At least once a week someone asks me who has the best pizza.
It is an answer I have struggled with because there are so many good pizza places – Oley's, 800 Degrees, Riverbend – and so many different styles of pizza.
But I have the answer now.
I made a little venture south to Bluffton and found the best pizza place. Tyeger's Pizza Parlour is tucked away in a nondescript strip mall and shares a space with Subway. There isn't a big sign pointing you to it and it is easy to miss. But if you find it, you will also find something unique and delicious.
The brainchild of Tye and Amy Walton, whose families hail from Ireland and who vacationed there in 2004, Tyeger's opened in 2008 and has an Irish feel from its looks to its menu.
There are Irish flags, a St. Patrick's Day countdown calendar and a photo of the Waltons' daughters – Marilyn, Abby and Pamela – sitting along the coast of the Emerald Isle. Most of the pizzas and sandwiches have Irish names and ingredients, one of which sounded odd but really worked – corn.
"We found out sausage, mushrooms and corn were the most popular toppings there and decided to try it here," Tye said.
That pizza is the County Cork. This pizza had a thin crust that was crispy on the bottom but not throughout and had just enough of Tyeger's sweet, runny pizza sauce. The toppings on it, and all of the pies I tried, were plentiful. The canned corn added a little textural pop and sweetness, but it was not overly sweet, thanks to the hearty country sausage and meaty mushrooms.
Sausage ruled in the Fightin' Irish sub sandwich. In addition to the standard crumbled country sausage, it had thin slices of red pepper-dotted Irish sausage and pepperoni. It was spicy, but lettuce and tomato – added after baking – mozzarella cheese and Italian dressing tamed it just enough. It was a killer, and I am already craving another.
The best pizza did not have any corn or other strange ingredient. The Parlour Pie featured seven, yes seven, cheeses – mozzarella, provolone, Swiss, Parmesan, cheddar, bleu and muenster – with one topping. I chose bacon, which Tye said was what he usually suggests with it. The cheeses melded together and were almost creamy. And the bacon was the perfect crispy, salty addition.
Tyeger's also features pizzas of the month, off-menu specialty pies with odd ingredients which are often named after area towns. The April feature was the Bunratty Shrimp pizza, which had Cajun garlic butter instead of sauce, shrimp, white onions, tomatoes and mozzarella. The sauce was pretty fiery – but tasty – and really needed the tomatoes to add a burst of freshness and acidity.
This month, the Poneto Pie was in the spotlight. This "gourmet fried bologna pizza," had Alfredo sauce, thin slices of bologna, tomatoes, white onions and mozzarella. And it was great. The lunchmeat crisped up and "fried" in the oven and the Alfredo sort of mimicked mayonnaise like you might have on a fried bologna sandwich.
Tye said July's featured pie will be a take on a Cuban sandwich.
An order of the Tyeger's Classic bread is a must. It was made with the same rolls used for the subs and was topped with garlic butter, mozzarella, a sprinkle of basil and chopped imported Irish garlic. The garlic is the last thing added so it caramelizes and roasts under the heating element of the oven, which makes it sweet and a little nutty.
Another bonus that separated Tyeger's from the typical pizza place were the house-made desserts, which vary. I had a great little chocolate chip-spiked canolli and chocolate-caramel s'mores, which are almost always available. Graham crackers were stuffed with marshmallow, chocolate chips and caramel, wrapped in foil and run through the oven conveyer so the inside got all gooey and the crackers were toasty and warm.
About the only thing really missing from this Irish-themed pizza place was a cold Guinness Draught to go with the pies. A shelf behind the counter held some Guinness cans and a Jameson's bottle or two, but they were for display only.
It is not a fancy sit-down place, but the atmosphere at Tyeger's was perfect. Besides the Irish knickknacks, there were brightly decorated picnic tables, a tiger skin on one wall, stuffed big cats throughout and even a cool autographed picture and ladle from the infamous Soup Nazi from "Seinfeld." Tye also noted that there is "No soup for you!" at Tyeger's.
There may not have been soup, but there was impeccable service. Tye ran the counter and was glad to let diners hold off on paying while they got comfortable and enjoyed their meals. But, more importantly, he checked on parties regularly and asked almost everyone what they thought of his creations.
He seemed to love what he was doing and cared about what he made. And that, above anything else, is what made Tyeger's Pizza Parlour the best pizza place I have been to in the area.