Travel: The Great West Virginia Pepperoni Roll Trail

Guys, I had so much fun reliving this adventure for this post, so I really hope you have fun reading it.

A couple weeks ago, work took me Athens, Ohio. The only photos I took there were of food, so I’m afraid I can’t really show it to you. But, suffice it to say, Athens is a funky little town that were it not 6 hours away, I’d love to go back to.

What does this have to do with pepperoni rolls and West Virginia? Quite a bit, actually.

See, my coworker and I had 6 hours together in the car. Thankfully, we get along wonderfully, but 6 hours in a car with anyone is a challenge, and as most people do, we were looking for ways to make the drive more exciting.

We also needed a lunch plan.

One of my favorite things about traveling is eating things I’d never get to eat otherwise. So, when Kristin asked me if I’d indulge her desire to find and try an “authentic West Virginia Pepperoni Roll,” I didn’t hesitate. What happened next was an adventure of epic proportions.

Ok, not really, but we did have fun, and if you ever find yourself in West Virginia and in need of lunch, I suggest you give The Great West Virginia Pepperoni Roll Trail a try.

About the West Virginia Pepperoni Roll

Pepperoni rolls – not pizza rolls, as I kept mistakenly calling them – are a bit of a thing in West Virginia. I mean, they’re considered the state food. In the 1920s, coal miners needed a portable, filling, easy lunch option that didn’t require refrigeration. An Italian immigrant named Giuseppe “Joseph” Argiro is credited with creating the first pepperoni roll in 1927, as a solution to this problem. Basically, a pepperoni roll is bread with some pepperoni stuffed inside and then baked. The oils and fats from the pepperoni soak into the bread, giving it that wonderful pizza-like flavor.

Modern pepperoni rolls have branched out quite a bit, and now have cheese and other meats (like salami or sausage) inside, but you can still get a traditional pepperoni roll if you look hard enough.

The Great West Virginia Pepperoni Roll Trail

According to the Interwebs, the best pepperoni rolls are all found in the Eastern part of West Virginia – Fairmont, Clarksburg, and Morgantown, to name a few. Unfortunately, our travels only took us as far as Huntington before we had to turn north. So, Huntington it was.

There was a significant lack of information on Google about just where in Huntington to find pepperoni rolls. I managed to come across an article from 2015 about the outcry surrounding Sheetz gas stations’ change in pepperoni roll supplier. From that, Kristin and I deduced that Sheetz had pepperoni rolls.

According to Yelp, there was also a place in the Huntington Mall that sold pepperoni rolls. Never having tried one before, we knew we needed a decent sample size to be able to fully critique the rolls. We decided to swing into Sheetz, then head over to the mall for a second variety, creating our own little pepperoni roll trail.

Our First West Virginia Pepperoni Roll

First stop, Sheetz. For those who don’t know, Sheetz is a gas station, albeit a rather nice gas station. They have a made-to-order food counter with, you guessed it, pepperoni rolls. Never having done this before, we each ordered two pepperoni rolls with both marinara and garlic butter sauces.

After what felt like hours but was in reality about 8 minutes, our made-to-order pepperoni rolls were ready. Turns out, you get two in an order….so we ended up with four each. No matter. We took our bounty out to the car, and ripped those babies open.

If this picture looks terrible, it’s because the pepperoni rolls were precariously balanced on my lap and I was trying to hurry so I could shove them in my mouth.

Pepperoni Rolls from Sheetz

Made-to-order Pepperoni Rolls from Sheetz

Here’s where I have to admit – we were both starving by the time we rolled into Sheetz, so a piece of cardboard probably would have tasted great. But, seriously, they were quite good. I ate one and a half of mine – I preferred the garlic butter because duh – and saved the rest to bring home to Jimmie. It reminded me of a thin calzone. The pepperonis were enormous, and it had just a little bit of cheese. You definitely tasted the pepperoni a lot, which I liked.

Our Second West Virginia Pepperoni Roll

As we waited for our rolls to be cooked, Kristin found a stand of pre-packaged pepperoni rolls. They’re probably the ones referenced in the article. Truth be told, we weren’t exactly inspired by the sight of them, but eventually I convinced Kristin we needed to try one. We settled on the “original” variety, just pepperoni and bread.

Sadly, we didn’t try it because neither of us thought it looked appealing. Kristin took it home to her husband, who thought it was better than the one from Sheetz. I thought it looked like a Slim Jim stuffed in a dinner roll, which now that I think about it, probably isn’t that bad.

Our Third West Virginia Pepperoni Roll

Next up was the Huntington Mall and Big Loafer. Except, I couldn’t remember the name and kept calling it Big Fluffy. I recognize this is probably only funny to Kristin and me. That’s ok.

Anyway, Big Fluffy Loafer is in the food court of the Huntington Mall, and was nominated for the best pepperoni roll in West Virginia this year. They didn’t win, but according to their Facebook made it to number 12. Respectable!

big loafer

Big Loafer’s pepperoni roll was round, and cut into four sections like a pie.

big loafer pepperoni roll

This one was super doughy. It also had a lot more cheese, and the pepperoni oil really soaked into the bread. It didn’t come with marinara, though I probably could have asked for it. I liked this one a lot, but then, I like soft bread a lot. Interestingly, this one also reheated really well. (I had it dipped in Brie when I got home and shared it with Jimmie. Best decision ever.)

Our Fourth West Virginia Pepperoni Roll

When we got to the food court, we realized Cosimos Pizza is right across from Big Loafer, and being a pizza place, also sells pepperoni rolls. A fourth option just magically dropped in our lap? Of course we had to try one from them too.

cosimos pizza

Cosimos’ pepperoni roll most resembled pizza.

cosimos pepperoni roll

This was my least favorite of the bunch, though it’s probably because by this point I was feeling a little ill. Cosimos had the most cheese of any of the rolls, and the least pepperoni. It came with a healthy cup of marinara, and reminded me of cheesy bread. Good, just not what I was expecting. I think this was Kristin’s favorite, though. The bread was baked well, with a crispy edge and doughy middle.

So Which is the Best West Virginia Pepperoni Roll?

Well….at the risk of sounding like I’m taking the easy way out…that depends.

If you like a lot of pepperoni, go with the made-to-order from Sheetz. If you like a lot of cheese, go with Cosimos. And if you like a lot of bread, go with Big Loafer.

Me? I’ll take Big Loafer.

pepperoni rolls

Kristin and I enjoying our West Virginia Pepperoni Roll adventure!

 

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