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  • The folks at Patriot Pizzeria in Monroeville are generous with the cheese.

  • Chicken-bacon-ranch pizza from Patriot Pizzeria in Monroeville.

  • A small, seven-inch barbecued chicken pizza cooked in a pan from Patriot Pizzeria in Monroeville.

  • Ravioli bites from Patriot Pizzeria in Monroeville.

  • Rotini Supreme from Patriot Pizzeria in Monroeville.

  • Patriot Pizzeria in Monroeville puts some of its specials and a daiily joke on its chaulkboard.

  • A large hand-tossed pizza from Patriot Pizzeria in Monroeville.

  • A Philly cheesesteak toasted sub from Patriot Pizzeria in Monroeville.

  • A close looks at the chicken-bacon-ranch pizza from Patriot Pizzeria in Monroeville.

  • A thin-crust Patriot Supreme pizza from Patriot Pizzeria in Monroeville.

  • Patriot Pizzeria in Monroeville is in an old bank building downtown built in 1895.

  • Dough knots from Patriot Pizzeria in Monroeville.

  • Patriot Pizzeria in Monroeville.

  • A peanut butter and jelly pizza from Patriot Pizzeria in Monroeville.

  • Boneless wings from Patriot Pizzeria in Monroeville.

Sunday, May 13, 2018 1:00 am

Small-town restaurant delivers in a big way

RYAN DUVALL | The Journal Gazette

Patriot Pizzeria

***1/2

$

The group of journalism students in Keegan Laycock's classes at Heritage High School didn't seem all that excited about my stories of working at a newspaper until the subject of which Monroeville eateries – if any – I had reviewed.

They were excited to hear I loved the Whippy Dip, the town's legendary ice cream stand, and were surprised that I had, indeed, reviewed two restaurants there.

I didn't get excited until one young man among those sitting zombie-like watching the clock as I droned on and on perked up and raised his hand.

“You need to go to Patriot Pizza,” he said. “Best chicken bacon ranch pizza ever.”

So as I drove away from the school wondering how many of those young minds I influenced, I made a beeline to the pizza shop at South and Main streets in downtown Monroeville.

The student was right. This cozy little place had one of the best chicken bacon ranch pizzas I have eaten.

The small, 7-inch pie had a hand-tossed crust, but it was cooked in a pan so the edges caramelized beautifully like Detroit deep dish. The combination of the cheese and dough browning until crunchy on those edges was fabulous, and I realized after trying a bigger pie later, which wasn't cooked in a pan, that these small pies were the best.

The chicken bacon ranch had finely diced garlic-seasoned chicken spread all over it along with crispy bacon. That chicken was tender, unlike many other versions of this pie that have bigger chunks that tend to come off dry. It also had a generous amount of cheese and just the right amount of ranch as its sauce.

It was so good I knew this would not be my only visit.

Patriot Pizzeria's historic building dates back to 1895 and was originally the town's bank. It isn't fancy inside with just a few booths and tables, but it was the kind of place every small town has or needs if it doesn't.

The folks working there were super welcoming. They exuded small-town friendliness and I felt like a regular every time I dined there.

Like many small-town spots, Patriot Pizzeria offered a lot of appetizers to keep the locals from getting bored. In addition to the usual breadsticks, cheesy bread and dough knots, there were things like pizza-stuffed ravioli, boneless chicken wings, cheese curds and even Reuben bites.

The knots were excellent and so were the ravioli, which I was talked into trying by a very nice lady working the counter during that first visit. They were coated in a very crunchy bread crumb mix and were not at all greasy because they are baked in a pizza oven instead of fried. They reminded me of frozen pizza rolls only better and fancier.

I loved watching as an employee tied my dough knots by hand so I knew they were fresh and not frozen. They were small – about the size of a walnut – but that made me feel less guilty as I popped the garlic butter-soaked toasty bites into my mouth. Nacho cheese was also offered, but butter was the way to go.

Patriot Pizzeria also does cinnamon-sugar-coated knots for dessert, but I had to pass because there was another dessert I just had to try.

Have you ever had a peanut butter and jelly pizza? I hadn't before my visits to Monroeville.

It was just what you'd expect – a small crust with peanut butter smeared all over it, topped with either grape or strawberry jelly, or both, which is what I chose to do. It sounded crazy, but it was crazy good. The peanut butter melted and dripped off and the jelly got thick and gooey in the oven. I liked the strawberry more than the grape as its flavor stood out more.

Though the ravioli were crunchy, that was not the case with the boneless wings. They were meaty and tender, but these chicken bites needed to spend more time in the oven to get extra crunchy as the breading was soggy after being coated in sauce.

I nearly didn't order the Philly cheesesteak toasted sub because I figured a more pizza-like option would be better. But I was so wrong.

I knew as soon as it was placed in front of me that I had stumbled onto something great. The roll was toasty and crunched with each bite and the cheese – copious amounts of mozzarella that oozed out with every bite – red and green peppers and sliced beef were all neatly tucked inside. The steak was just standard sliced precooked stuff, but when its juices came out in the oven and soaked the inside of the bread, along with the well-cooked peppers and all of that cheese, this sandwich became a thing of beauty.

I was also surprised at how good the Rotini Supreme baked pasta dish was. Anyone who likes the Cavatini Supreme that Pizza Hut has offered over the years will love Patriot Pizzeria's version. It had pepperoni, American sausage, peppers, mushrooms, onions and Italian sausage, was sauced perfectly and had a blanket of melted cheese on top. It was about as good as a little pizza place like this can do pasta.

When I tried the Patriot Supreme pizza, I asked for thin crust. That was a mistake.

This pizza had a nice mix of toppings – pepperoni, Italian and American sausage, ham, bacon, onion, mushrooms, black and green olives and green peppers. I loved how the briny olives popped and would have loved it on that tasty thick crust, but the thin crust did not hold up well and got a tad soggy.

As perfect as the regular crust is, there is really no reason to go thin.

Lesson learned.

So for the sake of proper investigation, I had to have one last small pizza, but not the chicken bacon ranch because that would be crazy, right? So I got the barbecued chicken instead. And guess what? It was as good as the ranch.

It had that same finely diced tender chicken, a heavy smear of sweet-smoky barbecue sauce, finely diced banana peppers to give it some kick, and that same dark crispy caramelized pan-cooked crust that I first fell in love with.

Restaurant: Patriot Pizzeria

Address: 100 Main St., Monroeville

Phone: 260-623-6222

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Cuisine: Pizza

Handicapped accessible: No

Alcohol: None

Smoking status: None

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes

Menu: Dough knots ($4 small; $6 medium; $8 large), wings ($5.50 for half pound; $8.50 pound), Rotini Deluxe ($8), Philly sub ($6 6-inch; $9.25 12-inch), Patriot Supreme ($6.25 for 7-inch; $14.25 12-inch; $19.75 16-inch), chicken bacon ranch/BBQ chicken ($5.50 for 7-inch; $13 12-inch; $18 16-inch), PB&J ($4 for 7-inch; $8 12-inch, $13 16-inch)

Rating breakdown: Food: ** (3-star maximum); atmosphere: 1/2 (1 maximum), service: * (1 maximum)

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at rduvall@jg.net; call at 461-8130. DuVall's past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.