The pizza gauntlet has finally been thrown!
I Ate Oklahoma has graciously challenged me try every pepperoni pizza in Oklahoma this year and share my observations with you along the way.
I love pizza. To me it’s much more than the world’s most perfect food; it’s family, a loving hug, art, and a celebration of life! I accepted the challenge, of course, how could I say no?
So why review just pepperoni pizza when there are so many creative specialty pizzas available?
1) It tastes better. Pizza that’s not pepperoni is a sad waste of finite stomach space that could be filled with delicious pepp. Same goes for salad. Salad is for suckas.
2) It’s the best way to compare one pizza to another. Comparing pizzerias based on their “famous” specialty pies is tricky, so I keep it simple when trying a new place so the quality of the basic ingredients (crust, sauce, cheese) has no place to hide.
Long story short, if a place doesn’t impress you with its pepperoni pizza you won’t want to waste your time trying anything else on the menu. Pepperoni is the great pizza equalizer.
I’m not a pizza snob. I don’t think large pizza chains should be punished for being successful (I was the marketing director for a great regional chain), and I don’t blindly accept the hype around new chef-driven concepts either. Good and great pizza can be found in the most surprising places, and I’m here to help you sort through the Oklahoma pizza proliferation happening right now.
Suggestions for places I should try? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1319 S. Broadway Ave.
I surrender! Yes, I did it and I’ll do it again! Cuff me, chain me to the wall if it means I get more of this amazing pizza. Here’s the pepperoni situation:
The Heat (f.k.a. Humble Pie) off Broadway in Edmond is one of only two independent pizzerias in the entire state that specializes in Chicago-style deep-dish pizza. The other is Savastano’s in Bixby, near Tulsa. There are also three BJ’s chain locations in Oklahoma, all in the OKC metro, that offer a “Southern California” take on the Chicago deep-dish, and I’ve been told the new Birra Birra Craft Pizzeria in north OKC’s Chisholm Creek development (where Topgolf and iFLY indoor skydiving are located) has a legit deep-dish offering.
At The Heat, deep-dish pizzas are baked slowly in round, butter-slathered steel pie pans for about 30 to 40 minutes, creating a fried effect on the crust, which is much thinner than you might expect. The pizza as a whole is very thick, weighing in at a whopping 2.5 pounds, with a crust just barely thick enough to handle the weight, denser than a traditional crust, but still flaky and buttery with a semi-sweet corn meal flavor. The crust ends (bones) are like dessert, with a slightly chewy edge that reminds me of a blondie brownie. Pro tip: drizzle honey on it, there will be a bottle at your table.
The extended cook time on this would burn the toppings on a traditional pizza, so it’s constructed in reverse order with the sauce on top.
A pepperoni pizza isn’t on the menu at The Heat, but you can build your own so I ordered the multi-cheese pizza listed on the printed menu (doesn’t appear online) and asked them to turn it into a deep-dish pepperoni for me. “Not a problem” says the cheerful server/cashier.
A few of my favorite local brews appear on the beer list, so I ordered a Prairie Bomb to pass the time while listening to Rat Pack-era jazz standards and classic acoustic jams. They have Trivial Pursuit cards on the tables, which would have been fun if I wasn’t there on a solo mission, a mugshot photo backdrop to capture your nefarious side, and several large TVs for sports fans. The two-room dining area includes both tables and cozy blue booths.
Pretty sure my eyes popped when the pie finally arrived at the table, and I’m quite sure I did the lip bite like I do when something awesome is present. (Editor's note: I've seen the lip bite and it is...very sexual.)
It’s an impressive looking pizza. When I did the obligatory cheese pull on the first slice it stretched higher than my arms could reach, reminiscent of Giordano’s, among Chicago’s most-famous pizzerias. Next time I’ll try standing on the chair to see how far the pull goes.
The sauce is thick and delicious, with large chunks of crushed tomato, lightly seasoned and with a touch of sweetness. The pepperoni, although chopped and hidden under pounds of cheese and toppings, is very good quality and the flavor comes through nicely. Try a few 'roni pieces on their own and let me know if you agree (email@example.com). Two slices of this pie are a full meal for me, so I left with six more slices in the carryout box.
You can tell a lot about the quality of a pizza by how well it reheats. This pizza was glorious on days two and three, a perfect leftovers situation if ever there was one. If I was still attending UCO (#bronchopride) I’d order this pizza once a month and treat it like a homemade lasagna. At $17.09 for a 10” deep dish pepperoni (a cheese pizza is $15.49 and each additional topping is $1.60), you’re looking at $4.27 per two-slice meal. Bargain!
Based on recent conversations with my pizza loving-est friends in Edmond, it’s quite possible you’re wondering what happened to Humble Pie. Humble Pie IS The Heat. Look for a yellow Broadway Shoppes ‘Pawn’ sign on the west side of Broadway just north of 15th St. that says Humble Pie, then look for The Heat sign on the physical building.
You’re in the right place! You’re a golden god.
Jo’s Famous Pizza
900 S. Kelly Ave.
Jo’s Famous Pizza has been famous among pizza enthusiasts in Purcell, Oklahoma since 1962, an iconic pizzeria in the Sooner State. In 2009 it opened an Edmond location in what used to be Lottinville's Wood Grille. Here’s the pepperoni situation:
Jo’s is uniquely located inside a log cabin! Quietly tucked into a park-like suburban environment, the pizzeria’s steak house history really shines through. Being there feels like a pizza staycation, and there’s a nice covered patio out back. The dining room is large, seating for 146 with high ceilings and lots of cozy wood/leather booths. The vibe is casual, comfortable, and family friendly. This would be a good place for large groups and events.
The pizza is definitely worth a trip to Edmond or Purcell. Although pepperoni pizza doesn’t technically appear on the menu, you can still build one as a custom pizza. A small, 10-inch, one-topping pizza is $9.99 and an XL, 16-inch (serves 4-5 people) is $20.99.
They say the sauce is what makes it special, but I think the crust is the star. Thin, but capable of supporting the massive amount of quality pepperoni they pile on—approx. 100 pepp slices on the XL—and buttery, yes, sooooo buttery and delicious with crisp edges and a touch softness in the middle. They go light on the sauce for balance, so if you’re a sauce lover like me you’ll want to ask for extra.
In addition to the traditional sauce choices: red, alfredo, and garlic/olive oil, Jo’s offers De Fuego, Louisiana Hot Sauce, and Head Country BBQ. The specialty pizza list includes a Tabouli Salad Pizza (#saladchat), and, this is awesome, you can order halves, thirds, or fourths of any pizza, a great way to work your way through the menu without the fear of failure.
On my next visit—yes, I will be back!—I may even branch out and try the Canadian bacon pizza; chopped fresh daily, not slices, rounds or cubes.
2415 N. Walker Ave.
You see, kind reader, pepperoni always prevails. It just does. Here’s the pepperoni situation:
When Pizzeria Gusto first opened in Oklahoma City’s Uptown 23rd district in 2015, the infamous Greg Elwell and I went to check it out. I ordered the pepperoni pizza – of course! – without really looking at the menu. Our server kindly explained that an authentic Neapolitan pizza would never include pepperoni, and asked if I might like to try the soppressata instead…
“No! What?! You’re kidding, right? Oh. Ok, fine. Ughhh.”
Until last week I was still a little salty about this seemingly inexcusable lack of pepperoni, but eureka! They have pepperoni now (USA! USA!) and moreover, I think the Gusto Pepperoni could even have a legitimate claim on best pizza in Oklahoma status. Thank you, Chef Kathryn Mathis. Thank you. Better late than never! : )
This pizza is fancy, an “artisan” wood-fired ‘za cooked uber-fast (about 90 seconds) in a glorious 900-degree Stefano Ferrara oven imported from Naples, along with many of the ingredients including the best San Marzano tomatoes and the requisite extra fine ‘00’ flour.
(From the menu) Gusto Pepperoni: pepperoni, oregano, fresh mozzarella, roasted garlic, honey-sriracha -- $15. *Yes, I broke my own rule with the non-pepperoni ingredients, but I’d argue this was OK since it wasn’t technically my first visit to the place. Forgive me.
Maybe the most impressive thing among a ton of impressive things is the fact that they make their own fresh mozz in-house! My only real complaint is the fact that they put the pepperoni underneath the cheese, usually a deal-breaker for me, but the deli-style pepp sneaks out on the sides, curling into crispy, charred pepperoni goodness.
In short, I think you need this pizza in your life. You probably also need the gnocchi with braised short rib, thx for the tip Stephen Tyler of Aerosmith. You definitely need this patio, among the chill-est in the city and it even has its own cocktail: the refreshing, delicious Patio Punch.
119 W Main St., #101, OKC
Italian Express is awesome. I’ve been a huge fan of this place since its early days in First National Center, now located next to Creative Oklahoma on Main Street in downtown OKC.
Here’s the thing: you pretty much need to be a downtown worker or resident to know it exists. The sign out front is faded, torn and hard to read. They don’t have a website. No social media. So how has this place managed to stay busy nearly every single weekday for years? Hassan is the answer.
Hassan is the owner, door greeter, host, server, and cashier, and he makes it all look effortless, with joy! He is a Magi, and an amazing ambassador for our city. I posted a pic of him and his strawberry cake (it’s always at the register and I haven’t tried it yet because I always stuff myself silly with the ‘za) on IG yesterday and apparently I’m not the only one who puts him on this pedestal:
“Saw him last week. He is a titan.” - @okcchris
“In a downtown chock full of nice people he is somehow far and away the nicest of all of them. As in, it’s not even close. That’s not hyperbole.” - @urbanizedokie
“Hassan is amazing!” - @pradaornah
“He is the greatest. Seriously always brightened my day to see him!” - @linh_manuel_miranda_priestly
The pizza is legit too, super fresh with quality ingredients. Three pizzas are on the buffet every day: pepperoni*, cheese, and combo. This is one of the few places where I’ll also have salad, but let’s keep that between us, yeah? The pasta bar is also really good I’m told.
The Italian Express experience in a nutshell:
Walk in the door. Hassan remembers you from that time you visited three years ago, correctly guesses your drink preference and sets a table for you. You think to yourself, “No wait? Sweet!” You head to the buffet line and fill half of your plate with salad and pepperoncini, the other half stacked high with pepperoni 'za. Second trip to the buffet: short stack o’ pizza only and your drink has been refilled. Thirty minutes later, stuffed and stoked you head to the register. Hassan is waiting for you with a big smile. Check total is only $9.53 so you offer to buy your friend’s lunch too. Walk out the door, hop on a Lime, and scoot back to the office. You have won the day.
P.S. this is I Ate Oklahoma’s first 2019 Allstate award nominee in the Customer Service category. Stay tuned.
Spicoli’s Pizza Joint
1000 NE 63rd St., OKC
Spicoli’s isn’t the best pizza in OKC, but it is a fun place to visit and the pizza is pretty decent, definitely worth the price. According to the owner, Rod, the name and décor was inspired by a movie he loves: the 1980s comedy classic “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” Surfboards dot an ocean blue ceiling and the walls are adorned with posters, and pictures clipped from magazines. “I Want It That Way” by the Backstreet Boys was playing when we arrived, and the ’80s tunes continued.
Crust: Not this pizza’s strong suit, but at $9.99 for a 16” XL it’s hard to complain about a ready-made crust. I wouldn’t call it a thick or thin crust, but right in the middle. I’d call it sturdy, texturally similar to a flat bread.
Sauce: The sauce was a nice surprise, simple in a good way, not pretentious, and I Ate Oklahoma editor Greg Elwell remarked on its quality acidity. The seasoning is very subtle, allowing a fresh tomato flavor to shine, and they put the right amount on to balance the pie.
Cheese: This is where Spicoli’s really stands out for me. The cheese is the star. I always attempt a cheese pull on the first slice of any pizza. This time I wasn’t expecting magic, but I was so wrong: Magic happened. The cheese strung out 2 or 3 feet from my plate. Insane!!
Pepperoni: Basic, like what you’d find refrigerated at the grocery store. Good flavor and good portion size, approx. 40 pepperonis per XL pizza.
Note: this location is currently in transition. The lobby is becoming a dispensary, but they’ll continue serving pizza and gyros only in back during lunch, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.. A new location is going in at NW 50th and MacArthur.