I am always looking for new and unusual places to try. I rely a lot on word of mouth to discover new places to go, but sometimes I'll find a reference on the Internet that piques my interest enough to take the time to check it out, especially when it is a good forty-five minute drive away. Such is the case with the Sunrise Inn located in Warren, Ohio. I found a reference to the Sunrise Inn on Road Food. After looking at the photos on their website, I checked out user comments on Yahoo Maps for the same restaurant. Every place I went to pointed at one thing: their unique pizza and how you couldn't get it anywhere else. People actually made comments about how much they crave this pizza when they haven't had it in a while. Sufficiently intrigued, I decided to make a journey to this mecca of pizza goodness.
There are two locations for the Sunrise Inn, one in Warren and one in Niles, Ohio. The one in Warren is located at 510 East Market Street, Warren, OH 44483 and can be reached at (330) 392-5176. There is no website at this time. Now, I thought I had done all my homework in making sure I knew how to get there, but Google Maps lied. I chose to take I-76 west until I got to Rt. 45. Once on Route 45, go north until you hit Market Street and make a right. At the very next intersection, it isn't apparent from the street signs, but Market Street veers off to the left. Alternatively, continue going straight until you hit Elm Street and make a left. The very next intersection will be the location of the restaurant. There is ample free parking both behind the restaurant and across the street from it. Here is a picture of the restaurant from the parking lot across the street:
And a picture of the intersection where the restaurant is located:
The restaurant actually comprises three of the "stores" in the building and you actually walk in the door farthest to the left. The stores hours listed on the door are the giveaway that this is the correct door. I got there around 12:45 or so today, so seating wasn't an issue. After being seated, I started looking over the vast menu. Now I won't say the menu is unfocused, even though it is very large, as the Sunrise Inn focuses mainly on homemade soups, sandwiches, and lots of Italian specialties.
I noted on the menu that all of their pizzas take between 30-45 minutes to make. This was fine with me as I had come specifically for this experience. I decided to order the "Old World" pizza with pepperoni. Knowing it would be a while before I got my pizza, I also decided to give a bowl of the homemade wedding soup a try. After placing my order, my server brought out some fresh bread. Here is a shot of the bread basket:
These were nice thick slices of a homemade Italian loaf. The crumb was dense and had just the slightest smell of a pre-ferment in them. Unfortunately, I don't believe the baker used enough salt in the bread because it had sort of a flat flavor to it. Dunked in the soup, however, the bread became more of a vessel to move the soup to my mouth and the lack of salt wasn't an issue.
My wedding soup came out shortly after my bread arrived:
This was a very good soup. It was nicely seasoned and all of the vegetables and pasta were very tender and delicious. Hidden underneath the surface were the standard mini-meatballs as well as something I've never had in a wedding soup before, eggs!
I've had eggs stirred into soups before (e.g. egg drop soup) and know how that looks and tastes. But the cook at the Sunrise Inn actually cooked these eggs first in a pan or on the flattop and only after they had cooked and taken on some color were these sliced up and added to the soup. The eggs were completely tender and had absorbed much of the flavor of the broth.
It took another fifteen minutes after I finished my soup for my pizza to come out. A large consists of eight slices and looks like this:
Let's talk about this pizza for a moment because what I didn't realize in doing my initial research into the Sunrise Inn was that I was tapping into a tradition that started in Youngstown. This pizza is done in the style of the old Brier Hill Italian restaurants once popular in Youngstown. According to this Wikipedia page, Youngstown used to have a very popular Little Italy located on and around Brier Hill that specialized in this very unique form of pizza. Made with a thick layer of sauce and topped with grated Romano cheese instead of Mozzarella, every pizza comes with green peppers as a topping regardless of what additional toppings you order. It seems that the tradition is alive and well at the Sunrise because that is exactly what I received.
Here is a shot of a single slice on my plate:
And a shot of the pizza from the side showing the layers from crust to topping:
Everything here is made from scratch with the exception of the pepperoni. The pepperoni are actually sliced about twice as thick as normal pepperoni and add a nice salty, spicy kick to the flavor. The dough is very interesting because it isn't limp at all. You can pick up an entire slice without having to worry about it folding over and all of the toppings sliding off. Just above the crispy layer is a nice soft doughy one. So you really do get two dough textures in each bite.
The sauce ... this is where the Brier Hill tradition really comes through. You get a nice thick layer of sauce. I do prefer my pizzas more saucy than less, but you really have to love sauce in order to fully enjoy this version. The sauce is intensely tomato-y and thick. And here is where another uniqueness comes in: acidic. I don't know how they got the sauce to be so acidic, but you notice it from the moment you put it into your mouth. I imagine that they need to make this sauce from canned tomatoes so that they can get a consistent sauce, but I have never come across canned tomatoes that lent this level of acidity to the final sauce, even without the pinch or so of sugar for which most sauce recipes call.
I don't know that I want to say that the sauce was bad because I don't have any other frame of reference for this style of pizza. Maybe the level of acidity in the sauce is completely in-line with other Brier Hill style eateries. However, if this is the pizza you grew up with, I can completely understand how you crave this and this alone. Heck, I would think pizza sauce from any other restaurant would just appear to be flat and boring. I think I need to make a second road trip out east to Youngstown and track down one of these other eateries and do some comparison eating before delivering a final verdict. If I were judging this sauce solely based on what I tasted today, I would say that the acidity needs to be toned down quite a bit.
After finishing my filling bowl of wedding soup, I only managed to consume two of the eight slices of the pizza. The rest came home in a box with me for later:
Even if you end up trying the pizza and don't care for it, there are many other homemade items available for your pleasure. Did I discover a unique taste today at the Sunrise Inn? Absolutely. And I think if you were ever looking for a nice day trip in northeast Ohio, this would certainly qualify as an interesting place to go. For those who love sports memorabilia, the walls are filled with actual photographs and memories from eras long gone by. For those who are there for the food, there are plenty of great options from which to choose.