Notes from the West Virginia Pepperoni Roll Highway

[Photographs: Hawk Krall ]

Ever since I first stumbled upon a Pepperoni Roll at a combination bait & tackle/ convenience store/ post office in the mountains of West Virginia, I've been obsessed. And after reading Kenji's thoughts on Pizza-Like-Objects I knew it was time to get them on Slice. Right off the bat let's be clear that this peculiar snack found in West Virginia (and parts of Ohio, Maryland and Pennsylvania ) has almost nothing in common with what's called a "pepperoni roll" in the rest of the country.

Similar to the Philadelphia-area tomato pie I'm so obsessed with, West Virginia pepperoni rolls are more commonly found at bakeries rather than pizzerias, and can be eaten cold. The basic formula is a dinner-roll sized bun of very white bread, with a thin stick of pepperoni baked inside that infuses the dough with orange grease as it sits on the gas-station counter.


They come in a variety of sizes and flavors, with cheese or hot cheese as a standard option. The most common are of the pre-packaged variety found in convenience stores, but there's also plenty of bakeries (and even gas stations) that make them fresh. The story is that West Virginia Pepperoni Rolls were developed as meals for Italian-American coal miners—easy to carry, and held up for a few hours down in the mines.

Although usually enjoyed as a quick snack on the road, Pepperoni Rolls are also served hot at hot dog joints and lunch counters, warmed in a toaster oven or broiler, split and topped with hot dog chili, cheese, more pepperoni, and more rarely, tomato sauce. These tend to be bigger and breadier, and more of a full meal.

Either way it's a fascinating and delicious regional thing that I need to try more of—two places further south that I'm dying to try are the 24-hour Donut shop in Buckhannon that makes them from scratch and Tomaro's in Clarksburg.