Gramboli’s Special and Pepperoni Bacon Deep Dish
Deep pan crust and sloppy layers with a thick blanket of delicious cheese on top. This Indiana-style deep dish is dripping and crisp at the same time.
We went to go see how they do deep dish in Oaklandon. Eric and I were super excited to try Gramboli’s Pizza (view on map) because it was personally recommended by Instagram user @josh_graham86 and included in Indianapolis Monthly’s list of 48 favorite pizza places in Indy. Josh told us to try the Gramboli’s Special, and that it was “some of the best deep dish around.”
From the outside, Gramboli’s Pizza doesn’t look like anything special. It looks just like a strip mall pizza place. The décor inside is burgundy, brown, and green with some Italian posters on the wall and a huge chalkboard beer menu (with extremely reasonable prices by the way). The smell is something else, it is so delicious and it makes you super hungry the moment you walk in. We went with our friends Karl and Darren who wanted to take us out for pizza after dog and chicken sitting for them.
The wait staff is very friendly and things in the restaurant seem very laid back. I mean that because when we arrived the seating area was full and there was a huge party ahead of us. Instead of putting our name down in a system, one of the waitresses took our name and telephone number down on a receipt so she could text us when a table was ready. This place must be very popular because we ended up waiting about 45 minutes for a table and there was a non-stop stream of people getting carry-out.
We decided that we would try a little bit of everything. We ordered the breadsticks, some cheesy bacon waffle fries, and a large (14 inch) deep dish pizza. I had to get the breadsticks because I saw one of the waitresses carrying them to a table while we were waiting. And you have to get cheesy bacon waffle fries because hello it's cheesy bacon waffle fries. They also offer a traditional hand tossed and thin and crispy style if you aren’t in the mood for deep dish.
The breadsticks came out first in a group of six with a cheese sauce and an extra side of pizza sauce. They were golden brown on the outside and white on the inside. They reminded us of Hot Box in size, color, and flavor - but they were way softer and fluffy. They were dry, not buttery or garlicy, and had just a hint of salt. We could have eaten them all night, we plowed through 6 sticks like it was nothing. My friend Darren and I both loved the marinara dipping sauce. You could definitely taste the oregano and I was really hoping that it was the same sauce that they would include on the pizza.
The breadsticks were then followed by the cheesy bacon waffle fries. Now I'm not a huge fan of cheesy bacon fries, and I know that it's not really something you would expect at a pizza place, but these were some of the best cheesy bacon fries I've ever had. First of all, I love waffle fries so that was already a win. They get crispy all over the place when done right. The cheese and the bacon were just perfect, and we took turns picking the melted cheese and stray bits of bacon off the foil when the fries were gone.
Finally when the deep dish pizzas came out they were presented still in their pans, and I got vibes of Pizza Hut in the 90’s. This smell was just intoxicating and it was really hard for me to sit there and let Eric take photos while I waited to dig into this delicious pie. The menu describes this as “Indiana-style deep dish, made with love and EVOO.” It has a tall lip that climbs the side of the pan, and then a relatively thin middle section stacked deep with toppings and covered with a blanket of cheese. It’s not the upside-down Chicago style with sauce on top, but it did have cheese on top of toppings.
The crust was almost like a cross between a hand tossed crust and a crisper crackery crust. It had a great crunch to it toward the outside, but as you get toward the middle of the pan the crust became softer and floppier, which led to kind of a mess when trying to scoop the pizza out of the pan. The pizza was drippy and greasy and the very center even got a little bit soggy.
The cheese and toppings kept sliding off the pizza, so I’m not sure if there was too much sauce or not enough. The sauce didn’t taste like the same sauce that came with the breadsticks, but that could be because the cheese and toppings had a good amount of grease to them.
I got pepperoni and bacon on my half and Eric got the Gramboli’s Special on his half. As is normally the case, the bacon outshined the pepperoni and had a wonderful smoky flavor to it. I did pull a piece of pepperoni out to try it on its own, and it had some nice pep to it – but not quite spicy enough to leave a lasting ‘zing’ in my mouth which I typically prefer.
The Gramboli’s Special was pepperoni, sausage, onion, mushroom, and green pepper. It ended up having a nice cohesive flavor to it that wasn’t overshadowed by the onion. The sausage wasn’t very spicy and the cheese really took center stage.
The cheese for me was the best part by far. There was probably close to 3/4 of an inch of cheese on this pizza, and Eric and I both described it as a nice greasy fatty fresh mozzarella. You can always tell that the cheese is going to taste good when it has the nice brown bubbly spots on the top after it comes out of the oven.
It was a fairly good deep dish – but if you’re going to go deep, we prefer a congealed mass of cheese and toppings like a thick slice of pie. Gramboli’s style is more in layers, so there was crust then toppings then a cheese blanket over the whole thing. The veggies in the Gramboli’s Special seemed to steam under the blanket but sort of fell out when Eric started eating. It’s a bit on the sloppy side but the flavors were good.