It is, to be sure, an unusual recommendation for a restaurant: you have to see the men’s room.
The bathroom is immaculately clean and well-stocked with soap and paper products—these are not givens for the men’s room in a bowling alley—but the real draw here is how the space is decorated. There is a wall-to-wall, chair rail-to-ceiling collage of photographs that document the last 65 years of bowling in Aliquippa.
Bowling teams—collections of five or six reliably pudgy white dudes—clutching black bowling balls in matching uniforms; color snapshots of parties, gatherings, and banquets; rough cut-outs of single rollers approaching the lanes with the tucked-in shirts and pressed slacks of another era. Across them all, the names of the alley’s regulars, friends, and family members are recorded in hand-written ballpoint and fading-away felt tip: Larry Turkovich, Art Delisio, Angel Rama, Yogi Brachetti, the Ambroses.
Ohio Valley Pizza is its own glorious thing. Par-baked ahead of time in large, rectangular sheet pans and cut in squares to be sold by the slice, the dough is oxymoronically thick but light, crispy—not chewy—and comes adorned with cheese and toppings that may or may not have been through the baking cycle. With the exception of Beto’s—perhaps Ohio Valley pizza’s easternmost outpost—The Orbit has been negligent of reporting this important regional style. That ends today.
Ricky Dee’s, the pizzeria/restaurant/bar inside Aliquippa’s Sheffield Lanes bowling alley, has been serving up Ohio Valley pizza for the last four decades. First, from a longstanding shop in Glenwillard and then moving into its present location within the bowling alley sometime later.
A bowling alley’s restaurant need only make serviceable hamburgers and french fries to accompany the bowling—and beer—that pay the rent. Ricky Dee’s ain’t that.
The pizza is the real thing: dough made fresh daily by people who care, risen high and cooked hot to crispen the edges and keep the inside lifted, dreamy, and airy. Sold by the six-cut block—one quarter tray—you’ll end up with one corner, three edge pieces, and two middle slices per order. The six pack ($8.40 plain, $12-$13 bucks with a couple toppings) was plenty for the two of us.
It is a perfect pizza experience all on its own … but that’s only half of the reason for a trip to Ricky Dee’s.
The restaurant is so much more than merely an exquisite pizza shop. Inside its windowless walls, there exists a kind of historical archive—and love letter—to Aliquippa, its people, and bowling. The reverence paid to the many, many patrons of Sheffield Lanes over the last five or six decades is felt immediately. The big photo collage in the men’s room is incredible, but the tribute neither begins nor ends there.
Cafe tables—made from recycled bowling lanes—are decorated with bowling pins painted as tiny statuettes and include wax-dripped bowling balls as chunky candleholders. Every chair in Ricky Dee’s is upholstered with a bowler’s retired league shirt, covered in thick clear plastic—so sitting on them doesn’t feel as weird as it sounds. The walls include dozens of additional photographs of local bowlers, tournaments, and curios of a unique world just gone by.
The alley’s patriarch, Joe D’Agostino—Ricky’s father and the original “Dee”—is memorialized in a fascinating collection of club membership cards that is worth the drive alone. Between the late-1940s and mid-1960s, the man was a member of The Ukrainian National Association, Chiefs of Police, Wolves Club of Aliquippa, American Rubberband Duckpin Bowling Congress, and dozens of other social, fraternal, and sport organizations. The light and glare inside Ricky Dee’s is not always conducive to photography, so you’re going to have to see this amazing collection for yourself, in person.
And you should—see it in person, that is—as well as eat it in person—the pizza, that is.
Sure, when you’re looking for a dinner pie, you could order from some (literal!) cheesy chain or pay thirty bucks to a foo-foo pizza artisan with a colorful spiel. That’s all fine—I guess—but places like Ricky Dee’s that continue to craft extraordinary pizza with a no-nonsense simple approach are not ones to ignore or take for granted. When a pizzeria comes with this much extra history, eye-popping detail, and love for their city and its people, that’s really something special.
Lastly, I’ll add that the pizza was great hot out of the oven on the day we visited Sheffield Lanes, but Ricky Dee’s also offers a take-and-bake option that was equally delicious back home, prepared as directed the following day. So if you take the trip out to Aliquippa, make sure to do like any good cleanup bowler and pick up a spare. Whether you need it or not is debatable; that it is fantastic is not.
Getting there: Ricky Dee’s is located inside the Sheffield Lanes bowling alley, 818 Raccoon Street, Aliquippa. Ricky Dee’s is not open all the time, so check their web site for current hours.