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Robbie C's Pepperoni Situation

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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 rob@thepepperonisituation.com.

Bricktown Brewery

1 N. Oklahoma Ave.

Oklahoma City

(405) 232-2739

bricktownbrewery.com

-- Open daily at 11 a.m. --

Rustic Pepperoni at Bricktown Brewery

Now hear me out: the pizza at Bricktown Brewery is great! I’m as surprised to say that as you might be to read it, but it’s a fact. Here’s the pepperoni situation:

It’s been decades since the last time I visited the original Bricktown Brewery, and when college Robbie C. used to go it was for live music and craft beer rather than for the food. Now I’m wondering if they served pizza back in the day and I just overlooked it like a doofus. Remember when swing music was cool? I digress.  

So, when my good friend and PR pro extraordinaire Tracey Zeeck invited me–and another good friend who runs an obscure local social blog–to lunch at Bricktown Brewery to try the pizza I must admit, I wasn’t super excited. I mean, who goes to Bricktown for pizza when there are so many exceptional options available in “cooler” parts of the city? Could it be possible the mighty Urban Zeeck™ doesn’t know good pizza? 

I said yes, of course, but with the stipulation that I couldn’t write about the pizza if it isn’t remarkably good in some way. I didn’t expect to be writing about it now, and I’m so excited to like this pizza because it’s located in my Bricktown neighborhood, easy walking distance from home and work. 

The nostalgia struck when I arrived early to snag a table. I remember this place, but everything seems nicer now, elevated. This isn’t the same Bricktown Brewery I knew in college; it’s much better. The concept is blowing-up regionally with 14 locations total, eight in Oklahoma and six more in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, and Texas. 

It’s 11:20 and the dining room is full, bustling Bricktown! I’m seated and scan the menu for my pizza babies and…eureka! A pepperoni pizza is listed among seven specialty pizzas and a build-your-own option. Well played, Bricktown Brewery! 

Brimming with a new confidence I switch focus to finding something on the menu our salad-loving host might like. Patrick arrives and we agree she might dig the beer-battered avocado fries with habanero mango aioli. She arrived. She did like those. And then I learned something important: Zeeck studied pizza making in Italy. Of course she did, ha. Zeeck does know good pizza!

Emboldened by this revelation, I order the Rustic Pepperoni (pepperoni, mozzarella, red sauce for $12.85) con mucho gusto and a side of salt and pepper honey. All pizzas are 10”. From the drinks menu I choose a rose cider, which sounded awesome until I discovered it’s actually a rosé, so I immediately switch to the Three Guardsmen IPA with Cascade and Centennial hops. Amazing the difference an accent can make. “Nice choice,” quips our server, who was excellent. 

Stunning! My pizza arrived at our table bubbling-hot from the Blodgett deck oven looking all sexy and well-dressed with a Pecorino Romano shavings finish. The crust is light and thin, slightly crisp on bottom with soft, puffy, shiny, dessert-like buttered bones. The sauce is San Marzano tomatoes, lightly seasoned and simmered for a warm, hearty flavor and the cheese is mozzarella only, shredded in-house each day. Deli-style pepperoni dominates the surface, and I’m not mad at that. 

Obviously, I won the ordering game with my lunch dates, but everything on the table looked fantastic. On my next visit I’ll still ordering the pizza, which is saying a lot considering they have a new buttermilk fried chicken sandwich on the menu with caramelized pineapple slices and salt and pepper honey on a brioche bun. Might mess around later and order a plain cheese pizza to wrap around that chicken sandwich. I’m crazy like that. 

Bricktown has good pizza. Get some.

Sparrow Modern Italian

507 S. Boulevard

Edmond

(405) 815-3463

sparrowitalian.com

-- Closed Sundays --

Crispy Pepperoni Pizza Tower at Sparrow

Sparrow Modern Italian is the first Oklahoma pizzeria with a sourdough crust I’ve encountered thus far on my quest! The natural fermentation process, extended over three days, adds a subtle tangy edge to the flavor profile that takes this pizza to the next level. Sparrow soars. Here’s the pepperoni situation:

Based on my Instagram feed, I might very well be the last food enthusiast in the OKC metro to try the Crispy Pepperoni Pizza Tower (duo of pepperoni + mozzarella, $15) at Sparrow Modern Italian. The local media has covered it extensively, and people have been raving since it opened in May. Now I see what the chatter is all about.  

Sparrow is a gorgeous, chef-driven Italian concept by the Holloway Restaurant Group–who also brought you Boulevard Steakhouse and Café 501. And, unlike some Italian spots, Chef Joel Wingate promises that Sparrow will never make pizza an afterthought.  

“Pizza is legit my favorite food to make and eat. I like to make complex stuff, but pizza is a huge passion,” he said. “Pizza won’t be an afterthought here. We will rotate [the pizza menu] often and use fresh flavors as much as we can. We will be doing ‘roni cups here soon as well.”

I met iateoklahoma.com editor Greg Elwell and Norman musician Jess Crothers (@jesscromusic) for dinner recently. Both had been there previously and neither would miss an opportunity to dine there again. They were my pizza guides, like a crack team of sherpas helping me summit Pepperoni Everest. We started with the Italian mozzarella sticks with blush sauce ($11) and some cocktails while chatting and taking in the scenery.  

The fried mozzarella sticks are huge, complimented nicely by the blush sauce. The Limon Contento (Limoncello, Chambord, ginger beer, $9) is the perfect summer drink, light, lemony and refreshing with a zing. I heard a Dean Martin jam. The food documentary “Salt Fat Acid Heat” was playing on a dining room TV. Local Chef Michel Buthion was entertaining a large group. The minor anxiety that typically arises when I’m trying a pizza joint for the first time was nowhere to be found. I just relaxed, enjoyed good company, and anticipated the arrival of that glorious mountain of fried pepperoni slices, known in certain circles as Pips Chips™.

I would liked to have seen my own face when the pizza came to our table, which I imagine resembled Smeagol from Lord of the Rings, declaring it “my precious!” as I drooled over the pepperoni tower. Then the crust caught my attention while doing the obligatory cheese pull on the first slice. 

The crust is spectacular. Light and airy with an uneven bubble structure in the cornicione (a fancy word I learned recently–thanks Scott’s Pizza Tours–for the crust edge, a.k.a. the bones), a crisp undercarriage that still allows a fold, and a flavor profile I immediately recognize from the pizza of my youth: Sourdough!!! 

Sourdough isn’t mentioned on the menu, so I asked Chef Wingate about it. Apparently, Sparrow owner Sheree Holloway brought a sourdough starter back from California 25 years ago and used it to make the signature rustic bread at Café 501. Like many sourdough starters, this one has a name: Levi Buttonfly, a clever hat tip to the Levi’s 501 Blues commercials from the ’80s. 

Sparrow uses extra fine “00” flour for extra lightness and bakes at 600 degrees in an old-school brick oven. The sauce has a deep, rich flavor that provides a nice balance to the crust while standing up to, but not overpowering, the fried pepperoni and Grande mozzarella, a favorite among many pizzaiolos. It’s made with San Marzano tomatoes, simmered with Parmigiano Reggiano rinds, fresh herbs, and fennel.

If we weren’t all stuffed to the gills, we surely would have opted for the house tiramisu for dessert (rum-coffee, lady fingers, whipped mascarpone, $9), so I’ll order that next time I go, along with the chicken parmesan “Pizza Style” with pink peppercorn-honey and arugula ($34), or the 100-Layer Lasagna (bolognese, whipped ricotta, garlic besciamella, basil, $24), and another Crispy Pepperoni Pizza Tower.

It’s not hype if you can back it up; Sparrow can more than back it up. 

P.S. Sparrow also offers gluten-free and cauliflower crust options for an additional $3.

Osteria

6430 Avondale Dr.

Nichols Hills

(405) 254-5058

osteriaokc.com

-- Open daily --

Osteria means “simple” in Italian, a word that accurately describes the wood-fired Neapolitan-style pizza they’re slingin’ 7 days a week for us in Nichols Hills Plaza. And by simple, I mean addictively delicious. The sauce calls to me. Here’s the pepperoni situation:

Osteria is a new Italian restaurant concept by celebrity chef Fabio Viviani, launched at LAX (Los Angeles International Airport) Terminal 6 in 2016 as part of a massive airport renovation. The second Osteria opened in Tampa, Florida in July 2018, and Osteria OKC debuted at the beginning of 2019 in partnership with local chef/restaurateur Jonathon Stranger. 

You might know Chef Stranger as one of the original owner/chefs at Ludivine, as well as En Croute and St. Mark’s Chop Room. He’s also co-owner of Prairie Wolf Spirits and an H&8th Night Market co-founder. 

Viviani is a Florence, Italy-born celebrity chef and restaurateur known for winning “fan favorite” on season five of Bravo’s “Top Chef.” He’s also appeared on “Ellen,” “Good Morning America,” “Home and Family,” “The Talk,” “The Chew,” “The Queen Latifah Show,” “Access Hollywood,” “Rachael Ray,” and “Beat Bobby Flay.” 

Stranger and Viviani are currently working together to open Bar Cicchetti, a sports bar concept coming soon to the Deep Deuce district where Urban Johnnie used to be (121 NE 2nd).

Now, clearly, no one should mistake me for a fancy food critic who eats parts unknown in remote locales, but I have had the pleasure of working closely enough with Chef Stranger to know that that his culinary endeavors do tend to push the creative line and move the scene forward. So, when I learned he and Viviani decided to put an actual pepperoni pizza on the menu at Osteria (sorry guys, putting a build-your-own option on the menu does not count as putting a pepperoni pizza on the menu) I rejoiced out loud, struck a hero pose for good measure, and began obsessing about what that pizza might be. 

My brunch man-date du jour (shoutout to Dave Rhea) and I arrived at Osteria on a recent Sunday afternoon and were promptly seated on a lively patio next to Organic Squeeze and Saturn Grill. As we sat people watching, listening to music, and checking out the cocktail menu, the following thought emerged: what if their pepperoni is made from the pickled spleen of a locally matured, grass-fed, artisan ostrich? Nah, calm down Robbie C, that wouldn’t be “simple” at all.

My worries were eased before the pizza even emerged, thanks to the Osteria Bloody Mary (jalapeno-garlic Prairie Wolf vodka, house made basil-balsamic Bloody Mary mix, basil, bacon, panzerotti, olive, lemon, and lime for $12). The panzerotti was a nice savory surprise, like a little fried turnover or mini calzone, skewered among a melee of fruit and veggie flair, and a great quality spicy pepperoni. Hallelujah! Game on.

Osteria’s pepperoni pizza (spicy pepperoni, mozzarella, house-made tomato sugo, and oregano for $14) is a joy to behold. Perfectly simple—another top-notch expression of the old-world Neapolitan style in Oklahoma. 

The crust is silky, light and flavorful, with a good amount of charred bubbles on the bones as it emerges from a gorgeous red-tiled Marra Forni wood-fired pizza oven. The spicy, deli-style pepp is medium size, allowing the generous portions of fresh mozzarella to have some breathing room. There could be some fantastic blackened edges on the pepperoni if it stayed in the oven juuuuuust a little longer.  

With all this pizza perfection happening, it’s the sauce that stands out for me. It’s a traditional sugo, typically made of tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, onion, basil, and salt, which is super lightly simmered to maintain the brightness of the tomatoes. I could drink a gallon of Osteria’s pizza sauce all by itself and still want more.

You say you still want more reasons to visit Osteria? OK, how do mimosas on tap ($7) and tiramisu French toast (brioche French toast, lemon mascarpone cream, and espresso syrup for $16) grab ya? 

On my next visit I plan to try the Tartufi pizza ($13), covered in wild mushroom, fontina, garlic, white truffle sauce, and truffle oil, or the $19 Calabrese Breakfast Pizza (topped with eggs, nduja, and potato).


Papa Angelo's Pizzeria

6744 NW 39th Expy

Bethany

(405) 491-6767

papaangelospizza.com 

-- Closed Sundays -- 

This is my first pizza review to originate from reader suggestions and I’m so grateful! Thanks so much to Mike Conaughty, Tim Oakes, and a reader who’s chosen to remain anonymous, for suggesting Papa Angelo’s. I really appreciate it and hope you’ll continue sending pizza tips to rob@thepepperonisituation.com.  

Papa Angelo’s in Bethany has claimed a top spot in my list of Oklahoma’s best places to get an authentic New York-style slice. It is fantastic. Here’s #thepepperonisituation: 

Until a few weeks ago, I had no idea Papa Angelo’s Pizzeria existed, which is odd considering my interest in the topic and because I lived so close to it as a  resident of the Yukon District.

Now that I’ve tried it, I’m convinced students at Southern Nazarene University (across the street from Papa Angelo’s) and Bethany residents are intentionally keeping it on the DL, perhaps to avoid longer lines when the pepperoni lovers discover it.

I brought my parents with me to check the place out on Father’s Day. Fun fact: many members of the Crissinger family, and even the extended family, are pizza-making pepperoni aficionados. My grandparents opened one of Ohio’s first pizza restaurants in 1963—Crissinger’s Tasty Shop in Washington Courthouse—and my dad worked while attending Ohio State.

Still, my mom might be the deadliest and most outspoken pizza critic of us all. Barbara don’t want no scrubs.

Papa Angelo’s is a quick, 10-minute drive away for you lucky Yukonites. The scent of fresh baked bread greets you when you walk in the front door. This is important, as the best pizzaiolos know this is where the hunger game heats up.

The space is narrow and smallish, sparingly decorated with Big Apple paraphernalia (framed photos, retro license plates, etc.), soft music, and an open kitchen sporting, yes, you guessed it, a Baker’s Pride deck oven! Hallelujah; pass the parmesan and peppers, we’re on a roll now.

Like the location and décor, the menu is modest and refreshingly uncomplicated. Order pizza by the slice or a full pie, with 14 ingredients available: Canadian bacon, meatballs, green olives, sausage, pineapple, smoked bacon, hamburger, PEPPERONI, onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, green peppers, jalapenos, and black olives. There are also three pasta options, one kind of salad (large or small), and garlic knots. You can also get a calzone. And that’s it!

We ordered the largest pepperoni pizza they offer, the massive 20” Empire ($16.50 + $1.49 per topping), with green olives on just a quarter of the pie, for fun. I loved the green olives with the pepp. Moms hated it. Pops wasn’t having it. 

The crust is fresh and thin, with a good, subtle flavor of salt and olive oil, crispy around the edges and a slight chewiness. Perfect for the fold. They go appropriately light on the sauce, which tastes like simmered San Marzano tomatoes with salt, pepper, garlic, and oregano, with full coverage mozzarella and a fair amount of traditional sliced 'roni.

The slices are huge. One slice is probably a full meal for most, two if you’re a big eater or starving like I was. Speaking of two slices, they have a daily slice special I’ll be going back for every chance I get (like Tuesday, when I went there for an interview with Channel 4’s Galen Culver!): two slices and a fountain drink for $5.25.

In the final analysis, all three of us love Papa Angelo’s, and the Yukon Crissingers have found its new go-to pizzeria for family gatherings. If there is a better pizza in Oklahoma City’s west metro I’d be very surprised, and would love love love to hear about it. 

The Jones Assembly

901 W. Sheridan Ave.

Oklahoma City

(405) 212-2378

TheJonesAssembly.com

-- Closed Mondays -- 

Had some pizza at The Jones Assembly the other day…and discovered something very important for pizza lovers in OKC: 'Roni Cups! Here’s the pepperoni situation:

'Roni cups (a.k.a. cup & char pepperoni or cup pepperoni) are a special variety of pepperoni taking the pizza world by storm. These little lovelies curl up into a cup while cooking, allowing the edges to get that crispy char while the grease congregates into luscious pools in the middle. Yeah, they’re basically the best pizza topping in the civilized world, no big deal. 

Many of the best pizzerias on both coasts are flaunting their amped-up 'roni game, particularly in the northeast, but in Oklahoma 'roni cups are still as rare as a unicorn. Two places have them (so far that I’m aware of): The Jones, and the mighty Hideaway Pizza chain. I’m on the hunt for more, of course, and rest assured when I find them, I’ll tell you all about it.

There is much to love about the pizza at The Jones, a concept by The Social Order Dining Collective, who also brought you Fuzzy’s Taco Shop, Texadelphia, Seven47, and Spark, opening this fall in Scissortail Park. Not exactly sure who is responsible the Neapolitan-style pizza at The Jones, but it screams “chef in the kitchen!” According to their website they have a Head Baker on staff. Mr. John Conway, take a bow, kind sir. I’m blaming you for this awesome pizza. 

The crust at The Jones is super fresh and light, thin, but with substantial bones for dipping, and that burnt-on-the-bubbles finish I know you desire. I’d say the crust is the star here for sure if not for the presence of those magical 'roni cups. The sauce is nice too, bright and lightly seasoned, allowing the full flavor of the tomatoes and fresh mozzarella to shine through.

All pizza options are 10-inch (enough for one or two reasonable adults), ranging in price from $10 to $16. A pepperoni pizza fresh from their custom wood-fired oven is $12. On my next visit I’m going all in on the Hot Rod: habanero pork sausage, pepperoni, mozzarella, caramelized onions, fresno chilies, jalapeno, spicy chicharrones, hot honey ($16). 

The beer/wine/cocktail list is pretty stellar too. The best local brews are well represented on the lengthy liquor list, with a rotating tap dedicated to Prairie Artisan Ales seasonals. Classic cocktails artfully push the creative limits with unique, sometimes strange sounding ingredient combinations. Case in point, their “Pho the Nguyen” [Fuh-the-win] cocktail: lemongrass infused gordon’s gin, housemade pho broth, cinnamon syrup, and lemon juice sounds like it could either be awesome, or awful. Either way, I’m still looking forward to ordering it.    

The Jones is huge, physically, with enough indoor and outdoor space to comfortably house all your friends, past, present and future, a great multi-use space perfect for concerts, parties and events. Attention to detail is obvious everywhere you look, particularly in the upstairs bar, The T Room, where you’ll find stacks on stacks on stacks of vinyl records. Even the bathrooms are cleverly adorned with city themes.

The Jones is an awesome live music venue, which shouldn’t be surprising to locals considering singer-songwriter Graham Colton (whose music has been featured on the Netflix series “Pretty Little Liars”) is a partner at The Jones. Past shows at the venue have included: Willie Nelson, Pixies, and Dwight Yoakam. 

Great pizza and great live music? Yes ma’am, please and thank you.

Stone Sisters Pizza Bar

2124 N. Broadway Ave.

Oklahoma City

(405) 609-6599

stonesisterspizza.com

-- Closed Sundays and Mondays --

If you’re like me, you’ve probably heard about Stone Sisters Pizza Bar but still haven’t checked it out because you’ve been told it’s “healthy” pizza (insert cauliflower crust joke here), and why in the world would you waste precious pizza time and pizza dollars on something so unlikely to be awesome?

Wrong! I was wrong, so wrong. Stone Sisters Pizza Bar IS awesome.

Here’s the pepperoni situation: Stone Sisters is a chef-driven pizza concept that offers a selection of mouthwatering cheeses, sauces and meats capable of wooing this greasy pizza-loving pepperoni heathen, and a traditional white flour crust that could be among the best kept secrets in Oklahoma City’s rapidly expanding pizza game.

Lennon, a self-described “Flexitarian” (shout out @lennonpatton) invited me to a working lunch at Stone Sisters. I agreed and peeped their website to plan my attack. Not gonna lie, the moment I read the “game-changing healthy pizza” tagline I felt a mild fight-or-flight panic and had to resist the urge to suggest an alternate location. Viva la resistance!

The day came and I sat parked in front of Stone Sisters (just south of Byron’s on Broadway). The building exterior is a little intimidating, like an old-school government building, with a storefront dominated by box block windows that effectively block your ability to see what’s going on inside. But then I opened my car door and “Hold Me Now” by the Thompson Twins filled the air from speakers on the exterior awning. This gave me pause, a chuckle, and the first touch of hope! I walked inside.

To my left: the pizza bar, a frozen food section chock full of take-n-bake pizzas and pizza-making supplies that may or may not have landed on the Wicked Witch of the East. To my right: a line-up of local brews, and a pepperoni pizza inflatable raft hangs from the ceiling next to an impressive Baker’s Pride deck oven stack. The 80s tunes are playing inside too. One of the actual Stone Sisters greets me from behind the counter, starts walking me through the menu, and offers me a cracker as a sample of their sprouted spelt crust. Feeling a little braver and more adventurous, and surprised by the tastiness of the spelt cracker, I forgo the traditional white flour crust and order the lunch special with a pepperoni pizza on the spelt crust.

We’re led up a short flight of stairs to the dining area where I’m again surprised, this time by the décor. Quirky, bright, colorful, pop-art depictions of Elvis, Jimi Hendrix, and David Bowie, and my favorite thing: a super weird tabletop that looks like a pepperoni pizza with real people’s faces photoshopped into the pepperonis. Someday I hope to have my face on a pepperoni table too.

I ordered the lunch special: an 8” pepperoni pizza on spelt with smoked Lovera’s mozzarella, classic red sauce, grass-fed pepperoni (and chopped pepperoni ends for extra pepp, ahhh yeahhh), a small side salad with fresh mixed greens and a plate-licking-good honey-thyme vinaigrette, and a pineapple cream soda fountain drink for $9.99.

No exaggeration, this could be the best thin crust pizza I’ve ever tried. The sprouted spelt crust bakes so thin you’d think it couldn’t possibly hold a pizza, but it has the muscle to carry some solid pepperoni and cheese action without getting that soggy center that plagues many wood fired and Neopolitan-style pizzas, forcing the dreaded fold-and-flip pizza eating move.  

The spelt crust adds a nuance to the flavor I really loved, balancing nicely with the fresh sauce, smoky mozz, and pepperoni so tasty, so joyful, you’ll want to pick them off the pizza, gaze lovingly upon their glory, and enjoy them so slowly, one…by…one. Is it getting hot in here? Just me?

Pizza-happy and fully satisfied, I headed for the door to grab a few take-n-bakes from the pizza bar and grabbed a loyalty card too, because there is no doubt I’ll return to Stone Sisters many, many times.

See you there!

Empire Slice House

1804 NW 16th St.

Oklahoma City

405-557-1760

empireslicehouse.com

When I began this quest to eat all the pepperoni pizza in Oklahoma, I decided not to review Empire Slice House. I had my reasons, namely:

1.     It’s already among the most popular pizzerias in the state

2.     I might be too close to this place to stay objective

But here’s the pepperoni situation: Empire Slice House must be part of any legitimate discussion about pizza in Oklahoma. The day Empire opened its doors in Oklahoma City’s 16th Street Plaza District in 2014 the bar was raised for what an Oklahoma pizzeria could and should be, and I believe its success has already resulted in an elevated pizza game in the Sooner state.

Even before it was named the 2018 Independent Pizzeria of the Year by Pizza Today magazine – a mind-blowing feat of badassery – Empire was playing a vital placemaking role in the district’s revival.

The genius of this place is in the details. They just get everything right, and by “they” I mean Rachel Cope and the talented team at 84 Hospitality Group who also brought you Goro Ramen, Revolucion, Ponyboy, the Burger Punk food truck, and soon the highly-anticipated opening of Gun in The Paseo Arts District.

Rachel Cope discusses Empire on the "This Is Oklahoma" podcast

Among my favorite details are the Bakers Pride deck ovens that dominate the open kitchen space. I won’t get too deep in the geeky weeds here, but when you see a Bakers Pride oven in the kitchen be comforted, you’re probably in for a quality pizza experience.

Music is another detail they clearly didn’t leave to chance or (gasp) Pandora. It’s eclectic and cool, with a 90s hip-hop edge, appropriate for all ages, with good sound quality and played at a volume that doesn’t impede comfortable conversation. Fiercely opinionated local musician/rock critic David “Dr. Pants” Broyles was enjoying lunch with his 4-year-old son, Hollis, when we arrived (wife/mother/musician KC Clifford wasn’t with them. She was missed). To me that’s all the endorsement necessary. Sub-par tunes? Dr. Pants don’t play dat.

Listen to Dr. Pants on Spotify

Empire also has fantastic customer service, great public art, Ellie the Stolen (my name for their iconic pink elephant mascot), a killer patio, excellent craft beer list, and an inclusive, positive, family-friendly environment. They do it all so consistently, and make it look Eazy like E.

As the name implies, Empire Slice House is a New York-style pizzeria. Inspired by Home Slice Pizza in Austin, Empire specializes in pizza-by-the-slice and offer a rotating slice list that often includes experimental pies like the Orville Deadenbacher (garlic sauce, mozzarella, ricotta, caramelized onions, banana peppers, bacon, popcorn, chives, butter) before they’re promoted to the full menu among instant classics like the Fungus Among Us, Brussell Westbrook, and Figgy Stardust.

Individual slices are $3.75, and they have a $9 lunch special Monday through Friday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. that includes a slice, half-salad, and a drink. The slices are large and lightly sauced, with a generous but not overwhelming amount of cheese and toppings.  

My typical lunch order is a slice of pepperoni and a slice of MCA (a white pie with marinated mozzarella, ricotta, and asiago) when it’s on the slice list, with a local COOP F5 IPA and a side of pink sauce for an additional 25-cents.

Important Note: the pink sauce is not just ranch and sriracha as I frequently hear people proclaim. There are two additional ingredients in the recipe, according to a reputable source, and one of them is dill. What’s the final ingredient? I’ll never tell. Discuss.

You can also order a whole pizza from their specialty pie list or make it a 50/50 with two of your favorites. A 20” pepperoni pizza is $21 and feeds 4-5 reasonably hungry adults (8 large slices). Another Crissinger favorite is the Notorious P.I.G. (pepperoni, house Italian sausage, bacon, capicola, Canadian bacon - $26), and Ghostface Killah (ghost chili marinara, pepperoni, poblano, BBQ chips - $24) will occasionally demand a late-night pizza run.

Let’s talk about crust. As you may know, New Yorkers are proud of their pizza – and rightfully so – and can be almost comedically particular about what exactly a slice should be. I don’t try to pretend I’m an expert on New York-style pizza, so I phoned a friend in the area to ask for his top three deal-breaker attributes of a proper slice. Less than a minute later I received this Top 10 list from Reclaim New York Communications Director Jadan Horyn (thanks bro!).

A proper New York-style slice must be:

1. Foldable

2. Proper sauce

3. Cheese that stretches

4. Oily

5. Large slice

6. Not too sweet

7. Crust must be chewy (like how bagels are chewy)

8. Reheatable

9. Good cold

10. FOLDABLE

I think Mr. Horyn would approve of this pizza; he might even love it, although I’m sure he’d never admit to that, I mean, they might not let him back into the Empire state!

Empire Slice House is an important Oklahoma pizza powerhouse. If it’s not already on your go-to list, it should be.

#livefreepiehard #thepepperonisituation

P.S. mark your calendar for the 20th Annual Plaza District Festival, Saturday, Sept. 29 from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Artist/Performer/Food Truck applications will be accepted June 1-July 15. Visit www.plazadistrict.org/festival for more information.

The Heat

1319 S. Broadway Ave.

Edmond

(405) 715-1818

theheatpizza.com

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 (rob@thepepperonisituation.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.

Edmond

(405) 340-7070

josfamouspizza.com

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.

Pizzeria Gusto

2415 N. Walker Ave.

Oklahoma City

(405) 437-4992

www.pizzeria-gusto.com

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.

Mic drop.

Italian Express

119 W Main St., #101, OKC

(405) 602-3181

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
Italian Express owner Hassan Daneshmand

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

(405) 608-4933

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.

About the Author

Rob Crissinger is the current, undisputed heavyweight pepperoni pizza champion of the…place. Mild-mannered PR guy by day, pizza-seeking hungry person by night, also weekends, and holidays.

How much do you love pepperoni? Email rob@thepepperonisituation.com and let me know the situation.

#thepepperonisituation

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