Buffalo’s Pie Zanos Is Next Wyoming Restaurant On 'Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives'

Food Network superstar Guy Fieri is featuring the restaurant Pie Zanos in Buffalo on the Dec. 15 “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.” The restaurant is owned by Renee Tiller, the daughter of the late former U.W. football coach Joe Tiller.

RJ
Renée Jean

December 10, 20237 min read

Pie Zanos Fieri with the crew 12 10 23

When it comes to Italian food, it takes a lot to impress self-proclaimed Mayor of Flavortown Guy Fieri.

Not only has Fieri been to Italy to try some of the best original Italian foods in the world, he also has Italian roots on his paternal grandfather Giuseppe Fieri’s side.

So when Guy Fieri likes an Italian restaurant, it means that spot has probably got something extra special.

That would definitely be the case for Pie Zanos in Buffalo, Wyoming, which will be featured by Fieri on the Dec. 15 episode of his hit Food Network’s show “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.”

Fieri dropped by the restaurant this past summer to try out the restaurant’s version of chicken saltimbocca and its meatlover’s pizza, carne armante.

Saltimbocca is typically baked chicken breast served with lemon, Alfredo, sage and prosciutto. But restaurant owner Renée Tiller has made it her own with a few twists.

“We scallopini that chicken and then we fill it with fresh sage and we add caramelized onion to it, which is not traditionally in the dish,” she said. “That gives it something different that’s also delicious.”

The dish is rounded out with linguini and pesto, a nice complement to the lemon sauce, as well as just giving the whole plate a pretty presentation.

The carne armante pizza, meanwhile, features Italian smoked brisket, lamb, smoked beef meatballs, smoked Italian sausage, pancetta and pepperoni.

“We make our own sauce and we make our own dough,” Tiller said.

The pizza and the chicken are among the restaurant’s most ordered dishes and are what drew Fieri’s attention.

  • Food Network star Guy Fieri, far right, with the Pie Zanos owner Renée Tiller, center, and her crew in Buffalo, Wyoming.
    Food Network star Guy Fieri, far right, with the Pie Zanos owner Renée Tiller, center, and her crew in Buffalo, Wyoming. (Courtesy Pie Zanos via Facebook)
  • The chicken saltimbocca is what got Guy Fieri's attention. Unlike a typical saltimbocca, the Pie Zanos' version has been turned into a roulade and is served with a nest of pesto linguini with fried capers tossed over all of it.
    The chicken saltimbocca is what got Guy Fieri's attention. Unlike a typical saltimbocca, the Pie Zanos' version has been turned into a roulade and is served with a nest of pesto linguini with fried capers tossed over all of it. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • The pizza Margherita from Pie Zanos, cooked in a wood-fired oven.
    The pizza Margherita from Pie Zanos, cooked in a wood-fired oven. (Courtesy Pie Zanos via Facebook)
  • For dessert, a gluten-free chocolate cake that tastes almost like a truffle. Very smooth.
    For dessert, a gluten-free chocolate cake that tastes almost like a truffle. Very smooth. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • The chicken saltimbocca.
    The chicken saltimbocca. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)

A Lot Of Work

Fieri is exactly like the guy viewers see on his popular Food Network television shows, Tiller told Cowboy State Daily.

“He’s very personable, he’s funny, and we just had a really really good time together,” she said. “And the production crew was awesome. They were just very on point, plus they had their own camaraderie going on, so it was fun to interact with them.”

Getting to cook with Fieri was a big highlight.

“We just went through, you know, how we make the saltimbocca and how we do all the things for the pizza, and you know, we just talked and had fun and made food,” Tiller said. “And I’ve never been culinary trained, so they taught me stuff, and it was also super fun.”

Preparing for Fieri’s visit also was a ton of work.

“It was four days, you know, eight- or 10-hour days for us, with three hours of shooting time with him,” Tiller said. “On one of the days, they call it a beauty shot, so we made the food, and then they just took all kinds of different pictures of it from different angles.”

Making Buffalo Home

Tiller has been cooking things up in the kitchen since she was 6.

“When I was living in Kentucky, I had a giant garden, and that was my grocery store,” she told Cowboy State Daily. “I would go in the garden and figure out what I could pick, and then find something to make with it that would taste good. And it turns out I have a knack for, you know, finding things that are good and interesting and different.”

Tiller never had any plan to move to Buffalo and open a restaurant. That idea came from her parents.

Tiller’s father, Joe Tiller, was head coach at the University of Wyoming in the late 1980s to early 1990s, and retired to Buffalo in 2009.

Joe bought a business on Main Street, planning to open an antique shop with a soda fountain. But soon he had an entirely different idea.

“They got to talking and they decided if they can have their family close, they’d like to make that happen,” Tiller said. “So in 2012, they started calling me and saying, ‘Hey, you’re really good at what you’re doing, so why don’t you move to Buffalo and open a restaurant?’”

At first, Tiller was not sold on the idea and flat-out told them no. Dad kept asking though, and eventually Tiller decided her “no” had been too hasty.

It All Started With A Smoked Meatball

The Italian angle was something of a happy accident for Pie Zanos.

“Originally, we were going to be a barbecue restaurant,” Tiller said. “Because, being from Kentucky, you know, we had hickory and oak and cherry trees all growing in our yard. So we built a little practice smoker and we started doing some things.”

But on a marketing trip, Tiller and business partner Matt McWilliams found that Buffalo already had a barbecue spot just a block and a half away from the restaurant’s current spot on Main Street.

Their second choice had been Mexican, because Tiller’s sister-in-law has a lot of great, authentic Mexican recipes. But there was one of those a block or so away as well.

Tiller returned to Kentucky uncertain what kind of restaurant to open in Wyoming.

“My business partner, who was also from the restaurant business, was doing some stonemasonry in Kentucky,” Tiller said. “And his business partner there smoked a meatloaf for dinner one night.”

That turned a lightbulb on for Tiller.

“I’d never even thought about smoking ground meat like that,” Tiller said. “But when I heard that, I started wondering if I could smoke meatballs.”

At a cookout one night, Tiller smoked some Italian meatballs on a makeshift rack and served them up to guests. They were a hit, and from that moment on Tiller knew she was aiming for an Italian restaurant.

  • Pie Zanos The scoreboard above the bar used to hang in Renée Tillers brothers gymnasium 12 10 23
    Pie Zanos The scoreboard above the bar used to hang in Renée Tillers brothers gymnasium 12 10 23 (Cowboy State Daily Staff)
  • The Indian sitting quietly by the fancy wood stove gets lots of comments from guest at Pie Zanos in Buffalo.
    The Indian sitting quietly by the fancy wood stove gets lots of comments from guest at Pie Zanos in Buffalo. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Pie Zanos attracts a full house just about every day during the summer.
    Pie Zanos attracts a full house just about every day during the summer. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Pie Zanos co-owner Renée Tiller has placed many of her dad's antiques on display at the restaurant.
    Pie Zanos co-owner Renée Tiller has placed many of her dad's antiques on display at the restaurant. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • A portion of one wall is devoted to Renée Tiller's dad Joe, who was head coach at University of Wyoming in the late 1980s to early 1990s.
    A portion of one wall is devoted to Renée Tiller's dad Joe, who was head coach at University of Wyoming in the late 1980s to early 1990s. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Pie Zanos A portion of one wall is devoted to Renée Tillers dad Joe who was head coach at University of Wyoming in the late 80s to early 90s 12 10 23
    Pie Zanos A portion of one wall is devoted to Renée Tillers dad Joe who was head coach at University of Wyoming in the late 80s to early 90s 12 10 23 (Cowboy State Daily Staff)
  • Joe Tiller liked to collect antiques.
    Joe Tiller liked to collect antiques. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)

Blowing The Food A Kiss

Naming the restaurant was the next task, and Pie Zanos was somewhat of a default.

“It was the one name we could all agree on,” Tiller said. “And you know, we do pizza, so it’s a piece of pie, but also a pisano is a fellow countryman in Italian, and we wanted to be part of our community. And there’s a Basque community here, so they use the term pisano quite a bit, so it’s a little bit of a play on that.”

Since then, Tiller has discovered that nearly every state has a Pie Zanos, but she’s still not sorry she chose the name, even if it’s not as unique as she had initially thought.

“I‘m still the only one in Wyoming,” she said.

But it’s not just the name or unique recipes that make her food one-of-a-kind. She’s also sourcing fresh ingredients from Wyoming.

“We do everything from scratch,” she said. “We do a lot of locally sourced ground beef and locally sourced lamb. And in the summer, we use a local greenhouse.”

In the summer, she sometimes sources yak and lamb from Gillette and has interesting specials based around all of the freshest farm-to-table ingredients that she can get from Wyoming producers.

Tiller knows she’s on the right track with her fresh ideas, and that’s not just because of Guy Fieri’s recent visit.

“I knew I was going to make it when my second year open, we had a lot of tourists from a lot of different countries in the summer,” she said. “And there was a table of Italians, there were four Italians at one of my tables, and they were blowing kisses at my food. And I was like, you know what, I’m gonna be fine.”

Renée Jean can be reached at Renee@CowboyStateDaily.com.

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RJ

Renée Jean

Business and Tourism Reporter