OFFBEAT: Solve a pizza this puzzle

I am a stranger to Ohio. I moved north in 2003, from Oklahoma. I have done my best to ingratiate myself with your fri
Tom Jackson
May 24, 2010

I am a stranger to Ohio. I moved north in 2003, from Oklahoma.

I have done my best to ingratiate myself with your friendly people, and to understand your strange native customs. I personally don't think it's fun to freeze to death by sitting inside a high school football stadium late Friday during the fall, but the crazy local fans disagree.

One aspect of Sandusky remains a mystery to me.

How can one small city, inside a largely rural county, support so many pizza parlors?

Look under "pizza" in the Yellow Pages and you'll see enough places listed in Erie County to feed the population of metro Cleveland. All-Ways Pizza, Cameo Pizza, Chet and Matt's Pizza, Perkins Pizza House & Ice Cream (notice what's listed first), Pizza Brothers, Pizza Hut ...

Not to mention several Italian restaurants in town, many featuring you-know-what on the menu.

Sandusky is the only city I have ever been in where you can drive through a clearly residential neighborhood and suddenly come upon a pizza restaurant.

It is the only city I've ever known where you go to the local ice cream stand, Eat N Treats, to get pizza. (Good pizza, too, I might add.)

I've never worked anywhere else that had a pizza restaurant downtown offering rattlesnake meat.

Most small cities do not have a pizza parlor which sets itself apart by plastering the walls with murals (Chet & Matt's Pizza).

When I drive to work, I go by a convenience store which advertises Bob Evans food for carryout. Next to those words is a painting of a slice of pizza. Bob Evans doesn't serve pizza, but the store doesn't want to confront Sanduskians with the dire possibility pizza might be missing from the takeout menu.

Our local industry includes a pizza dough manufacturer, Feddersen's Frozen Pizza Dough.

Sandusky has an annual "best pizza" competition.

Oh, sorry: Sandusky has TWO annual best pizza competitions.

Cameo's Pizza, in Sandusky since 1936, won the Funcoast "Reader's Choice Award" this year.

In the Rotary Pizza Challenge, however, Chet & Matt's Pizza won "Best Dine-In," while Eat 'N Treats won "Best Take-Out."

Laura Barrett's story on the Rotary event said the crowd ate 1,065 pizzas. It must have been all of the pent-up demand, since you can't get it any other time here.

The national chains have largely taken over other cities. In Sandusky, many of the pizza places are locally owned and operated.

The competition appears to pay off for diners. When I went to lunch Friday at Chet and Matt's (you can never do too much research) the buffet was delicious, with the pizza topped with generous selections of meat and cheese.

(When I sat down, the hostess told me, "Lisa will be bringing you your drink." A middle-aged, balding white guy set a glass of iced tea in front of me. I was fine with it -- I'm as liberal as the next guy -- but the waiter followed me across the room and explained there had been a mixup. "My name's not Lisa," he said.)

I'm trying to grasp why pizza is so popular here. Is everyone in Sandusky Italian? Is pizza the ultimate working person's food?

I want to figure it out, because then I can tackle another mystery.

Why is it every restaurant in Cleveland is required to do double duty as a sports bar, with several color television sets in each room tuned night and day to the sports channel?

I'm guessing that it must be a strictly-enforced local ordinance, since the sports bar rule seems to be followed more strictly than Ohio's no-smoking law.