Hint: it was in the 80's.
Before the Indiana-based pizza chain attempted to go national, they were a reputable pizza-monger, known to locals for quality food and a groovy, dimly-lit atmosphere. All locations' windows were covered-over with wood slats to ensure darkness, facilitating movie projection on the walls. Even in the blistering hot midday sun, one could find cool air-conditioned darkness at a Noble Romans. It was too dark in there to see what you were eating. but it tasted good.
Non-hoosiers were introduced to a different face of NoBo's as they expanded into neighboring states–buying up failed Godfather's Pizza locations–and actively competing for the Guinness Book award for least edible, most-nauseating pizza in the known universe. Having eventually achieved that ignoble recognition, they moved on to a "take and bake" business model, and were never frequented again by anyone who likes pizza. Technically they remain in business to this day, but not in a form recognizable to early patrons.
Before they were terrible
A close friend who left Indiana in 1983 randomly asked me about Noble Romans recently. I had to break the news; they no longer existed. We reminisced for a bit about the restaurant's early features:
- The previously-mentioned dim lighting, ensured by blocked windows
- A glass window into the kitchen with steps and a small stoop for kids to watch flying hand-tossed dough
- Doughy, yeasty breadsticks
- Video game machines, sometimes jukeboxes
- Candles on the table during evening hours
- B&W silent films projected on the wall
An original location survived perhaps?
Apparently, I drive past a Noble Romans on my daily commute, its existence barely on the periphery of my consciousness. But after that phone call, something made me glance over as I drove past. I noticed: the windows were covered. The Italian state emblem was on the windows just like the one frequented in my childhood. Could this be a Noble Roman's throwback location? I began my research.
Reviews of this particular location on Goole Plus Local confirm:
- A "Dungeon-like interior motif." ✓
- "Best pizza and breadsticks you can buy." ✓
- Same owners for the past 29 years. - a good sign
Reviews at Yelp of the same location mention:
- "The breadsticks are soft, not greasy and covered with butter (a good thing.)" ✓
- "Deep dish pizza with tomato sauce dolloped all over the place" ✓
- The same reviewer says: "Nostalgia factor off the charts" ✓
- "A window into the kitchen were you can watch them make the pizza (there is even a step-up platform so kids can watch.)" ✓!!! We're there!
Gonna find out
Armed with coupons, I'm sending in a crack team of investigative eaters to get the story. Readers of Retrogeeker will get the scoop first. Stay tuned...
Update: A+. In the evening, (of this post,) I convinced the family to give it a try. It felt like nothing had changed since 1986. Each table had its own roll of paper towels. The restaurant layout was the same with the step stool for kids at the glass window into the kitchen, rotating oven, no other windows in the restaurant. No candles (might be a faulty memory) but stained glass Noble Romans lamps over every table. Some old Capcom machines from the early 90's.