Chuck E. Cheese's has the creepy mouse, Domino’s has the Noid, and Little Caesar’s has the repetitious little emperor, but they don’t hold a candle to StevO’s Pizza & Ribs (800 South Havana Street), whose mascots sit outside the eatery and all come on four or more wheels. As you pull into the parking lot, you’ll see the Mystery Machine from Scooby Doo, the Monster Bug (a Volkswagen Beetle with a mohawk), a tricked-out hearse, the Magic School Bus, and even the Pizza Planet delivery car from Toy Story, to name a few.
“I often take the cars out on food deliveries, because I love the way they make people point and smile when they recognize them from a movie or TV show," says owner Steve Wieand, who fixes up the cars himself as a side hobby. "I can pull up next to a sixty-year-old lady and instantly transport her back to childhood when she sees the Mystery Machine. That’s often another way I get paid in this business.” Next on my list of cars to re-create are the Mario Kart and the Flintstones car, though I haven’t worked out the logistics on the Flintstones vehicle just yet.”
Years ago, Wieand worked for a big-name pizza chain and wanted to open his own, but “you have to be a rich man to open one of those franchises,” he notes, “so I started my own place, and now I create my own recipes and follow my own rules.”
Wieand has indeed built a unique eatery that breaks every chain-restaurant rule, considering there are three different cuisines offered, 24-hour delivery service, and breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert any time of day. StevO's fits right in on Havana Street, however, since independent restaurants like his have become a staple and are what give the street its character.
When dining in, you’ll get your food on a random ceramic plate decorated with some kind of flower pattern, no two the same; you might find a similar mismatched collection in your grandmother’s cupboards. You’ll choose from more than thirty pizza toppings, conventional and not-so-conventional, such as macaroni and cheese, crab, sauerkraut, Spam, peanut butter and jelly or peanut M&Ms. “It all started from me wanting to offer a Ninja Turtles-themed pizza, since they were famous for ordering the peanut butter M&M and pepperoni pizza,” said Wieand about the unusual toppings. “It was a big hit, so we started adding even more unconventional toppings from there. Our bacon-and-egg breakfast pizza as well as the mac ’n cheese pizza topping is the most popular.”
Unfortunately, my kids weren’t willing to top their pizza with anything but cheese the night we visited StevO’s. The twelve-inch cheese pizza ($10.49) came out topped with cheddar and mozzarella and had a chewy crust and a full-bodied tomato flavor to the sauce, but was otherwise ordinary maintenance pizza for the kids. The website claims the restaurant doesn't use conveyor-belt pizza ovens, but rather old-fashioned deck ovens, though I couldn’t detect any difference in flavor because of it.
My husband and I shared the BBQ Heaven dinner ($21.99), consisting of a half-pound of ribs, a half-pound of hot links and fifteen wings. The meats are smoked in-house using a combination of black walnut and oak, which probably accounts for the thick, smoky aroma that hits your nose when you first walk in. The ribs definitely had a uniquely sweet taste and were heavily smoked, with a medium pull to the meat, which was doused in an anise-scented tangy and sweet barbecue sauce. The hot links burst in my mouth on each bite, rendering a succulent, tender sausage with a rich fennel and garlic flavor. The wings, not unlike the other ribs and sausage, were moist and zesty, dotted with hot-pepper flakes and sauced in traditional Buffalo wing hot sauce.
Also on the menu are sandwiches and Mexican staples like burritos, nachos and taco salads. Stick-to-your-ribs breakfast items like biscuits and gravy, S.O.S. and a corned beef hash plate are served up as well. Desserts include cheesecake or (here's where the M&Ms might come in handy) a create-your-own dessert pizza with anything from hazelnut spread to Fruity Pebbles. “We try to cater to everybody’s taste and focus on the things we can deliver, in and outside the restaurant,” Wieand explains about the eclectic variety on his menu.
Along with the recognizable movie- and TV-themed vehicles in the parking lot, you’ll also find a bunch of movie-themed decor, plus many other collectibles lining the walls and littering the floors and tables in the small dining area. Tomato plants, surfboards, framed movie posters and a strange skeleton in an electric chair are a few of the interesting pieces you’ll see as you gnaw on your rib bones. My kids went nuts for the recent addition, a one-hundred-year-old self-playing piano that was brought in, as Wieand puts it, “just to make the little kids smile.” It mostly freaked mine out — but kept them entertained for a good fifteen minutes nonetheless. Anchoring the paper-towel napkins at each table are old speakers from the Cinderella Twin drive-in movie theater, which was torn down about a decade ago.
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As if all of this visual entertainment wasn’t enough, the restaurant also hosts conventions and eating challenges. The ceilings have replicas of the large pizza that is served when someone wants to try the “Stevo’s Pizza Challenge,” where you and a friend have to eat an entire 28-inch pizza in under an hour to win $100. If you’re still hungry, a wing and barbecue challenge are also offered. Although the pizza hanging from the ceiling didn’t really look that big, our waitress mentioned that only two people had won the challenge in the last ten years, one of them a competitive eater.
StevO’s will also host the upcoming Hearsecon 2018, complete with hearse racing, fire performers and live music, on June 1, and according to Wieand, the restaurant is being considered as the venue for the next punk-rock convention as well.
If I’m being honest, the food is decent, but I wouldn’t find myself craving anything in particular from the eatery, nor would I drive across town for it. The reason to visit StevO’s lies in the experience — either hoping Wieand delivers your order in one of his zany cars or going to the actual restaurant and watching your kids’ mouths drop at the site of the Mystery Machine and the Magic School Bus or contemplating the existence of ghosts as they watch the piano play itself while you sit back and eat your barbecue, Mexican or Italian food — undisturbed. I absolutely would take my family back on a night when the kids are driving me crazy and I want the choice of something other than pizza or simply can’t stand to spend another meal in the presence of that creepy mouse.
StevO’s Pizza & Ribs is at 800 South Havana Street in Aurora and is open for dine-in or delivery 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can call 303-366-1080 for delivery or visit the StevO's website for more information.