On the Menu: Wheat Penny’s California-style pizza flair

Wheat Penny Oven and Bar sits just off of the East Fifth Street beaten path on Wayne Avenue in the Oregon District, but it’s worth the extra block or so south to try one of the gourmet pizzas and split a few appetizers.

Since opening at 515 Wayne St. in 2013, Wheat Penny — the sister restaurant to Meadowlark Restaurant in Washington Twp., both owned by local NPR-highlighted chef Elizabeth Wiley — has consistently served up hearty and delicious sandwiches, pasta, and of course, pizzas, all now available both inside the warm and welcoming dining room or outside on their new summer patio.

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When we chose Wheat Penny to welcome a new colleague in the Dayton.com office, some of us already had our favorite dishes picked out. There are a few things that you just have to get at a restaurant, right? But we also branched out into new territory, and are quite happy we did.

Wheat Penny is well-known for its quality cocktails — the Autopilot is a definite pick for Dayton summer cocktails — but when you're looking for something non-alcoholic, the homemade sodas hit the spot. We tried the cucumber, basil and mint ($4), the house limeade ($3), and the Cherry Vanilla (which has since been replaced by a homemade orange soda), and all were perfectly refreshing.

Whether you’re dining alone or out with the group, it’s practically a guarantee that Wheat Penny’s famous eggplant fries ($6.95) will be on the table within minutes. Their crunchy rice coating and tender, mild inside are paired so well with a tangy yogurt sauce, you don’t have to feel guilty about having more than one, or the whole plate, even. Their green take on bruschetta ($5.95) — grilled bread topped with rapini, also known as broccoli rabe, and melted provolone, is a great app to pair with the fries.

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Now, it's not all about the pizzas at Wheat Penny: If you're in more of a sandwich mood, the Porchetta ($12.95) is a must-try. It not only feeds your stomach; it feeds your soul with a trifecta of proteins — pork shoulder covered in slow-cooked sofrito (a mildly spicy sauce used in Spanish, Portuguese and Latin cooking) which is then wrapped in pork belly before being roasted, crisped and sliced thin. Yes, it is decadent. Yes, a bite of this paired with arugula and parsley-caper sauce on foccacia is kind of a game-changer. You can also get it as an entree for $19.95.

But the pies really are the stars of the show. There are robust flavor combos for every sort of taste bud, and Wheat Penny Chef Liz Valenti (who perfected the crunchy outside-soft inside California style at San Francisco’s International School of Pizza) offers gluten-free crusts if requested. We tried the Tarte Flambée, Our Way, a white pizza based on a traditional French dish topped with bacon, caramelized onions, béchamel creme sauce, and a sprinkling of fresh thyme and Parmesan. Rich, to be sure, but a personal-sized pie ($12.95, $19.95 for a large pie) is just the right size before going overboard.

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The Tomasso ($12.95; $19.95 for a large) is one of the more unique pies on the menu, and the bold combo of grapes, bleu cheese, and shoestring onions over a rustic “Roman” marinara, may not be for everyone. But if that fits your palate, then the Tomasso is a savory treat. If none of their 10-plus pizzas are to your taste, feel free to build your own, as well.

Truth be told, we were all perfectly satiated by the end of our lunch and couldn’t stomach dessert, but we’d be remiss to not mention the homemade coffee ice cream($3.95 for one scoop; $5.95 for two). Though we failed this one time, that dessert is worth saving room for.

Next time you’re looking for a date night idea, a restaurant to bring your family from out of town, or want to get a couple of drinks and split a pizza with a friend, consider Wheat Penny.

Make Reservations:

Check their hours and more of Wheat Penny's menu at wheatpennydayton.com, then call to grab a table at (937) 496-5268.

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