Lord of the fried
Pizza Baron on Keystone has been cranking out a nearly unchanged menu for over 45 years. Many a late-night hot wing craving has led me to one of their “special” deals, including a pizza chaser. But this isn’t about that. A more recently opened location is nestled in the gateway to Spanish Springs, and whilst in the neighborhood I thought I’d check it out.
The menu is the same, pizza and wings, bar snacks and a couple oddball items. Who orders fish and chips at a pizza joint? Appetizers include deep-fried zucchini sticks, jalapeño poppers, mozzarella sticks, onion rings and mushrooms, or you can get a little of each with the combo platter ($12.95), served with barbecue sauce, marinara and ranch dressing.
The zucchini spears were dwarfed by breading, as if to form a bread shell to cover the flavor of squash. The mushrooms were much better—with delicious fungitude ringing through. Onion rings were the real thing, and the poppers were second best of the bunch. The jalapeños tasted fresh and were stuffed with plenty of cream cheese. Cheese sticks were least effective, with breading and uniform shape screaming “born of a box.”
A “Sparks Secret Menu” features tacos, burgers, sandwiches, salads and even more appetizers. Intrigued, I ordered corkscrew battered shrimp and breaded avocado wedges ($6.99 each). Each were said to be served with a cup of chipotle mayo, though the wedges actually came with a couple of cups of ranch. The ranch tasted like it was mixed up fresh, and the mildly spicy aioli enhanced anything dipped in it.
Corkscrew shrimp are deveined a bit deeper than usual—almost butterflied—which after battering and frying causes them to curl and twist in a bit of a screwy shape. Prepping these manually would be pretty time-consuming, so I’m betting these came from the box next to the cheese sticks. They weren’t bad, though a little over-cooked. I’ve had a few iterations of deep-fried avocado, but these wedges were a bit of a surprise. The coating included spicy bits of what was probably jalapeño. The flesh tasted ripe, and they had plenty of flavor, sans dip. Avocado doesn’t tolerate freezing well, so I’d say these were made-to-order fresh.
A one-pound box of barbecue spare ribs ($9.95) served with fries and garlic bread turned out to be boneless rib tips (with a little bit of cartilage). The meat was tender and had a fair amount of smokiness, though the rub must have contained more than a fair amount of salt. The sauce was kind of bland and sweet, but still read as barbecue. The fries were of the standard fast food variety, crispy and enjoyable. Despite the salt, I’d be tempted to order this again.
The Special ($19.95), a large two-topping pizza with a pound of hot wings, fries, garlic bread and ranch dressing is the reason I stopped in, despite ordering a bunch of other stuff. It’s not an award-winning pie, and the wings aren’t the best in town. Yet, they’re crispy—and not dried out—and the Buffalo sauce is on the money. The semi-thin pizza crust is what I’d call, “best of affordable options.” It’s just crispy-bready-chewy enough to hit the mark, and the sauce has enough flavor to be present. With wings and fries, it’s a pretty decent deal.