Monday, October 5, 2009

Brier Hill Pizza at the Sunrise Inn

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.

Sunrise Inn on Urbanspoon  Sunrise Inn on Restaurantica


Kathy said...

I love Wedding Soup but I have a real problem when it's not made properly and to me properly means escarole, not spinach. I don't know what to make of the addition of eggs, since I've never had it that way. The worst one ever was for a rehearsal dinner I went to at ... shoot, some horrid Italian chain restaurant that doesn't exist anymore. I can't remember the name. Anyway, I ordered Italian Wedding Soup and what I got was chicken noodle soup with a meatball tossed in.

Not sure what to make of the pizza. It looks like that old Chef Boyardee pizza kit they used to sell in grocery stores LOL

Lucy said...

WOW - nice description - the next best thing to being there!

I will be pondering that sauce all day now....

The pizza sounds wonderful!


Tino said...

@Kathy: The pizza was definitely unique. Stay tuned because I have another entry coming out this week that allows me to make peace with the pizza at the Sunrise Inn.

@Lucy: Thanks so much for the compliment! Knowing that something I wrote will make you ponder sauce all day is not a small accomplishment.

DianeS said...

This pizza looks like the "tomato pies" of the east coast (Jersey/Philly area) and Utica/Buffalo/Rochester. It's dough with sauce and a sprinkling of parmesan or romano although not necessarily a tart or sour sauce. My Grandma's family is Sicilian and they make the same sauce pizza.

Tino said...

@DianeS: I have a funny feeling that this style of pie didn't necessarily originate in Youngstown. I've seen enough footage of east coast pies being made to know that the basic technique is the same. My guess is that the tartness/bitterness of the sauce is what sets them apart. Check back on Friday for a much better example of a Brier Hill style pie ... one worth traveling for.

elecpenciljim said...

I love Sunrise pizza but get it with mozzarella. Can't say I've notice acidy sauce. Try Avalon Gardens and Ferdnando's also for Briar Hill. Also on Friday's try the Briar Hill Pizza at St. Anthony's.

Tino said...

@elecpenciljim: I think what I perceived initially as acidic was probably closer to bitter. I don't think it was until my follow-up visit to Avalon Gardens that I began to develop a better vocabulary for describing what was making the sauce at both places so unique.

jon whaley said...

I grew up in Warren and to me, this is the best pizza in the WORLD! soooo good. I just got two pies to go the other day, now my kids are hooked too. Nice people, great food, old school ambience.

another italian said...

I grew up on this pizza and only get it when I travel back to the area to visit family. What really sets it apart is the crust. I have been in most of the states and have never had it anywhere else. Your description of the crust was very good. Next time try the Brier Hill pizza at Ianazone's which has a few locations in the area. They use both red and green peppers and the red give the sauce a slight sweetness. The unique flavor of the sauce combined with the crust is what makes the pizza great and ruins all others!

Tino said...

@another italian: Thanks for the tip on Ianazone's; I'm going to add it to my "To Eat" list. I noticed that there are several locations in the Warren area ... any particular one considered the best? Perhaps the original location?

Tino said...

E-mail comment from Dave:

Quite a great description of this pizza, and this is exactly how I used to order it when I lived there. All you have to say when ordering it is "a pepperoni pizza" and the size. The sauce really is acidic and will peel a layer of skin from the roof of your mouth and your stomach will remember it later. But this food is absolute pure Heaven in a white box! What is missing here is the smell. Before your first ever taste it is almost offensive. After just one slice, it becomes a scent that shames all others. If I had to order a last meal, this pizza and a beer would cap off my life. It's that good!

the muses said...

I was googling for fish frys and stumbled onto your page - which I had to look at because the words Brier Hill pizza hit me. I grew up in Brier Hill and if you want to know what the original Brier Hill Pizza tastes like you have to order one from the church ladies(probably men now too) at St. Anthony's. I attended school there and one could barely concentrate on a Friday with the aroma of the simple yet delicious pizzas baking. I don't live close enough now to have one every Friday or I would. I believe the school and church maybe closed now but I called today to make sure they still make pizza - and they do and by the time I called at noon they were sold out. If you haven't already been to the source of this discussion - this is a must.
St. Anthony, 1155 Turin Avenue, Youngstown, 330-746-9577

Tino said...

@the muses: Thank you very much for the background and information you provided. It sounds like the perfect thing for a Friday day trip out to Youngstown to try an original.

robolegal said...

I was drooling while reading this article and looking at the pictures. Sunrise Inn has the BEST pizza I have ever had. I travel 75 miles one way just to get this pizza. For Christmas, my sister got me two quarts of sauce and a dozen meatballs. It was the BEST Christmas gift I ever got! You HAVE to try this pizza!!!

Anonymous said...

Sunrise Inn is a great place to get great food at reasonable prices. No I don't work there. And I was probably 20ish before I knew that other areas used that tasteless gooey slime called mozzarella on pizza. Give me Romano any day!

Anonymous said...

The "egg" that you had in your wedding soup is actually an egg based crouton that is typical of wedding soup from that area. Also the bread they serve is a sour dough based bread, therefore the flavor is not what you were expecting in normal Italian bread.

Anonymous said...

Sunrise now has 3 locations. The original in warren, one in howland and one in austintown.

Sunrise pizza is a brier hill style pizza but the medium think and crispy crust, bold thick sauce, brand of Romano cheese and type of pepperoni sets it apart from other brier hill pizzas. It is an acquired taste for some but in my opinion, it is by far the best pizza anywhere.

Scott Wisor said...

I'm from the warren area and I grew up on sunrise as a treat, I love the fact that you have tried other versions of this areas clasic. I myself want to try (and I'm making a suggestion BTW) St. Anthony's church Brier hill. Look it up, their dates/hours are limited, but their history is rich. Also another staple of the warren area is the hot dog shoppe. I look forward to your thoughts. Thank you!

Denise W said...

Wow! I just saw this. I grew up in Warren and love Sunrise. In the early years it was just carry out and just what once called back then a beer joint. The pizza makers actually were in the window throwing the dough up in the air. We used to walk by to see them on our way home from St Mary's school sometimes even though it wasn't on our way home.
THis pizza is very common to the area as my mom made pizza once a week with the leftover dough from when she made bread. The crust was very similar and her sauce ( which she canned and just grabbed a jar from the basement) was pizza sauce with peppers. The cheese was always freshly grated pecorino Romano cheese. As a young kid we never ate pizza as a meal back then, it wa s a snack, and we never ate it with a fork either. It really wasn't until I was in HS that we started getting Sunrise pizzas.
Whenever I go back to Warren I pick one up for carry out. I lived there for 20 years and my parents had a house there until I was 60 so I was in Warren weekly but I have only ever eaten in the restaurant twice in my life. I have never had any other food from there except pizza!
Sunrise Pizza is to Warren is what Skyline chili is to Cincinnati. I love it but understand if you were raised on a different type of pizza that you might not like it.

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