I started eating at Big Ed's Pizza as a child, when it first opened. I have warm memories of meeting friends & family there to celebrate special times and eat great pizza at reasonable prices. Back then, the employees were cheerful and made you feel like they were glad you were there. I didn't mind taking a flight downstairs to the basement to use the bathroom when I was a teenager. Big Ed himself would be sitting on a stool at the bar, making sure everything was up to par and meeting his standards, however, I’m not so sure what he was thinking when he first started using tiny dessert paper plates and flimsy plastic forks.
That was back in the 1970's. Today, the place is still packed with people, but the quality of the food and of the experience is just not the same. I can enjoy sharing a meal with friends and family anywhere, and today, it is still important for me to get good food at a good value. The last two times we've eaten at Big Ed's, we left saying, "What has happened to this place?" and vowed to not be so quick to return. The prices are much higher than other pizza places, and the quality just isn't there. The crust was thinner than it used to be, and the sauce lacked flavor. The ingredients were sparse and didn't taste fresh. We ordered 3 large pizzas and 5 drinks & our bill was $78.00. No joke.
Service was slow and the employees made us feel like we were a burden, not a guest. The tables are very close together, making it hard to get in and out of the chairs. I need some elbow room in order to really enjoy pizza with friends. With multiple pizza ovens baking at 500+ degrees, I pray this place never has a fire, what with only 1 narrow public exit door. Perhaps the new head of the Oak Ridge Fire Dept. will evaluate the situation.
I'm not apposed to eating on paper plates, but I'm a grown-up now, and I'd like to have a plate and fork that's my size. Two people at our table broke their forks and had to wait to get replacements. I'm used to eating pizza without a fork, but the crust was so thin, it was difficult to pick up a slice without the toppings falling off. I know I could order my pizza to go and use my own table service at home, but the thin paper bag the pizza would be covered with won't keep it hot like the boxes the other pizza places use.
I'm not afraid to write about the bathrooms. The population in Oak Ridge and surrounding communities has gotten older. Many people need a bathroom they can easily get to. The ADA folks should visit and evaluate Big Ed's for accessibility, or lack thereof. And the building was built back in the 1940's. The basement is dark, damp, and it smells. End of subject.
I am thankful that the laws forbid guests from smoking in TN restaurants. Now, if I want to feel warm and fuzzy, I can walk inside Big Ed's and smell the pizza, look at the fun stuff on the walls for a trip down memory lane, toss a quarter in the jukebox, and look back to the bar, longing for a glimpse of Big Ed himself. Then I'll go someplace else for great pizza at a reasonable price. Sorry.
RIP Mr. "Big Ed" Neusel. We miss you, and the way it used to be.
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