On a couple previous visits to Fort Wayne and taking the drive out to the wonderful Joseph Ducuis restaurant in nearby Roanoke, IN (click here to see my entry), we've passed a pizza place along U.S. Highway 24 south and west of Fort Wayne by the name of Oley's Pizza. Last summer during a dinner party at Joseph Decuis with some people from Sweetwater, one of the largest mail-order/Internet pro music dealers in the nation, I asked a guy and his wife about Oley's. They both gushed about the place. "Oh, yeah. Oley's is the real deal," the guy told me. His wife said she wouldn't eat any other pizza in Fort Wayne. "And that's a problem," he explained to me. "We live about 25 minutes away from Oley's on the north side of town." While in Fort Wayne recently to meet with a consumer electronics dealer I've been working with, I decided to try out Oley's which was only a couple miles down the road from my hotel.
The original Oley's Pizza was opened in 1980 by Stephen "Oley" and Carol Olinger in the small town of Ossian, IN, directly south of Fort Wayne. The Olinger's had visited Chicago on a number of occasions and wanted to bring the taste of Chicago-style pizza to the Fort Wayne area. After opening their first restaurant, they developed a "double-crust" deep pan style pizza using a homemade sauce made from three different types of tomatoes with low citric acid, a blend of four cheeses, sausage that was sourced from local meat purveyors and cooked daily with Oley's special blend of Italian spices, and a special homemade pizza dough made with four different types of flour, malt powder, natural honey, fresh yeast, and extra virgin olive oil.
Over the years, Oley's grew to multiple locations and some franchises were sold in Indiana and Western Ohio. Today, there are two Oley's in the Fort Wayne area - the "original" family-owned Oley's on Highway 24, and an Oley's Pizza Shoppe on North Coliseum Blvd. owned by Jim Parnin. Steve "Oley" Olinger died in 2006 and his son, Kevin, took over the family operation.
When the couple from Fort Wayne was telling me about the original Oley's, the woman said, "There's an Oley's that about 20 minutes from our house on the east side, but it's not the same as the one on Highway 24." They both said the original Oley's is better than the franchise Oley's in Fort Wayne.
I was staying at the Hilton Garden Inn in Fort Wayne for the evening and it had been a long day. I thought for a moment about heading downtown to find a place to eat before I decided to drive the short distance down the highway to Oley's Pizza. It was a two minute drive from the hotel to Oley's, situated at the corner of Homestead Rd. and U.S. Highway 24. (see map)
There's ample parking in front of the building which is in a sort of mini strip mall with a couple empty spaces. I saw the "Open" sign in the window and found a door to walk in. To my surprise, I walked into the kitchen at Oley's. Actually, it's also the area where people come to pick up "to-go" orders. There are two swinging doors behind the counter and that takes you into the dining room.
Walking through the dining room at Oley's, I found the main entrance down a hallway between the dining room and the bar area. The bar area featured a small bar and a handful of booths and tables. A boisterous bunch of middle aged women were at a six-seater table in the bar and they were pretty loud. I decided to go back to a booth in the dining room to try and escape their cackling laughter.
The dining area had sort of a cozy and warm atmosphere. High back booths were along the north and west walls with a handful of sturdy wooden tables and chairs in the middle. Can lighting gave off a subtle glow in the room. I took one of the booths and it wasn't long until my server for the evening, Karmen, showed up with a menu for me. She asked if I wanted anything to drink and I ordered a Bud Light in a bottle. She came back moments later with an 18 oz. bottle of Bud Light and a frosty mug. That was a nice surprise and a nice touch. I poured the beer into the glass and took a drink. There was some sort of weird taste in the glass. It tasted sort of like a detergent that hadn't been fully cleaned out of the glass. I figured my taster was probably off, but the second glass that I got when my pizza was served had the same taste. Oh well - at least the glass was clean and cold.
In addition to pizza at Oley's Pizza, they also feature a number of appetizers, oven baked submarine sandwiches, Italian food entrees such as lasagna, fettuccine alfredo, and spaghetti dishes, and even barbecued ribs. Well, they aren't really barbecued, according to the menu, but baked in a homemade barbecue sauce.
I pretty much knew that I was going to get a pizza, but the only question was what size. They have four sizes at Oley's ranging from small to extra large. The only problem is that they didn't list the size of the pizzas in inches. They had about a dozen specialty pizzas on the menu, but none of them really tripped my trigger. A couple of them, I think I said, "No way!", out loud. One of them was the Bulldog Steak and Cheese pizza. It's basically Oley's Philly steak sandwich on a pizza, with the dough basted with a homemade creamy mayo sauce, topped a blend of their cheeses, Philly-style steak, green peppers, onions and red peppers. Then they put A1 steak sauce on top of all that! Ugh!
Then there was the chicken club pizza - the sauce is a blend of ranch dressing and Oley's homemade house dressing. Then they add their cheese blend, mushrooms, onions, tomatoes and finally chicken and bacon. Nooo!!!! That goes on a sandwich! Not a pizza!
Karmen came back around and I asked her how big a small pizza was. She said, "10 inches. A medium is 12 inches." I thought a small would do me fine, so I ordered my usual sausage, mushroom and pepperoni. A thin crust, not the double crust they're famous for. She asked, "What kind of sausage?"
Oh! I get my pick between the Italian sausage and the American sausage. Karmen said the Italian sausage was a little more spicy than the American sausage. "It's basically the same sausage," she explained. "Only we add some spices to the Italian sausage to make it a little more zesty. It's not all that spicy, though." Of course, I took the Italian sausage.
When Karmen brought my pizza out, I was ready to eat. It was late - around 8:45 in the evening and I was hungry. I noticed before the pizza came out that there wasn't any parmesan cheese on the table - only shakers of red peppers and dried oregano. However, the parmesan cheese was delivered with the pizza sitting in the middle in a small container.
At first look, the crust looked thick, but it was just the rolled up edges that made it look that way. The base of the crust under the toppings was thin. The Italian sausage was in small chunks, but not ground up like Quad City-style pizza.
Pulling the first piece off the pan and putting it on my plate showed a pool of grease under the pizza on the pizza pan. And my first bite yielded a wonderful flavor of the combination of the cheese, tangy sauce, mild Italian sausage, and the spicy pepperoni. The mushrooms - although called "fresh" in the menu - looked like they may have come from a can. Not a deal breaker, for sure, but I didn't think they were fresh. The bottom line question that I ask myself about any pizza I have - "Does it taste good with a beer?" - and the answer was "Absolutely!" It was a very good pizza.
Because the topping were so heavy on the pizza, I was able to finish four slices and asked Karmen for a box to take the remaining two pieces back to my hotel for breakfast in the morning. When she came back, I asked her how many Oley's were still around. She said, "Well, the one on Coliseum and this one are the only ones that I know of. I went to the Oley's on Coliseum a while back to give that one a try and it's not the same as our pizza. I like our pizza better." I told her that I'd heard that from some other people in Fort Wayne.
I will have to say that Oley's was a great value. The bill with tax came to $16.50 - that was for the pizza with three toppings and two 18 oz. beers. The beers were $2.75 each. Thank you very much! I signed the tab at an even $20 bucks with the tip. I tried to get a couple pictures of the bar area and the kitchen before I left, but it turned out that I had a grease smudge on the lens of the camera on my phone and the pictures came out blurry when I downloaded them on my computer. Oh well. One of the hazards of having an excellent pizza from Oley's, I guess. I can certainly see why the locals think Oley's Pizza is the best Fort Wayne has to offer. (Picture courtesy The Pizza Fan.com)