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OUT to LUNCH: Offbeat toppings fit the bill at Oak Ridge’s Pizza Inn

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By Bethel Poston

Readers may remember that I head up the Oak Ridge High School reunion committee for the classes of 1954-56. It’s time to begin planning for our reunion event on June 12 during the Secret City Festival.

Jan Harlan, our treasurer, lived two houses from mine when we were in grade school. She recommended we have our lunch meeting at the Pizza Inn, 2501 Oak Ridge Turnpike, across from the new Kroger construction site.

Old timers will remember the site on the corner where Lizz’s Market used to be, and Lizz’s Liquor Store is now next door.

“There’s a real bargain for seniors (all of our committee qualifies) for the lunch buffet on Monday, including drinks,” she said.

I thought she had made a mistake when she told me the unbelievable low price.

Although my last “Out to Lunch” article was about a lunch buffet, this was too good to pass up. I arranged for our meeting in one of their two glass divided meeting areas.

Scott Coker and brothers Weldie and V.J. Murray, all of Oliver Springs, opened Pizza Inn last August. Weldie’s wife, Carolyn, was directing the dining area the day of our visit.

When she told me the bacon-cheeseburger, and barbecue chicken pizzas are some of the more popular items, I thought that’s not the pizzas I’m familiar with.

“The barbecue chicken is my husband’s favorite,” she added.
Trying to go with the favorites, I first had a slice of barbecue chicken pizza. The menu describes it as “our own sweet and tangy BBQ sauce covers the New York crust with grilled chicken, onions, mozzarella and cheddar cheeses.”

My second slice was bacon-cheeseburger made with beef, bacon, onions and mustard topped with cheddar and mozzarella cheeses.

Classmate Marjorie Matthews and editor of our monthly classmates email newsletter, agrees with me: the barbecue chicken deserves being a favorite. I was pleasantly surprised.

You should know that my first stop was at the soup and salad bar. I passed on the potato soup, instead enjoying a cup of very tasty special recipe chili. Chili is served everyday, and other soups vary daily. Broccoli and cheese was mentioned as another favorite.

My wife, Carol, first went to the salad bar, sampling pasta and potato salads with the standard greens, tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, eggs, cheese and more.

“We buy fresh whole carrots, peel them and then shred them daily; plus similar prep on other vegetables on the salad bar,” Carolyn told us.

Carol started out with a slice of supreme pizza of pepperoni, pork sausage, beef, mushrooms, red onions, olives and green peppers.
Jan mentioned she had ordered a just-cooked Veggie Max pizza for our group. Carol just had to try a slice, as did Jan, classmates Betty Stokes, Kathy Moore, Mimi Brock and Barbara Brady.

“I want another slice, but I’ve already been tempted by the desserts,” Carol said.

They added it to their favorite list.

The Veggie Max, the menu says, is made with a “special selection of garden-fresh toppings, including savory onions, green olives, black olives, fresh green bell peppers, diced tomatoes and mushrooms then topped with cheddar and mozzarella cheese.”

Carol didn’t realize we had both passed over the pasta bar with spaghetti and other pasta, meat and marinara sauces.

Tonya Hargis, day co-manager, is from Wartburg. She said the Inn has 222 chairs, and the meeting room we were using could handle 50 or more people.

Classmates Dan Tuxbury, Benny Houser and wife, Jean, also included a slice of the supreme pizza on their plates.

I also saw slices of pepperoni pizza and a salad on classmate Don Cobb’s plate.

Committee member, Nathan Stonecipher grew up in Oliver Springs and married Oak Ridger Ellis Mae Darby, who couldn’t attend our meeting. He had a ham, pineapple and cheese pizza.

“I tried to sample everything and almost succeeded,” classmate Kendall Brady said. “It’s all good, and service was excellent.”

The menu at www.pizzainn.com says, “Made your way! The foundation of any great pizza is the crust. Whether you’re craving our crispy, crunchy original thin, chewy Italian or New York pan. It starts with our special recipe dough, made from scratch daily, rolled by hand and baked to golden brown perfection.”

“The pizzas are hot and fast, with a large variety,” Bennett Weatherford told me. Full plates were in front of him, his wife, Sandy, and son Erik.

“We eat here often,” Bennett added.

The family has operated Weatherford Mortuary in Oak Ridge since 1966.

On one of several trips to the buffet I bumped into Carolyn Tilley from Kingston. She is a former teacher at Roane County High School and a former Poston Furniture customer.

She was having lunch with her friend Judy Murray of Oliver Springs (no relation to Pizza Inn owners). Judy was also one of my former furniture customers.

“I was impressed with my first visit here and wanted to come again,” Carolyn said.

“I’ve eaten here several times,” Judy added.

Another popular pizza is the chicken fajita. The menus says it’s “a mouth-watering spicy picante sauce, grilled fajita chicken, green peppers, black olives, a blend of mozzarella and cheddar cheese, served on our crispy thin crust. Ole!”

The taco pizza is very similar with Taco meat, a blend of cheeses, lettuce and diced tomatoes.

Our personable and efficient server was Denise Butler from Lake City. When she started talking about chocolate-chip, pineapple-upside-down, chocolate-pudding, strawberry and cinnamon pizzas, I was amazed.
Willing to at least try something different for dessert, I went back to the buffet for pineapple-upside-down, chocolate-chip and cinnamon pizza for Carol and me to sample.

Carol said I didn’t get enough cinnamon pizza. I thought she would like the pineapple best. We cleaned the plate, then had more cinnamon slices, as did Dan.

Lloyd Stokes and Mimi Brock had the strawberry pizza.

Jan had Denise bring our group a chocolate-pudding pizza. Marjorie and Barbara White were among those who raved about how good it was.

Then came a plate of small bite-size cinnamon rolls. A second plate had to be ordered.

The menu also includes zesty wings and hearty pasta, in addition to individual, medium, large and giant pizzas for carry out or pick-up.

It’s recommended that you call ahead for drive-in orders, 865-482-JoJo (5656).

Pizza Inn is open from 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday to Thursday; and from 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Sandwiches are listed on the website menu, but they are not available in Oak Ridge at this time.

As we were leaving, we saw Kingston friends, James and Mae Grasham.
“We’ve been here several times, and they have one of the freshest salad bars around, plus the pizza is outstanding,” James told us.

Our idea of a pizza was pork sausage or pepperoni, maybe with mushrooms. Although reluctantly, we previously ordered and enjoyed a sausage pizza topped with sauerkraut.

I’m amazed about how much we enjoyed our “Out to Lunch” adventure at the Pizza Inn in Oak Ridge.

Before this visit you would have had a hard time convincing me that I would like any of the pizzas we highly enjoyed.

Our committee scheduled another Pizza Inn lunch meeting for April. It’s hard to pass on a bargain like this.
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Bethel Poston is a Roane County businessman and entrepreneur who writes about places of interest in our area. E-mail suggestions and comments to postonplace@bellsouth.net.