In my quest to reconnect with my formative years while living in Stow, Ohio, I decided to stop in at another eatery I remember quite fondly, Pony Express Pizza. Located in the exact same plaza as Stownut Donut, it was in the exact same location it has been in since 1978 when it first opened. For some reason, I had thought that this restaurant was a chain, but I quickly discovered that this was the one and only location that has persisted for more than thirty years. Not only that, but they seemed to be under the exact same management and ownership today that they were in 1978. Another Stow pizza joint, Angelina's, had changed hands several times before I reviewed them here on the blog and sadly, closed shortly afterwards. I was a little apprehensive as I didn't want the same fate to befall another childhood memory. [Ed. Note: Angelina's appears to have reopened. I don't know if it is under new ownership/management or previous, but the sign above the shop has remained the same.]
Pony Express Pizza was located at 3031 Graham Road, Stow, Ohio 44224 and can be reached at 330-673-9410. Their website can be located here. Note that they are only open for lunch on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
I pulled into the parking lot and took a photo of the storefront:
I remember from my previous visit so many decades ago that they always had fried chicken and pizza. Chicken wings, however, that ubiquitous export from Buffalo, New York, now have a presence on the menu as well.
Once inside, there were two wall menus detailing the restaurants offerings:
In fact, there were items listed on the printed menu at the ordering window that weren't even on the wall menu, such as the gyro wraps. Even with all of this choice, I knew I was here for one thing: Pizza. After sizing up the size of the various pizza boxes, I ordered a medium pepperoni pizza. A medium pizza consisted of eight slices and with my one topping came to $9.75. While I waited for my pizza to be made, I looked around the small entrance way that comprised the rest of the restaurant. There was a single booth for those who wanted to eat their meal in the pizza shop, but I don't think many people ordered food from here with the intention of eating it inside the restaurant.
Hanging on one wall was a plaque with a newspaper article detailing their twenty-first year in operation:
It talked about the owners and both of their Italian mothers and how the combination of one's tomato sauce recipe with the other's dough recipe became the perfect marriage for Pony Express's pizza creations. Along a different wall were plaque after plaque of little league baseball teams that Pony Express had sponsored over roughly the last ten years. Between that and watching the goings-on in the kitchen, it was only about fifteen minutes until my freshly baked pie was boxed up and ready to go.
Unfortunately in those fifteen minutes, I saw more than I wanted to see. Two separate employees, working on two separate orders, handled money or touched a phone or cash register and then went and began prepping food without first either washing their hands or donning protective gloves. I'm not saying that all food-prep employees need to wear gloves. I certainly didn't when I worked in the bakery department at Mustard Seed Market. Then again, I washed my hands several times through the shift and made it a point not to touch my face or anything that might contaminate my hands. That there were two separate incidents in just fifteen minutes where raw food was being handled by potentially contaminated hands? This was a pretty serious violation in my book.
Still a little shocked by what I had witnessed, I grabbed my pie, a copy of their printed menu, and returned to my car to take a few more photos. Here was a picture of the pizza box:
And a shot of the pizza inside:
Just by noticing the slightly charred bits on the crust, I was anticipating a tasty slice of pizza. Here was a close-up of a single slice:
Now to the most important part, the taste. I decided to take the risk and try the pizza in spite of what I had seen inside the store. As I suspected, the crust was quite nice. It didn't really have the nice chew that an aged or cold-fermented dough would've given it, but the slight char added a lot of character to the flavor. The sauce had a brightness to it and tasted of fresh fall ripe tomatoes, even though I'm sure that the sauce was made from canned tomatoes (which, to be fair, are canned at the peak of ripeness). The combination of Romano and Provolone cheese on top gave the pizza a nice amount of cheese flavor, but it didn't overpower the rest of the ingredients. Overall, it was a nice slice of pizza. It was certainly better than most chain pizza available around here in northeast Ohio. It seems sad that based on what I saw, I know that personally I am less inclined to come back here for another pizza just for personal consumption.
I intend to return some time soon on a random day to see if publishing this review on a global forum like the Internet has any effect on the sanitation practices of the employees at Pony Express. If so, I will happily update this entry or even write a new one with any additional information I gather. I am certainly in no position to tell you to avoid Pony Express Pizza because of what I observed. I didn't get sick from what I ate and I suspect no one else did that picked up an order on the day that I went. The decision on whether or not to order food from them is up to you, gentle reader; my role was simply to report what I saw and what I tasted.