Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The 52 - Big Ed's Pizza

No post last evening. Sorry, but I ran completely out of time. I went to visit Elle (pronounced “L-E”, not “L”) again at the hospital and take her a book, followed by dinner at home and couch time with Mrs. Guy. The blog loses that contest.

But regardless, I am here tonight to report on the second installation of “The 52”. I am proud to present the following report on a local classic – Big Ed’s Pizza. Here goes my second ever restaurant review.

Nestled deep into the original heart and soul of downtown Oak Ridge, Tennessee – AKA the Secret City – is the famous Big Ed’s Pizza, and it deserves every bit of fame that it has garnered over the years. Big Ed himself was a legend in these quarters, though he has been dead now for several years. Ed Neusel was a former Marine who decided to open a simple pizza place, but it turned out to be so much more than that. Big Ed decided early on to employ mostly high school students, many of whom came to consider him a second father – maybe even the only father figure for a few of them. The story goes that Big Ed even took in to his own home some of those of less fortunate situations.

Big Ed was also a firm believer in supporting the local community at large, and local school sports in particular, and was by all accounts a very charitable man. But he had the look of a man you wouldn’t want to anger. I remember going to Big Ed’s back while he was still around, and his presence at the end of the counter in the back of the joint was palpable. But enough of the history, let’s talk about today.

Mrs. Guy and I arrived at Big Ed’s at around 6:45 pm and grabbed a table (no such thing as a hostess to seat you). All of the tables are similar in decoration, with a red and white checkerboard plastic tablecloth and a napkin dispenser (with the table numbers prominently painted on the sides), and small menu cards next to that. We grabbed a table with six chairs (most of the tables have six chairs – this is not an intimate escape) beneath the large picture of Big Ed in half shadows (it seemed appropriate). Looking around the walls, you can’t help but be astounded by the sheer amount of memorabilia that Big Ed collected and has displayed in the cavernous dining room. Jeff showed up soon after, so we went ahead and ordered drinks (Coke and Diet Coke all around) and our pizzas. Gabe was running a bit late, but managed to show up right as the pizzas were delivered to the table.

Mrs. Guy and I shared our usual pizza choice, a medium (12 inch) with pepperoni and green peppers. Jeff had ordered a large, half with mushrooms, black olives and onions for Gabe, and the other half with mushrooms, pepperoni, and green olives (at least I think I remember that’s what they had). All of the pizzas come with thin crusts, and a pizza cutter never touches them before you get them – they use scissors for that, cutting them into eight even slices. There’s usually a little extra grease collected up on the pepperoni, but I find that the napkin dispenser provides sufficient instruments of relief for that. One word of warning, though; the pizza comes to the table very hot. I frequently burn the roof of my mouth on the first bite, even though I know what’s coming. It’s just a tradition for me.

We settled easily into conversation, sometimes even having sidebar conversations with people at other tables. Big Ed’s is a very friendly place, after all. I find that pizza goes down best with good conversation in a comfortable surrounding. All of us were pleased with the food, as evidenced by the complete and utter lack of even pieces of crust at meal’s end.

You can have better food than what’s at Big Ed’s. You can eat in nicer surroundings than Big Ed’s. You can get better service (though our service was good tonight) at other places. So why go to Big Ed’s? It’s hard to define, but Big Ed’s is just the right place to go. It’s all about Big Ed’s Pizza being exactly what Big Ed’s Pizza should be. I can’t say it much better than that.

A few points of interest about Big Ed’s:
- The Neusel family still runs the place. I noticed Big Ed’s son there working tonight. But you can still feel Big Ed’s presence (especially if you sit under his picture, I guess).
- Your pizza comes with paper plates and plastic forks. The plates are the very small size (maybe five inches in diameter?). The forks are practically useless. All part of the charm.
- Big Ed’s is almost always boisterous (except on Friday nights after a high school football game if the Oak Ridge Wildcats lost – then it’s still packed, but a bit more somber). Tonight there were at least four large groups with tables pulled together.
- If you want dessert after your meal, you can always stop at the convenience mart down the street for a candy bar. That’s as it should be.
- We went to Seattle back in April of 2000. Mrs. Guy and I went to the fountain next to the Key Arena. We saw a young man wearing a Big Ed’s Pizza T-shirt. Distance from Big Ed’s to the Key Arena fountain? According to Google Earth, its 2,095.57 miles as the crow flies. About 2,600 miles by car.
- Our only complaint is the lack of a ‘No Smoking’ section, but you just have to be willing to get over that.

1 comment:

Bob said...

No smoking now at Ed's - state law says so. Dessert is available now down in Jackson Plaza. There's an ice cream place there that's pretty good. Razzleberry's, I think is the name of the place. Ed's will always be top of my list for pizza. I'm biased, I guess. I've worn my Big Ed's shirt all over the world, and it's been recognized and started all sorts of great conversations.