I've come to find since starting to publicly write about food several years ago that I have to be careful with the words I choose so as to walk the fine line between my own personal truth and respectfulness for the food or organization producing said food. I always love finding these geographic pockets of food tradition as these are the very thing that help us to identify ourselves as northeast Ohioans. Today's trip out to Howland, Ohio (just east of Warren) would be to sample yet another version of the Brier Hill Pizza which I first started writing about back in October 2009. Having tried the versions at Sunrise Inn, Avalaon Gardens, and most recently Capiranos, today's excursion was based on reader feedback stating that Ianazone's Homemade Pizza had, hands down, the BEST Brier Hill Pizza around. The gauntlet had been thrown down and I had no choice but to accept this culinary challenge.
The following lazy Sunday morning, I decided to make the seventy-five minute trek out to Howland to check them out for myself. Not wanting to show up to a closed restaurant, I first consulted Ianazone's website as well as the Yahoo Maps listing for this location. Oddly, the first link seemed to be the correct one, but the link associated with the Yahoo Maps listing seemed like a suitable match except that it simply went to a page stating that the domain was for sale. Perhaps it would behoove Ianazone Corporate to fix this discrepancy. The Howland location was situated at 8050 East Market Street, Howland, OH 44484 and could be reached at 330-856-9263.
The Sunday hours were listed as being from 11 AM until 9 PM (Editor's Note: See the end of the review for the actual hours). Since it was already 10 AM in Akron, I decided to head out the door in order to beat the post-Church service rush. Gentle reader, a bit of advice from me to you: if you are going to travel more than thirty minutes to a restaurant, even if the website says that they will be open, call the restaurant to verify.
I pulled into the parking lot of the pizza shop at roughly 11:35 AM, well past the opening time stated on the website. Here was a shot of the front entrance to Ianazone's:
As I walked up to the front door of the tiny shop, the lights were on, there were three people working in the back of the open kitchen and funnily enough, the front door was unlocked. I entered the building and one of the employees approached me somewhat cautiously and asked if he could help me. Normally, the first question out of most pizza shops was to inquire about the phone number associated with the order. I responded by saying that I'd like to order a pizza. The young man helpfully indicated that the pizza dough wouldn't be ready for another half hour to forty-five minutes. Since there was a lone table in the front of the store, I asked if I could simply wait there until the order was ready and he agreed.
Which, I happily did. As I sat there playing with my smartphone, I realized that after about twenty-five minutes without the Ianazone's phone ringing even once, I finally began to make the connection. I hadn't bothered to check the hours listed on the front window since the door had been unlocked. I now peered at the reflection of the sign in the front window and realized that the reason the dough wasn't ready and there weren't any phone calls was because they didn't open until 1 PM. Whoops! The good news, I suppose, was that because I was left to sit up front without the need for supervision, I was able to take a snapshot of the wall menu:
When the young man returned to the front of the pizza shop at around 12:10 PM to let me know that the pizza dough was ready to use and he'd have my order ready in about ten minutes, I copped to my obvious mistake of showing up early, indicating that I had been misinformed of their Sunday hours because of their website. That's when he pointed to one of the myriad of signs indicating that they were under new management and the Ianazone's website wasn't really applicable to them anymore. Fair enough, I suppose, but could you at least update your profiles under Yahoo and Google maps to make sure that correct store information is present? Incidentally, I will list the store hours at the end of this review in case you decide to go to this particular Ianazone's yourself.
Interestingly, around the same time my order came up, around 12:20 PM, a car pulled into the parking lot and a man entered the store to pick up an order of his own. Ummm, I thought the store opened at 1 PM? Weird. Then again, I had pizza freshly out of the oven and a table at which to sit, so I put that thought behind me and quickly turned to my lunch.
Here was a shot of the Ianazone's pizza box:
I lifted the lid to reveal a thick crust pizza topped with red sauce, green and red bell peppers, and sprinkled with Romano cheese:
Steam rose from the pizza, an excellent indication of its freshness. I had ordered a small, which was a 12" pie cut into eight slices. As I lifted the first slice out of the box, I noticed that the crust was moderately stiff and held the toppings well. It was nowhere near as stiff as the version at Sunrise Inn. The other thing I noticed, especially after biting into my slice was that similar to the Sunrise Inn, atop this stiff crust was a soft doughy layer. While Sunrise Inn's doughy layer was cooked all the way through, I can't say the same thing for Ianazone's version. While it wasn't completely raw, it had just a bit of unpleasant chewiness to it.
The toppings definitely qualified this as a Brier Hill pizza. The acidity from the tomato sauce, the sweetness from the bell peppers and the sharpness from the Romano took me back to my three prior visits. The problem was that this particular pizza didn't seem to have a unique character to it. It's as if one of the national pizza chain companies, with all of their Research and Development money, came in and swooped up this regional specialty and decided to mass produce it to hundreds of millions of Americans. In the process of making it appeal to the masses, it lost that special quality that made it such a localized specialty. Don't get me wrong, the pizza wasn't bad, it just wasn't great.
After eating a few strategic pieces, I also attempted a side shot of a slice, to give you an idea of crust construction:
Since the dough being used for the Brier Hill pizza was likely the same dough that Ianazone's was using for all of their pies, if this type of crust isn't your thing, you most likely will not enjoy their other pizza offerings either. Personally, I could leave it, especially considering that if it took me seventy-five minutes to get to Ianazone's for so-so pizza, why not just drive the extra twenty minutes to Avalon Gardens to get GREAT Brier Hill pizza?
Knowing that I'd end up taking half the pizza home with me (which I did), I also decided to give Ianazone's chicken wings a try:
They had several flavors of wings listed on their menu and helpfully, you could get chopped garlic added to any of them. I ordered six traditional chicken wings for $3.00 and selected Hot Garlic as my flavor. The good news was that the chicken meat was incredibly tender and moist. The flavor of the sauce was good. The bad news was that the garlic really didn't do a whole lot (I suspect they were using pre-chopped garlic which has little flavor) and an even bigger transgression, the skin was pathetically pale and flabby. It was as if they had been baked in a really low oven so that the meat was done properly while avoiding any sense of crisp skin or coloration. In terms of heat level, the "Hot Garlic" registered in my mouth as slightly less than "Medium." If you enjoy spicy chicken wings, you'll have to kick the spice level up yourself when you get home.
Lunch today with a bottled water came to just over $13, which was a decent enough value since I got two meals out of it. Based on the pizza and chicken wings I did receive, however, should you be craving a good Brier Hill pizza or better chicken wings, I would say skip Ianazone's and look elsewhere. It wasn't bad, but neither was it memorable. Should this restaurant be a ten minute drive from your house, I would say check them out if you care to, but a drive to one of the better versions of this local cuisine is much more worth your time and money.
The hours for this Ianazone's location are:
Sunday: 1 PM - 8:30 PM
Tuesday through Thursday: 11:30 AM - 9:00 PM
Friday and Saturday: 11:30 AM - 10:30 PM