path, stick around, relax, and enjoy a salad and a slice.
Ha Ha Pizza is located at 108 Xenia Ave. in Yellow Springs and is open seven days a week. (937) 767-2131.
Reach DCP food critic Tom Baker at TomBaker@DaytonCityPaper.com.