On its face, Wheat Penny is one of the newest pizza places in Dayton, but this downtown stop near the Oregon District strives to be much more. It’s the brainchild of local restaurateur Elizabeth Wily and capitalizes on the innovation of the kitchen seen at the successful Meadowlark restaurant in Kettering. With a slightly different feel and a whole different focus — not only good pizza, but interesting and creative preparation for vegetables — Wheat Penny has moved in on the Wayne Avenue restaurant scene in a big way, and in spite of exceptional competition in its proximity, this new concept delivers.
Pizza will be the food you hear most associated with this spot, but it’s actually got a pretty big menu of finely-prepared meats and, in the vein of some great places down the street, a fresh new take on vegetarian cuisine. First item on my mind: what in the world are eggplant fries? Well, wildly popular is what they are. Take a look at some of the great veggie-based dishes; roasted potatoes, green beans and vinaigrette. Veggie snacks have a new name at Wheat Penny.
Some of my favorite dishes:
- Taylor Street pizza: yes, one of the simple, classic pizza options. This one has Italian sausage and mushrooms with just a hint of garlic. The pizza crust is good, it’s the flaky type that crumbles as you bite into it, and there’s just enough topping to get a mushroom and sausage in every bite.
- Mixed grill: An assortment of grilled vegetables, roasted peppers and a fresh cream. Those peppers have a slight heat but still fantastic.
- Ben burger: One of the seasonal recipes for the Wheat Penny burger, which changes every week. Wheat Penny put salty cheese atop the burger and cooked it to order. Delicious!
- Mushroom Milanese: A vegetarian take on the very Italian Milanese sandwich. A crunchy, breaded mushroom with greens and a great aioli that gives it a kick. Highly recommended for veggie eaters.
- Eggplant fries: A favorite app, these are best when hot and crispy. Recommend getting them fresh and not taking them home.
- Pepperoni gumbo: One of the seasonal soups, where the pepperoni flavor is surprisingly absent. Instead, you get a little bite from some peppers and a lot of veggies in each spoonful. A real delight.
- Shortcake: A seasonal desert with a delicious ice cream, some crumble and fresh fruit. Great to share.
- Strawberry Ice Cream: The “Ice Cream Our Way” flavor changes every now and then. You get the very fresh strawberry in this wonderful dessert, best when shared.
The service is good, they still seem to be getting a hang of the lunch rush and lead times can be a little slow if you hit the place right at noon. Ever the helpful folks, though, the service picks up quickly after the rush, and the people seem to be very nice. It’s also one of those restaurants where the owner likes to come around to make sure everything is up to the customers’ expectations, which scores points in my book.
It takes a passionate restaurateur to build a concept from the ground up, with a custom menu of foods you don’t see elsewhere and a focus on foods you wouldn’t typically find in a pizza place. That passion is realized very well here. It seems to have drawn crowds, and for good reason. Wheat Penny is highly recommended.
- The veggie platters — made to share, sort of like appetizers — steal the show. Get the eggplant fries, because you won’t find anything like that elsewhere in the city.
- Pizza is big on the menu, and some of the lunch specials let you get it in combination with a soup or salad for a reasonable price.
- I’ve seen complaints the place feels crowded, and indeed it’s got a relatively small footprint and can draw lots of people. Avoid lunch or dinner rushes if this isn’t your thing.