Cleveland Pizza Week and the Places it Takes You
by Max Miller
Every day of Freshman year of high school, my friends and I would head over to the dollar pizza place on 42nd St in Manhattan. We would get the deal they had for $2.75 - two oily, cheesy slices and a canned soda (Dr. Pepper for moi). We never missed a day, despite clear signs to not go back. One time, another pizza customer inexplicably punched me in the stomach and walked away. We went back the next afternoon. It was an affordable, tasty option for the group. We were loyal until we inevitably decided to switch our patronage to the local deli upon realizing our consistency was detrimental to our health (so many breakouts!). Now, I look back on dollar pizza and miss it in a twisted sort of way. There is not much in this world I love more than inexpensive pizza. So, when I found the Facebook posting for Cleveland Pizza Week, where participating locations sold full pizzas for $8 a piece, I was ecstatic. I recruited some equally pizza-loving friends to come adventuring with me and started planning with a particularly enthusiastic friend and opinions writer for an unnamed inferior rival paper Neva Tayler. We began to pick the pizzas we found to be the most outlandish and started to plan our route.
At around 4:45 on Thursday evening, six of us piled into Neva’s truck and set out for Avon in hopes of getting our hands on a personal-size Pierogi Pizza.
After about 30 minutes of driving, we pulled into a small, dark green strip mall. The light was just starting to fade as we parked and made our way into Old School Pizza and Wings, where we were quickly seated at a back table with a plaid tablecloth next to a wall-size mirror. This was our first time sheepishly telling the waiter that we were, in fact, not seated for a full meal but instead, getting one $8 pizza to split among six people. As we waited for the pie, we looked around. It felt like a place that grandparents would take their grandkids, tacky in a cute sort of way. There was a big clock to our left and several old couples on dates surrounding us. It was sweet, wholesome, and classically pizza place-y. Eventually, the pizza came, and we dug in.
It was a transcendent experience. It was truly shocking; I mean no disrespect to Old School Pizza and Wings, but my expectations were not exactly high for an Avon-born pizza made to replicate the taste of potato pierogi. But they saw right through my silly New Yorker preconceptions and absolutely delivered. Somehow, the pizza tasted exactly like pierogi, both texturally and flavor-wise. We all agreed it would be hard to top as we continued on our journey.
Next, we drove alongside Lake Erie to Eat Me! for the “Tree Lovers Pizza,” passing quiet homes prematurely adorned with Christmas lights. The name “Eat Me!” seemingly indicates a funky, silly place that doesn’t take itself too seriously. We did not expect it to be a classy establishment. But, boy, were we wrong! We walked up to the host’s desk, where we were promptly greeted and asked if we had a reservation. The place was dark and mostly empty, aside from a few tables full of patrons clad in business suits and fancy dresses. We were handed the menus, which had several other restaurants’ options on them, effectively making it a swanky food court. Eat Me! was the most silly place to only spend $8. It felt like we were getting away with something. The oval-shaped, haphazardly-sliced pizza arrived. In short, it was ok. The Tree Lovers Pizza was a bit flatbread-y and void of a lot of the promised toppings. (The description on the website promised “sautéed spinach, mushrooms, [and] onions.” See picture for true topping proportions.)
The building we accidentally stepped into was well worth our $8. We exited out of the food court’s side door into a turfed area complete with cornhole, oversized Connect 4, Jenga, and a pong set made out of garbage cans and a volleyball. Oona, Shain and I absolutely dominated both pong and cornhole. In a quick postgame interview with Oona, she stated, “This one made up for its lack of mushrooms with fun games.” The whole place felt like we had walked into a break room for some tech company in Silicon Valley.
After cornhole, we headed into Cleveland for the last leg of our four-pizza voyage. Our third stop was Beerhead Bar & Eatery, the most normal restaurant of our trip. We went for the Street Corn Pizza, which had a queso base and was topped with roasted corn, poblano peppers, pickled onions, cilantro, Cotija cheese, and Cajun-lime crema. It was the majority consensus that this was our second favorite. I especially appreciated the pickled onions, although it is very possible that I just love pickled onions in any context. The place was cute and filled with twenty-somethings grabbing dinner together. It wasn’t particularly noteworthy, but only because it wasn’t as strange as other locations. Definitely a solid option.
The last place we went to was a true oddity. We drove over to Mulberry’s to try their 10” Big Baller pizza, which was chosen specifically for the hilarity of the name. We pulled into the parking lot, which was lit by a single floodlight on top of what seemed to be a warehouse, and walked up the stairs to the dimly-lit bar. We quickly noticed an interrogation room-style window directly to the right of the entrance. The window overlooked an indoor volleyball court where league matches took place. Monster Energy banners picturing a shirtless man with sunglasses and a goatee diving for a volleyball hung on the walls of the courts. As we waited for our 10” Big Baller, we watched the games happening beneath us, making up names for the players and getting strangely emotionally invested in the match’s outcomes. We were mesmerized by the idea of a sports bar providing in-building live sports. It was hard to walk away from the window when our pizza arrived.
The 10” Big Baller was a pretty normal pizza compared to the others. It was billed as a pizza with meatballs on it and proved to be exactly that. It was pretty simple bar food, but that was okay; we were not expecting a gourmet meal of some sort. Sure, it was the worst pizza out of the four, but it felt tangibly real. It was the true opposite of Eat Me!, which felt strangely manufactured. We had unknowingly stepped into an environment so unbeknownst to us and yet so clearly commonplace to Mulberry’s regulars.
Thus is the beauty of Cleveland Pizza Week. In the pursuit of $8 pizza, we found ourselves in seemingly random places around Northeast Ohio, as if we had thrown a pin at a map and let chance drive us to our destination. On such an insular campus, it can feel daunting to find exciting new places to visit. It’s easy to feel isolated. But, sometimes, if you find yourself deciding on a whim to try the 10” Big Baller purely because it sounds funny, you can fall into a pocket of culture, taking solace in its newness until your next journey into unknown corners of the place you call home.