As we exited I-40 for the city of Oak Ridge, it was totally lost on me when my travelling companion said he wondered if everyone would be singing “Elvira.” To me, the city had always been the place with the nuclear power plant you pass on the way to Knoxville from Nashville. I had never before made the connection to country stars The Oak Ridge Boys who first cut their teeth there playing in front of plant staff and their families.
Over the years, several Nashville folks have told me about Big Ed’s Pizza, and I even saw a recent piece naming it one of America’s best pizza joints. I had it on my card to someday make a side trip on my way to Knoxville and recently got the chance. While, Big Ed’s is certainly an interesting place to visit (one of those if only the walls could talk places), it’s just too long of a side trip off the interstate (a good 30 minutes) for a pizza that’s just a cut above what you could get at one of the chains.
After what seemed like driving forever on the main road into town, we finally found Big Ed’s on the back corner of an old strip center. It was just before dinner on a Friday night, and when we arrived there were only four customers, but at least a dozen or so workers. It was apparent that they were getting ready for a big evening, and for whatever reason, it took several minutes before we received any attention from the work crew that seemed to be organizing itself.
Big Ed’s works out of a big dark room whose walls are covered with cool interesting stuff (old photos and signs, UT football memorabilia and even a portrait of late Ed himself). Ed’s is also a charitable enterprise evidenced by the many plaques for the sports teams they have sponsored. The customary red and white tablecloths lined the wooden tables, and there is almost an entire wall of pizza ovens off to the side. There is really a lot of love for this place which is still run by Ed’s family, and the joint just oozes with character. It’s a shame that the pizza was not any better than it was.
My bud and I ordered a large pie with half cheese for me and half sausage for him. It was 14 inches and ran about $15. They had about a dozen or so available toppings, some other menu items and beer. It took only about 10 minutes to get our pizza after the 5 minute wait for them to take our order.
As soon as our pie was brought to the table, it was obvious that this one had much more cheese and dough than was necessary. Despite there being some char on the bottom, it really was not very crisp. The end crust was overly puffy and doughy. Taste wise, it was fine, but nothing to set the world on fire. (I even tried the sausage which I must say did perk things up.) The pie did perhaps have more oil that I cared for. Like I said and my rating implies, it’s just a cut above what you’d get from Dominos or Papa Johns.
At the end of the day, there is nothing to rave about. Ed’s makes an adequate pie, but certainly not one special enough for such a long journey off the interstate. And it certainly is not among the best America has to offer. But, if you like old and crusty interesting places, it’s a fun one to visit.
PIZZA SNOB RATING *** Better Than Dominos
Big Ed’s Pizza
101 Broadway Ave.
Oak Ridge, TN 37830