Double Pie Night! Fasano’s of Justice and Phil’s of Oak Lawn, IL

Since 1972. . .and Since 1970

Every once in a while, Ernie and I get a night where we really, really want pizza. That’s not an uncommon occurrence, of course, but more often than not our long drives land us at just one of Chicago’s great pizza joints. On some nights, though, we figure why bother driving all that way just to get one pizza? Thus, we instituted the rare, but celebrated, Double Pie Night.

Our inaugural double-destination trip took us to a huge Chicagoland pizza region: the Southwest Suburbs. It’s where many important roads meet and, in a way, it’s a place where pizza joints opened to follow former Southsiders that left the city for the suburbs down routes like Cicero, Harlem, and, of course, Archer. Our destinations for the evening were located in two of the Southwest Suburbs closest to the city: the inner ring towns of Justice and Oak Lawn.

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Justice & Oak Lawn amongst the Southwest Suburbs, with Southwest Side of Chicago on the right in yellow. Source: 1967 Illinois Official Highway Map, Illinois Digital Archives

It was a rainy evening, but that didn’t slow us down too much. Our first planned stop was Fasano’s Pizza in Justice. To get there, the Pizza Hound and I avoided the expressway as we usually do and headed from Logan Square down several of Chicago’s major thoroughfares. Though Archer is a main connector to Justice–and a tried and true way to pizza glory–we chose to reach our first pizza destination by a different route, just to change it up and see more of the region.

We headed several miles south on Cicero Avenue, and once we passed Midway Airport and a number of railroad tracks, we made a right on South State Road, which runs southwest through the city of Burbank. At Central Avenue we headed south to 87th Street, where we made a right to head west. There were a couple of pizza places right near this intersection, Grassano’s Pizza, a sit-down restaurant and bar, and Papa’s Pizzeria, which was more of by-the-slice and carryout place (and apparently unrelated to Papa’s Pizza Place, which has two locations due west in Woodbridge and Bolingbrook). We got a little distracted, but decided to continue to our planned destinations down the road, even passing a location for local chain Barraco’s Pizza. So much pizza!

Heading west on 87th we passed a number of Chicago-based places: Lindy’s Chili & Gertie’s Ice Cream, Tony’s Finer Foods, and Brown’s Chicken. In the Bridgeview area around Harlem Avenue, there were even a few restaurants and markets that reflect the growing Middle Eastern communities there. Right at the Tri-State Tollway, also known as Interstate 294, we made a right on Roberts Road and almost immediately arrived in Justice.

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Justice, Illinois. Source: Google Maps

Justice is located about 14 miles from the Loop, but is quite close to a portion of the southwestern border of Chicago. In fact, the neighborhoods of Clearing and Garfield Ridge are just a couple of miles to the northeast (up Archer Ave.), separated only by Summit and not far from the historic site commemorating the western edge of the Chicago Portage, an area absolutely crucial in determining the location of Chicago and its subsequent development as a major city. Today a town of nearly 13,000 people, the area of present day Justice was primarily rural until the twentieth century. In the 1830s and 1840s, Irish and Germans who worked on the Illinois & Michigan Canal–which opened in 1848 as a shipping thoroughfare–settled in the area. Archer Avenue bisected the geography that makes up the present-day community in the 1850s. It is very likely that there was little or no pizza in the area yet.

More Germans settled in the area after the Civil War, but growth was somewhat more so accelerated by the creation of Bethania and Resurrection cemeteries. Bethania has German roots, and Resurrection opened to serve large nearby Polish communities. Founded in 1894 and 1904, respectively, the cemeteries brought economic development in the forms of picnic groves and taverns, at a time when visiting the park-like atmosphere of a cemetery was deemed recreational. Like, say, before pizza delivery. Physically, the cemeteries occupy approximately one-fourth the community’s land area. They also loom large in popular consciousness: their dominance on landscape mixed with twentieth century automobile culture and helped lead to the popularization of the legend of Resurrection Mary, a hitchhiking ghost that wanders along Archer next to the namesake cemetery!

The area’s growth, while relatively minimal, led to the incorporation of Justice as a village in 1916. Just under 200 people, some which were Dutch truck farmers, lived in Justice in 1920. Nearby Summit grew larger in these decades, primarily due to the opening of industries such as the Corn Products Refining Company (now Ingredion) in a section of town called Argo, which supplied raw materials for the production Argo cornstarch, Karo corn syrup, and Mazola oil.

Other industries, such as the Elgin Motor Car Company, thrived after World War I. Summit, by the way, has a bunch of pizza options, highlighting its Archer pizza corridor. They include Angry Slice, a new location of Durbin’s, and a location of Benny’s. One place Ernie and I never got a chance to check out there was Chester’s Tavern and Orsi’s Pizza. There’s a nice article here about the place, and an interesting visit (and series) is documented here.

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A scene at Chester’s in the 1930s, before Orsi’s Pizza arrived. Did any of these guys work at Corn Products or Elgin Motor Car? Did any of them live in Justice? Had they ever heard of pizza? Source: Chester’s Tavern & Orsi’s Pizza Official Facebook page.

More substantial population growth in Justice proper occurred in the decades after the Second World War. By 1950 the population had risen to around 854, still a small town. But two decades of rapid suburban growth followed, no doubt accelerated by the opening of the Tri-State Tollway in 1958 and of the Stevenson Expressway in 1964. The Stevenson took the old right-of-way of the old I&M Canal (itself essentially replaced by the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal as a waterway), while the Tri-State ran from the northwest corner of Justice to the southeast corner, dividing the city at angle to Archer. Fasano’s is located in the southeast corner of Justice: east of the tollway and far south of Archer Avenue. By 1960, about 2,800 people called Justice home, but about a decade later, when Fasano’s opened in 1972, Justice was a growing community of about 9,500 residents.

Some students in Justice attend Argo Community High School, a public school located on Harlem Avenue and 63rd Street in Summit just a few blocks to the northeast of the Justice border on Archer. Founded in 1920 while Justice was still quite rural, the home of the Argonauts boasts a number of graduates that have achieved a level of fame, including a few professional athletes. For our purposes, however, the most famous alumnus is Dick Portillo, who founded the amazing Portillo’s in Villa Park in 1963. Portillo’s is now an extremely popular chain serving Chicago favorites like hot dogs and Italian beef. We can’t say we’ve ever seen a Portillo’s that wasn’t busy. After years of success, Portillo donated a considerable sum of money to his alma mater. Argo Community High is also home to WARG FM 88.9, a student-run radio station. A few years ago, they sold off a bunch of their vinyl. These types of stations have some killer stuff, but they also tend to be treasure trove of lost or simply unloved bands that have been forgotten with time. We didn’t go to the sale, but we acquired several things (often repeatedly discounted…oh, my unlovables!) via a local record store. Some pretty cool stuff! Hey, who invited Li’l Wally and Li’l Richard? All the grandmas and grandpas on the Southwest Side, that’s who!

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Hey! We’re here for pizza, Ernie reminded me! Okay, okay. So, I called in the order. After a girl on the other end of the line took the order, she yelled something in the distance. What was that about? I couldn’t quite make out what it was. Right after, she gave us an estimate of when the pizza would be ready.

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When we arrived at Fasano’s, it was still raining. The building’s cinderblock, sheet metal-roofed strip mall construction suggested that it might not be the original location of the pizzeria, family-run since 1972. Inside, I could tell Fasano’s does a fantastic business, so the newish building might be a symbol of success and expansion. Behind the counter off to the right was a wall with three phones, each worked by an employee taking numerous phone orders. Often, I could hear that yell I heard from a worker holding a phone–“How long?!” it turns out–to the other side of the open kitchen. A man at the pizza oven would judge the situation and reply with a time. Little peculiarities like that make different pizza places worth the trip.

There were a lot of people working in the kitchen, and no doubt this little bit of communication was necessary to help juggle as many pizza orders as possible on a busy weekend night. To see what we’re getting at, check out the photos of their busy kitchen, full pizza oven, and wall of phones on the official Fasano’s Facebook page.

It was so busy, in fact, that our pizza wasn’t ready yet, so I sat in one of the several chairs lining the wall for a few minutes. Meanwhile, I overheard a short conversation about the current season of Sons of Anarchy, and I seem to remember some inspirational or religious quotes posted on the wall, but I cannot remember for sure. I noticed they had frozen pizzas for sale in the waiting area, too, another sign pointing to Fasano’s local popularity. Within a few minutes, our pizza was ready.

With our treasure in hand, I ran it out to the car in the light rain. The hound was ready so ready for pizza that he almost couldn’t contain his excitement! But we had one more stop. After all, this was Double Pie Night! After a quick call we headed south on Roberts Road then east on 87th Street to the intersection with Narrangansett Avenue, which south of 87th Street is known as Ridgeland Avenue. This was backtracking a bit, but it was only about two and a half miles away from Fasano’s.

In that short distance, though, we were in a different town with a different story. Ironically, that second joint was one of at least three similarly-named, though unrelated establishments in Chicagoland: Phil’s Pizza. Founded in 1970, this Phil’s is younger than the one in Bridgeport and likely older than the one on the Northwest Side, and it is located in the suburb of Oak Lawn.

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Oak Lawn, Illinois: Home of Phil’s Pizza. Source: Google Maps

Oak Lawn is located to the east of Justice, bordered by Burbank and Hometown to the north, Evergreen Park (home of Roseangela’s Pizza on 95th) and the Chicago neighborhood of Mt. Greenwood to the east, Alsip to the south, and Chicago Ridge to the west. (Chicago Ridge is home to the Frontier Park Fieldhouse, site of many incredible Ring of Honor pro wrestling shows over the years. Truly an exciting time.) Oak Lawn, similar to Justice, was mostly rural until the mid-twentieth century. Photos owned by the Oak Lawn Public Library–many of which are included in Kevin Korst’s history, Oak Lawn–show a dramatically different landscape than heavily-populated suburban community of today. Germans also settled there after the Civil War when the area, commonly known for its signature trees, was known as Black Oaks. The first subdivision there was platted in the 1880s next to a station for the Wabash Railroad, which gave the rural residents access to Chicago markets, and somewhat accelerated development in the area, which by then was known as Oak Lawn. Though a post office was established in 1882, Oak Lawn did not incorporate until 1909 when the area had around 300 residents, some of who were Dutch truck farmers, just as was the case in Justice.

The town continued to grow steadily in the following decades, but the population absolutely exploded after World War II due to white flight from Chicago. Oak Lawn grew from 8,751 residents in 1950 to over 60,000 residents just two decades later. Most economic development occurred along major roads such as 95th Street while new subdivisions sprouted along connecting streets.

Part of the community’s incredible growth could be attributed to successful promotional efforts, particularly the Oak Lawn Round-Up Days. The annual celebration began relatively small in 1949, but just a couple of years later drew reportedly 100,000 attendees. Visitors flocked to the celebration, and new residents flocked to the subdivisions of Oak Lawn. Check out this great scrapbook from the Oak Lawn Public Library with lots of newspaper articles about the Round-Up Days. The great online section focusing on local history also has some fantastic videos of the Round-Up Days as well as of other significant events in the city’s history, such as the tornado that struck Oak Lawn in 1967.

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Source: Round-Up Days Scrapbook, p. 40. Courtesy of the Oak Lawn Public Library. Used with permission.

The event, advertised through Chicago media outlets, tapped into the nostalgic western craze sweeping the nation during the post-war era–as well as local folklore regarding bandits and horse thieves–with a large parade, activities such as “prospecting” in “mines” for prizes, and the performance of a shootout between villains and law enforcement.

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Source: Round-Up Days Scrapbook, p. 47. Courtesy of the Oak Lawn Public Library. Used with permission.

Sponsored by the Oak Lawn Chamber of Commerce, the Round-Up Days were also a boon to local businesses, most of which were concentrated along 95th Street. Many advertised sales and specials during the event.

The Old West meets modern suburban living, too!

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Source: Round-Up Days Scrapbook, p. 26. Courtesy Oak Lawn Public Library. Used with permission.

Make no mistake, there was property for sale in Oak Lawn.

There were also a number of contests, drawings, square dancing, a queen coronation, and often a masked “mystery rider”, who was a well-know local resident in disguise.

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Source: Round-Up Days Scrapbook, p. 11. Courtesy of the Oak Lawn Public Library. Used with permission.

The event was a victim of its own success, as big crowds became difficult to deal with, leading to the discontinuation of the Round-Up Days in 1958. But the event certainly left an impression on working-class folks looking to leave the city for a family-friendly community. The area’s incredible growth, coupled with the evolving suburban ideal, helped change Oak Lawn from a somewhat rural community to a city of comprised primarily of commuters and their families. Though the population has declined from the highs of the 1970s, Oak Lawn remains one of the largest suburban communities in Chicagoland.

The Round-Up days came before Phil’s Pizza showed up on the scene in 1970, though Phil’s arrival was no doubt linked the recent massive population growth. Styles had changed. Westerns didn’t capture the imaginations of children and adults like they had before. Concurrently, Oak Lawn evolved and became a quintessential American suburb of the seventies and eighties, as seen in this glorious photo album, also courtesy of the Oak Lawn Public Library.

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Phil’s shares a brick strip mall with a modestly-sized appliance store and a barber shop. The building, which has brown roofing along the top edge, resembles the Barraco’s on 87th or even an old Burger King or McDonald’s from the ’70s or ’80s. What’s the name for this type of architecture anyway? A few small parking spots in the front highlight the automobile-centric world in which the business was born, but also a more restrained one compared to today’s gigantic multi-car lots. Whereas Fasano’s newer building was setback quite far from the street with numerous parking spots, Phil’s was still quite close to the street, reflecting Oak Lawn’s place in the gradual urban development of Chicago. It’s rural past hard to find, most of Oak Lawn exists still within the steady grid of the much larger city to the east, with numbered streets running east to west and named streets running from north to south (generally) alphabetically. Sure, there are a few mildly curved streets, but they serve as exceptions to the rule. The lawns may be lusher and the houses may have larger floor plans with modern flourishes, but most streetscapes feel very much like an extension of the Southwest Side.

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Inside, Phil’s has tile floor and main counter, with no actual seating for dining in that I recall, though I could be wrong. The wood-paneled walls are covered in sports plaques and photographs, some faded with time, mostly comprised of local baseball teams that Phil’s had sponsored over the years. Just like they did at Fasano’s, workers wore matching red t-shirts and polos for the most part. It seemed much quieter than Fasano’s, though, but we had likely just missed the evening rush. Our pizza was ready right away. We grabbed it and headed home.

As with many of the Chicago suburbs, Oak Lawn has a few notable former residents. Homegrown musical acts, in particular, fit a suburban vibe: Kevin Cronin, lead singer of REO Speedwagon, grew up in Oak Lawn, as did members of 2000s hard rock band Disturbed. Oak Lawn was the original home of Pumpkin Studios, run by former American Breed member (“Bend Me, Shape Me”) Gary Loizzo. At Pumpkin, South Side-bred Styx recorded some of their blockbuster albums in the 1970s and ’80s, including the (in)famous song “Mr. Roboto”!

Chicago-area power pop rockers The Kind recorded their self-titled debut there in the early ’80s, which is a pretty cool. Ernie and I can imagine them cruising over for some squares of delicious pizza from Phil’s in between takes of “Loved By You”.

Two of the four members of ’90s alternative hard rock band Loudmouth, responsible for their minor hard rock hit “Fly” (featured in the movie Varsity Blues, the ’90s less-serious version of All The Right Moves) were from Oak Lawn, as well.

Loudmouth has been largely inactive for years, but one of those Oak Lawn natives, Robert Rolfe Feddersen, continues to release original music to this day. His album 2013 American Loser, full of acoustic-based blue collar anthems, is a particularly good. Take a listen here. He’s now a resident of Northwest Indiana, where quite a lot of Chicago-style thin crust pizza (and some slight variations) can be found.

Phil’s isn’t the only game in town, either. Palermo’s 95th is an extremely popular restaurant. We’ve never had it, but if it’s anything like Palermo’s of 63rd (Are they related?) then it must be some serious competition for Phil’s. Check Please!

Once we got home, we placed the pizzas on the table for comparison. Both came on cardboard in the popular-in-Chicagoland pizza bags with menus and tickets stapled to the end. Both showed their grease content, too.

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Phil’s made a good attempt, but Fasano’s won by soaking through both the bag and the glossy menu! Glorious!

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And our mystery grows stranger. So, the Obbie’s/Villa Napoli guy works for Phil’s, too? I mean, come on. Hard work or conspiracy?

The evidence: He’s on the front of the menu…

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And on the back.

He’s even on the official website.

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What is going on here??? 

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Look at this proud hound!

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Two amazing looking pizzas. Way to go, buddy!

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Both menus had a lot of options. Pan pizzas were available at Fasano’s.

Phil’s has stuffed and deep dish pizzas as well. Sausage is king in Chicago! Both places served fried chicken, too.

Fasano’s was significantly thinner, as thin as standard-bearer Vito & Nick’s (which is located on Pulaski just a few miles to east of Fasano’s), with the toppings under a now-cooled layer of cheese. The crust was light brown, but had a bite that had likely soften since it had cooled. Phil’s, however, relatively thick and cut in bigger squares. The crust was golden. Firm on bottom, with a soft chew. Phil’s also have a heavy amount of toppings, which we like a lot. Very filling.

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Ernie was justifiably proud of his pizzas.

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Both of ’em.

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Circling…

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Meanwhile, Brant Miller gave us an update on the rain.

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While Rob and Allison looked out for everything else.

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The hound, his mom, and I always loved the NBC 5 Chicago crew. We could always depend on them in fun times and in difficult times. And we never missed Brant’s great Fungus Wednesday segment! Just two days after our Double Pie Night, the hound’s mom made a huge move to St. Louis for a new job and to scout out the place for us. It was very sad, but that Wednesday Ernie and I found a sign that it was going to be okay…

We were happy to send her this little gift from Chicago.

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Mushrooms or no mushrooms, there was still plenty of pizza in Chicago for us to discover and taste. Our trip this evening was just one of many to come.

If there’s any indication of which pizza we preferred on our first Double Pie Night, it would be the picture below. We ate some of both, but we clearly took a bigger portion of Phil’s. To our taste, Phil’s was all around a better pizza. It seemed to have better crust, cheese, and toppings, with a noticeably more prominent sauce. Fasano’s was good, too, and seems like it would be best piping hot. Our preference was just that, though. By our estimations, based on only brief encounters with both businesses, Fasano’s seemed to be much busier (it has it’s boosters), so no doubt it has many fans in the area. In fact, at the time of this writing Fasano’s 4.5-star rating is beating out Phil’s 4-star average on Yelp.

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For more on Phil’s, check out this a locally-produced video. It’s a little busy compared to the relaxed treks that Ernie and I take, but worth it for the nice shots of Phil’s delicious pizza and for insights into their pizza-making process.

Now, that’s a tired hound! Our very first Double Pie Night was a huge success. We wish it could be every night. Two pizzas wasn’t too much…it was perfect.

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Fasano’s Pizza is located at 8351 S. Roberts Rd., Justice, IL 60458

(708) 598-6971

fasanospizza.com

&

Phil’s Pizza is located at 8932 Ridgeland Ave., Oak Lawn, IL 60453

(708) 599-4747

philspizza.net

Mama Luna’s Restaurant & Pizzeria – Cragin, Chicago

Since 1960

Sometimes, Ernie and I are in the mood for a long drive to hound out a pizza, like when we drove from Chicago down to Dino’s Pizza in Whiting, Indiana. Other times, we just don’t have the energy or time to travel too far. On those nights, we need pizza right away so we can get home to relax and plop on the couch and stare at (and listen to) the TV. So, on a fall Saturday night in October, we made the relatively short drive to longstanding Mama Luna Restaurant in the Cragin neighborhood on Chicago’s Northwest Side.

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The Cragin area, center. Source: Bulk Petroleum Co. Chicago and Vicinity travel map. Rand McNally & Co. c.1950s.

Today, tens of thousands of residents live in the Cragin area, but one of the earliest settlements was Whiskey Point, located at the meeting of Armitage and Grand Avenues, where a settler named George Merrill opened a saloon in 1835. For about five decades the area remained predominantly rural. But by the 1880s the area began to attract a number of manufacturing establishments, and from that point until the end of the 20th Century industry came to dominate the area’s landscape and culture . One of the earliest companies in the area was the tin plate and sheet iron processing Cragin Brothers & Company, which occupied an 11 acre site. Decades later, the Chicago Tribune noted retrospectively that the company, located at Milwaukee “tracks near LeClaire Avenue in 1882 [. . .made] nuts and bolts, tinware, oilcans, eggbeaters and other items too numerous to mention.” Railroads helped spur access to the business and others like it, and also brought workers and residents, first Swedish, German, and Irish, and in 1889 Cragin was annexed by the rapidly growing city of Chicago. Several other large manufacturing companies moved in and occupied massive spaces, helping set the industrial character of the neighborhood. Many workers of Polish and Italian descent began moving to the area in the 1920s. Most of them lived in between the large factories and warehouses on streets lined with blue-collar two-flats, while those that had achieved a level of affluence lived in the area’s numerous sturdy, beautiful brick bungalows. (See Encyclopedia of Chicago: Belmont-Cragin for more information on the history of Cragin.)

Concurrent with trends of deindustrialization across the older manufacturing-based cities of the Rust Belt, industry began to leave Chicago and the Cragin area in the 1980s and 1990s. Notably, the W.F. Hall Printing Co., which at one time was the largest printing facility in the world, closed in 1985. Between 1970 and the mid-1980s, the wider-encompassing Belmont-Cragin community lost over 15,000, or 47 per cent, of its manufacturing jobs. The city as a whole posted similar numbers. Nonetheless, after a small population loss, the area grew by tens of thousands of residents, mainly due to a large increase in the Hispanic population. Reflecting America’s move to a service economy, the massive footprints of old, closed manufacturing facilities were often converted to retail space. The Carey Brickyard site at Narragansett and Diversey, for example, became home to the Brickyard Mall.

Mama Luna arrived during the neighborhood’s industrial heyday, situated at North Lamon Avenue on the thriving Fullerton Avenue, a primary, four-lane thoroughfare that today remains an economic center of the neighborhood. The Kennedy Expressway (Interstates 90/94) runs to the north, but it’s far enough away for one to think Fullerton is the busiest stretch of road in the world. And since Mama Luna’s has been in the neighborhood on Fullerton since the tail end of the Eisenhower administration, it certainly has had plenty of time to be the scene of an interesting story or two, some written and some never known. One known story is the fact that a mafia hit occurred inside the restaurant on Halloween night in 1975. Yikes!

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The original location of Mama Luna. Source: Google Street View

Of course that story doesn’t define Mama Luna’s. The restaurant, which later moved to its current location three blocks west of Cicero, serves old fashioned Italian American cuisine, with lots of red sauce on the menu. They serve plenty of appetizers and salads, as well. But pizza–classic tavern cut thin crust–is their specialty. Its satisfying and consistent recipe is beloved by many current and former residents. A neighborhood classic.

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Mama Luna’s current location. Source: Google Street View

History and longevity notwithstanding, Mama Luna’s stands as perhaps the most curious pizza place Ernie and I have visited. Maybe it’s the no-nonsense working class heritage of the neighborhood, but the place seems to have developed an, er, reputation for surliness. Like a real life Ed Debevic’s or a realer life Weiner’s Circle, only many customers don’t end up smiling, though. No doubt the place is crazy popular, but it must have the world’s worst reviews for an extremely popular and successful business we’ve seen, especially one that falls not in the tourist-thronged areas of the city but inside a working-class residential area on the West/Northwest Side. There are two separate Yelp listings for the place. At the time we went there, one of the listings had something like two stars, and the other probably had two-and-a-half stars. Apparently, those ratings haven’t wavered, either. Almost every negative review highlights horrible customer service on the delivery end of the equation, often pointing out how rude the Mama Luna’s employee is on the end of the line.

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When I called to order our pizza, I was prepared for this, so I tried to be as direct, quick, and to the point as possible. And the interaction went fine. When we arrived, the parking lot was full. I didn’t go in the dining room, which I regret, but instead only went into the basic, fluorescent-lighted side pick-up area where there were several other people waiting for their orders. The woman who served me was actually friendly and efficient. . .to me. But when a younger coworker working one of the phones relayed a small issue with a customer. . .then I heard a taste of what many of the reviews were talking about! Haha! That’s okay, it was undoubtedly busy. I want to make it clear that she was friendly to me. Maybe I just got lucky. . .or maybe she knew this guy was with me.

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Once we grabbed our pizza, we headed back home to Logan Square through the light drizzle on Fullerton Avenue. Despite all the reviews stating otherwise, the menu claims “100% Satisfaction Guaranteed”. Ernie and I were ready to find out for ourselves.

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The presentation was definitely a good start: Mama Luna’s has some cool, unique boxes. Better than the standard plain white or tan box, and much better than the generic “Italia” design boxes. And the Obbie’s/Villa Nova guy doesn’t work there, either. Our box was beautiful. Definitely a plus!

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And. . .here we go. . .oh my. . .look at that pizza!

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And smell it, too, says Ernie!

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As always, the Pizza Hound gets his reward in the form of a perfect hound-sized piece!

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More please!

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Waiting patiently.

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The very thin crust was clearly handmade, with an imperfect circular shape. It was great, too. Toppings were delicious. The sausage came in big, tasty chunks, and the cheese was simply some of the best we ever ate on a Chicago-style thin crust pizza. Nice and stringy, even after cooling a bit. This quality is a somewhat rare find in our Chicagoland pizza travels, on which cool–and even warm–pizza cheese can harden to a substantially solid block. This cheese was fantastic.

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Here’s the thing about Mama Luna’s: it is hands down one of the best tavern cut, thin crust pizzas in all of Chicagoland. A real classic, fully deserving of praise. That’s must be how they can get away with the bad reviews, and it’s maybe how they can survive after being (supposedly) so rude to customers living within in the delivery area. It really is that good. No matter how the employees act, most customers are no doubt completely happy with their pizza and their experience. Those people just may not write Yelp reviews. And with that, we settled in for a quiet Saturday night.

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After the “real life drama” of 48 Hours, we were in the mood for a Saturday night spooky movie.

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Svengoolie presents The Wolfman!

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Chicagoans know Svengoolie well. One of the greats of the city’s pop culture.

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Many cities across the U.S. had weekly shows where a creepy host with a fun, scary name would introduce classic A- and B-level horror movie that were often bundled by the film studios as Shock Theater or Creature Features. The original horror host is often accepted to be Vampira, hostess of the The Vampira Show on a network affiliate in Los Angeles. Vampira also costarred in the infamous cult classic Plan 9 From Outer Space, and was further immortalized in the Tim Burton film Ed Wood. Cleveland had the famous Ghoulardi, and hosts such as Zacherley , who first appeared in the Philadelphia market, achieved nationwide fame.  Other large cities like St. Louis, Milwaukee , and Pittsburgh had a number of hosts over the years. Some played transmissions from popular hosts broadcasting from New York or other major cities. Chicago had hosts such as Marvin, then later, Svengoolie.

Svengoolie was originally played by radio host Jerry G. Bishop from 1970-1973. Rich Koz took over the role as the Son of Svengoolie in 1979. Later, the role changed simply to the Svengoolie character we know and love. Svengoolie presents a show with a mix of comedy, original parody songs, and very detailed analysis and trivia regarding the movie being televised on a particular evening. Koz and his team really do their research. His segments are just as much a draw as the movie itself. “B e R w Y n

Today, Svengoolie, an icon of Chicago pop culture, stands as one of the last of its kind and is nationally syndicated on Me-TV. So thankfully you don’t have to be in Chicago to enjoy Svengoolie. Mama Luna’s, however, is Chicago only!

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Don’t worry: Ernie didn’t get too scared by The Wolfman, probably because he’s the Woofman! And because he had some delicious Mama Luna pizza in his belly. There he is, the world’s proudest hound posing in front of his treasure!

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The night was a success. More casual than our longer trips, but no less rewarding. Mama Luna’s is great. In fact, it’s one of the best. Their customer service in the delivery department may be notorious, but some reviews pointed out that dining room was quite different, with friendly, welcoming workers. Give them a shot either way, because there’s no doubt you’ll be impressed with their classic family-style pizza. Mama Luna has been serving that same delicious pizza since 1960, when the Cragin area was a prosperous working-class neighborhood with many industries. Today, there are fewer heavy industries to employ local citizens, but Cragin is continues to thrive as a working-class community. In fact, more people currently live in the area than ever. It’s fun to think that there had to be at least one person with a lovable dog who bought a pizza in, like, 1982, and went home to watch Svengoolie. If our trip to Mama Luna is any indication, the restaurant is well on it’s way to being around for another 5o years.

Mama Luna is located at 5109 W. Fullerton Ave., Chicago, IL, 60639

(773) 889-3020

mamalunaspizza.com

A second location is now open on Addison on the Northwest Side

 

Dino’s Pizza – Whiting, IN

Since 1961

It was one week before Halloween that the Pizza Hound and I decided to make trip to just across the state line to Northwest Indiana, an essential part of the Chicago area. That morning he could hardly wait for the evening pizza run, but unfortunately I had to go to work for the day. Our planned destination? Dino’s Pizza, a local place in the small and very interesting city of Whiting. Whiting is an industrial powerhouse in the Region, and, as we found out, a pretty neat little town.

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Work was done for the day, and the Hound could not wait any longer. “I’ve been waiting all day! It’s time to go!”

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Okay, but first I had to get a quick photo with the greatest hound in the world…even if that hound is already on his way out the door.

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It was a beautiful autumn night, and we wanted to enjoy the weather as best we could. Fall is our favorite season by far, and we were in the mood for a long drive–a drive that gave us the opportunity to the get away from the hustle and bustle of the busy work week. Whiting is actually not far away, but with the occasional crawl of Chicago traffic its definitely outside of pizza pickup distance for most people. From the house in Logan Square we headed down Kedzie to Grand then to Chicago Avenue, which we took all the way to US-41, the famed Lake Shore Drive.

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From one corner of the map to another: Logan Square to Whiting via Lake Shore Drive. Source: Bulk Petroleum Co. Chicago and Vicinity travel map. Rand McNally & Co. c.1950s.

Once on Lake Shore Drive, we felt the immense darkness of Lake Michigan to the left, but also the enormity of one of the world’s great cities to the right. At that moment, it feels like you are on the edge of the earth, and grateful to enough to be able to hold onto life in its capital. This massively blurry picture–like a hazy dream–fails to capture the feeling of transcendence you can experience when you see that beautiful skyline and know that it is your home. Sure, Chicago ain’t perfect. It has plenty of problems, and it benefits some more than others, but when all is said and done, you feel very lucky and proud to be a Chicagoan at moments like this. Or at least we felt that way. As lucky as we felt in that moment, we are reminded that so many people across the city that don’t feel so lucky to be there–or even trapped there–and with good reason. Traveling all over the city can help one keep some perspective on what Chicago means to different people, if only in a very small, somewhat insulated way.

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But, at that moment, there was no denying to us that it was beautiful, and there’s plenty of fantastic pizza among those tall buildings. Lots of classic Chicago deep dish, and probably crazy long lines and large groups of wide-eyed tourists to go with it. We love that stuff, but our mission was about 15 or so miles down the road. So, we continued down Lake Shore away from the sparkle of the Loop.

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Around the Soldier Field and McCormick Place, Lake Shore opens up, and the cars start speeding a bit. Once you get to Hyde Park and South Shore, though, the road narrows to two lanes, still hugging the shoreline for the most part. Moving through the left the of the radio dial, we picked up a high school football game broadcast coming from Northwest Indiana, which only enhanced the great autumn mood. At 79th Street in South Chicago, we hopped on the new four-lane southern extension of Lake Shore Drive which gave us a quick, smooth drive through the massive former U.S. Steel South Works site, still mostly vacant awaiting promised developments that have yet to come. Soon, Lake Shore Drive ended and we continued south on the two lane Ewing Avenue. Through South Chicago and the East Side–Southeast Side neighborhoods that serve as counterparts to Northwest Indiana both in history and regional character, we passed a few pizza places such Avy’s, Pucci’s, and Route 66. There’s Maya’s and Capri’s on Commercial Avenue, too, and Waldo Cooney’s and Gusi’s are over there, as well. The hound’s nose led us forward despite the tasty distractions.

Just after traveling underneath the Skyway, we made a left on Indianapolis Boulevard, the lifeline that would take us to our destination just a few miles down the road. Soon we saw a sign that said “Welcome to Indiana,”  and we knew we didn’t have much farther to go. There, on piece of road that is particularly jarring to one’s senses, we passed the Horseshoe Casino, cheap gas stations, fireworks stands, and the odorous Cargill plant. The landscape there is flat and undefined, likely reflecting the swampland and dunes that characterized the area before industrial development hid them somewhat from view.

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Source: Bulk Petroleum Co. Chicago and Vicinity travel map. Rand McNally & Co. c.1950s.

That odd small piece of land falls with the city limits of Hammond and owes its existence within that city to annexation battles between various Region communities in the 1890s. Residents in the area of present-day Whiting resisted incorporation, allowing Hammond city leaders the opportunity to annex the Roby and Robertsdale communities, among others, which gave Hammond this thin strip of land with access to Lake Michigan. The proximity to Whiting and geographical distance and separation from Hammond proper (which was actually located several miles to the south down present day Calumet Avenue), as well as the the historical and official government connections such as postal and phone codes to Whiting, have apparently long made the area disputed territory in local lore.

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Source: Bulk Petroleum Co. Chicago and Vicinity travel map. Rand McNally & Co. c.1950s.

After crossing this barrier-like stretch of land, we arrived at a strip of businesses on Indianapolis Blvd. that eventually leads to the businesses of Whiting. Whiting is a small city that borders Lake Michigan, an advantage that gives it excellent industrial and shipping opportunities that were only reinforced by railroad lines through the area. On land, the city is surrounded by (as mentioned before) the somewhat L-shaped  Hammond and the city of East Chicago, both of which have historically been home to a number of industries, including steel production. In fact, the major man-made Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal is located in East Chicago. But we weren’t going that far east, nor that far south into the heart of Hammond. Continuing to travel southeast on Indianapolis Blvd., we reached Whiting proper, where we encountered a number of restaurants and older divey taverns. A few blocks south of the older main street section on 119th Street, we headed east on 121st Street. In a corner storefront tucked in the neighborhood, the pizza beacon Dino’s is located where the street meets White Oak Avenue.

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Dino’s began its five-plus decade run as Baker Boys Pizza and opened for business in 1961. This location on 121st is Dino’s second location, with the original on the other side of town to the west on Calumet Avenue (in Hammond? I can see where this can be confusing…), at an address the is the current home to Gusto’s Pizza. Check out these classic Dino’s menus from the official Dino’s website.

By the time Ernie and I made it there that Friday night, Dino’s was pretty quiet. No doubt most of their business was carryout and delivery, though, as evidenced by the couple of delivery drivers hanging out waiting for their next runs. Attesting to the Region’s connection to the big city just a few miles away, Chicago sports posters adorn the walls of Dino’s fairly simple red, white, and black dining room (Go Hawks!). That’s the pickup window in the back.

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The lights from the huge BP oil refinery, a huge employer and the primary driver of the economy in Whiting, sparkle just a few blocks from Dino’s. According to the Encyclopedia of Chicago, the refinery was opened in the 1890 by the Standard Oil Co. of Illinois, and has defined local character ever since. In the mid-1890s, when leaders from Hammond annexed Robertsdale and Roby, they also made a move to annex then-unincorporated Whiting, with a planned attempt to eventually annex the refinery in order to access its tax revenue. However, this play was met with strong with resistance from Standard Oil, who blocked the annexation of Whiting by Hammond, and later advocated for the incorporation of Whiting and succeeded, ensuring the placement of the refinery within the bounds of the Whiting community.

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While Ernie and I can only speculate why Dino’s moved from its original location on the busy drag of Calumet Avenue, the pizza joint likely benefited from its newer location, from which workers could leave a shift and pick up dinner on the way home from the refinery. In fact, two of the other corners at 121st and White Oak have buildings that appear to have been former or currently vacant commercial buildings. Perhaps the intersection an active point of commerce–or at least home to a tavern–years ago. Here you go…nice and blurry!

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Homes bordering the refinery are a mix styles and building materials, but mostly of modest design and construction, and mostly one or two stories tall. Many of these working-class frame houses are built very close to street and may have been built by Standard Oil. Some house have a small lawn in front. There are some bungalows, too, that were likely built a few decades later. Farther to the west–Whiting is relatively small with just under 5,000 residents living in three and a quarter square miles, so “farther to the west” is just a few blocks, and I suppose in this case, in Hammond–some streets are lined with homes that appear somewhat more affluent, with fancier designs, brick construction, and curving streets. This brick house, however, is located in the vicinity of the refinery and Dino’s.

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Many streets were packed with houses, some with strands of orange Halloween lights. The older style streetlamps that line the streets are notable, as well. No doubt, a lot fear ran down this block during the huge refinery explosion in 1955.

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The resulting fire burned for eight days, resulted in two deaths, and damaged about 200 homes. Scary stuff.

The refinery has had many incidents over the years, including a few–though still potentially very dangerous–fires. Here’s some footage a smaller one that happened in 1984.

Action shot! Another former corner storefront can be seen on the right. These types business were easily accessible community resources before the rise of automobile ownership, especially in a densely-populated industrial community like Whiting.

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Attesting to the place of the oil refinery in the local economy, the Whiting High School students represent their school and town in a number of sports as the Oilers. The school’s football has a storied history, too.

For professional sports, Oil City Stadium, home of the Northwest Indiana Oilmen minor league baseball team, is not too far away either. Land for the stadium was donated by the Standard Oil Co., and the stadium’s official website sums up the connection of the refinery to the community nicely: “The BP Refinery, located just beyond the outfield fence, is a constant reminder of the blue collar attitude this town was built on.” Blue collar, hard hat, huge muscles…he only needs a pizza to complete the picture.

A large percentage of Whiting’s population are involved in manufacturing and related industries, and steel mills in East Chicago such as ArcelorMittal are draws. LTV Steel used to be there, too. And with a historically industrial communities, comes a lot of taverns. Midtown Station, one of the many taverns in Whiting and in the region, located north of Dino’s at New York and Fischrupp avenues.

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A longtime primary retail district, 119th Street, is lined with a number of two- and three-story commercial buildings housing new and old businesses. There are some great pictures on the Whiting-Robertsdale Historical Society (one case of Whiting residents holding on to Robertsdale…the two areas share a chamber of commerce, too) site of parades and events on 119th Street and across Whiting. The Whiting Public Library site has a great information on the history of Whiting, as well. The grand historic Hoosier Theatre, the only remaining theater of its kind in Northwest Indiana, is located on 119th Street. The several hundred-seat theater, which opened in 1924 with Vaudeville performances, cartoons, and organ-accompanied feature length films, was restored in the 1990s. Today, one can go see Hollywood’s biggest hits on a giant screen and in a building that has been placed on the National Registry of Historic Places.

Not only had the Hoosier Theatre been restored, but this main street appeared to be in good shape, and most of the properties appeared to be occupied. It’s evident the street has either  never witnessed a large decline like many main streets across America, or more likely, has seen a lot of purposeful recent redevelopment focused investment. A number of people were out walking and enjoying the evening, and it appeared that the street had been closed off for an event. Likely, the streets were closed for the beginning of local Halloween festivities. These included a family-friendly parade the next day that ran on 119th and ended at Oil City Stadium (where treats were available!) and locally-run haunted hayrides at Whihala Beach, where the skyline of Chicago can be seen in the dark distance across the lake! Apparently, the concessions at the hayrides were sponsored by the local Beggars Pizza franchise, giving the world yet another example of how pizza benefits the communities.

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Whiting holds another festival earlier in October called Wickedly Whiting to celebrate the beginning of the Halloween season, and the city celebrates the Eastern European heritage of many of its residents, too, by hosting to well-attended Pierogi Fest each summer. Here’s one of the many small businesses on 119th Street, Sun Catchers Stained Glass.

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We got the impression that Whiting is a great town. It has a classic small company town feel, but when you are on 119th Street, you could easily forget that that giant company looms just a few blocks away. That is, if you did not depend on it for a living. As interesting as Whiting was, eventually we needed to return to Chicago, and after driving around exploring a bit, Ernie and I decided it time to retrace our steps and head home. So, we jumped on Indianapolis Boulevard and flew up Lake Shore Drive back to the the big city. It’s hard to see in the picture below, but there’s a hound there waiting to get back in the Logan Square apartment to taste our Dino’s pizza.

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The long trip, we found,  was well worth it, not just to experience Whiting but also–and most certainly–to enjoy our pizza. Our extra large all pepperoni, half sausage pizza came on a cardboard circle covered with a paper bag. Though I am no authority on the subject, I have to say that the Chicago area is the only place I have seen this type of pizza packaging commonly used instead of pizza boxes. Even Pequod’s on Clybourn used to house their massive pan pizzas like this up until a few years ago. Do they do this in other regions?

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Menu deals for the month. Happy Halloween!

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Loyalty is rewarded at Dino’s, too. Collect 20 coupons for a medium cheese and sausage pizza. Again, sausage proves to be the most popular topping in the Chicago area, even extending out to Northwest Indiana. You could almost call it the “default setting” pizza. Why does the cheese need to be mentioned, by the way? This was not the first time we wondered that question while exploring a pizza menu.

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Also attached to the bag was a flyer for an upcoming performance of Shrek: The Musical at a local church. The production was presented by the Marian Theatre Guild, a theatrical group based in Whiting that dates all the way back to 1926! It’s pretty remarkable that a city the size of Whiting would have a guild at all, much less one that has been producing shows for 90 years. It’s even more notable that it is based in a city where the local economy has been focused on heavy industries much of its existence.

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Now to the pizza! We carefully slid the pizza out and were very happy with what we saw and smelled.  Chunks of sausage and a generous helping of pepperoni sat on top of the cheese. The crust was thin, but not ultra thin like the venerable Vito & Nick’s. The crust was also crispy, with a nice ring around edge giving me a nice grip and leaving plenty of scraps for the Hound.

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The proud hound posed in front of his treasure before we dove in. He really earned this one. Even traveling across the state line could not distract him from his goal.

Ernie Dino's Pizza

Of course, if not for him, I could not have found this great pizza. So he got the first piece! Crust and a nice amount of sauce on a perfectly hound-sized bite.

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Here you go, buddy.

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More please!

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Nice looking squares of pizza.  The sauce was dark, rich, and a bit tangy. Very good stuff.

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The cheese was nice and stringy, if only a touch oily. Delicious.

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Dino’s offers deep dish pizza, as well, and the Dino’s Special is a standard Chicago special with sausage, green pepper, mushroom, and onion but adds pepperoni. They also offer other specialty pizzas such as a Taco Pizza, a Hawaiian Pizza, and something called a Four Seasons Pizza. We definitely enjoyed our sausage and pepperoni, though. After yet another successful pizza hunt, Ernie was so tired! C’mon Ernie, it’s not like we had to work all night at the refinery. Oh, well…pizza houndin’ is hard work. With a full belly, he curled up on the couch to rest for the night.

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It was a great trip to Dino’s, and they served an excellent tavern cut, Chicago-style thin crust pizza. It’s well worth picking up if you happen to be in the Region. Ernie and I had so much fun in Whiting that when the Pizza Hound woke up the next day he continued to enjoy the fall weather and was excited for a possible Saturday night pizza run.

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We knew we would go back to the Region soon. There was even another pizza place our list to try in Whiting…or is it in Hammond…I guess it’s up for debate (or not)! But there certainly is no debate that our trip to Whiting and Dino’s Pizza–hidden in the neighborhood near the lights of the refinery–was exactly what we needed on a cool fall Friday night.

Dino’s Pizza is located at 1601 121st Street, Whiting, IN 46394

(219) 659-0715

dinospizzawhiting.com

Dino’s Pizza on Facebook

 

Di Vita’s Restaurant & Pizzeria – Avondale/Logan Square, Chicago

Since 1953 (1958?)

This was the second time I had had Di Vita’s, a longtime eatery at Belmont near Milwaukee Ave. in Avondale area of Chicago. It’s been around a long time: since the 1950s. The Pizza Hound, however, wanted to try it for his first time, so for WrestleMania–the last one we watched at the Logan Square apartment–we got Di Vita’s.

Di Vita's - Google Map

Logan Square and Avondale. Source: Google Maps

Di Vita’s by some definitions located in the Logan Square community area of Chicago, but commonly it is referred to as being part of Avondale. People in Chicago sometimes tend to be rigid in the their neighborhood definitions, but like people in other cities, they are defined by different names and boundaries by different groups over time. The stretch of Milwaukee Avenue just to the south reflects that change through time. In just a few blocks, there several Polish-focused restaurants, bars, and stores, reflecting the thriving Polish community there for many decades. The Red Apple Buffet, Endy’s Delicatessen, Kurowski’s Sausage Shop, and the newer Staropolska Restaurant, just to name a few, can be found there. There are some businesses with Spanish names on Milwaukee and Belmont, as well, reflecting the large numbers of people from Latin America that have in the recent decades have transformed and revitalized Avondale, Logan Square, and many parts of Chicago. It’s a very interesting stretch of road worth exploring.

The area is full of classic Chicago two- and three-flat buildings. Some have brick facades, but many are clad with siding in muted colors. The crawl of gentrification has been affecting the area recently, pushing northwest along the Blue Line tracks, and rents and homes prices have increased. Trendy bars are popping up not too far away, and there are already some chains such as Giordano’s not too far away.

Di Vita’s has defied those changes, serving Italian food for six decades. Since Ernie and I had to watch to drama and action of professional wrestling’s biggest annual event, his mom went to pick it up for us.

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The Di Vita’s website says the business has been around since 1953, but the menu says 1958. If it’s not a typo, this confusion of dates could be due to the different families that owned the business and the different locations for the business over the years. According the business website, the Di Vita family purchased a pizzeria at Fullerton and Kedzie avenues from a husband and wife team headed for divorce. The new owners renamed the business after the Di Vita family name, and in the late 1970s moved to the current location at Belmont and Hamlin. Early in the 1980s, the Di Vita’s sold the Pecarros family. The business was sold within that family sometime in the 1980s, and is still run by the Pecarros family to this day.

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For this WrestleMania, Ernie–wh0 has long been a John Cena fan–was really excited about Daniel Bryan taking on the Authority. So, I made him a small Daniel Bryan t-shirt collar to go with his Cena shirt, then we watched and listened to Bryan win two matches to become the champion at Wrestlemania 30. Woof! Woof! Woof!

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Halfway through the show, though, Ernie fell asleep and could not be bothered…

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Not even by the spectacle of WrestleMania.

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The arrival pizza perked him up, though!

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Di Vita’s makes a standard Chicago-style thin crust pie. They apparently make their own dough, which is always a plus. Ernie loved the crust leftovers…frontward…

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and backward.

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The Near Northwest Side of Chicago does not have nearly enough old fashioned local pizza joints, which makes supporting Di Vita’s a worthwhile choice for your pizza needs. For years living around Logan Square, Wicker Park, Bucktown, and Ukrainian Village, we always wished there more choices. Sure, there were classics like John’s on Western and Father & Son on Milwaukee–and farther to the Northwest there are many choices like La Villa–but there had surely been other businesses that had vanished in the passage of time. Gentrification has brought newer, more contemporary pizza options to those areas such as Piece, Santullo’s, Boiler Room, Dante’s, and Coal Fire (mmmm…) that focus on New York and New Haven styles of pizza, not to mention a few local and national chains. But classic thin crust tavern-cut pizza is a key piece of local culture, so enjoying pizza from places like Di Vita’s is well worth occasionally bypassing those newer options to get a real taste of Chicago.

It’s also a great choice when you are hanging out at home watching and listening to the underdog beat the bad guys in the biggest event of the year. Yes! Yes! Yes! Woof! Woof! Woof!

 Di Vita’s Restaurant & Pizzeria is located at 3753 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago, IL 60618

(773) 588-5868

Di Vita’s Official Website

Di Vita’s on Facebook

Frank’s Pizza – Dixmoor, IL

Since 1964

It was mild midsummer evening when the Pizza Hound caught a scent that took us south to Frank’s Pizza. Though I had driven by the place years before, there was no way I would have found this place, located south of Chicago in suburban Dixmoor, again on my own.

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For us, it was a long way to go south to 143rd block of Western Avenue to find Frank’s Pizza. Supposedly, Western Avenue is the longest continuous street in an American city, and trust us, it can sure feel like it, especially when the traffic is bad. In the past, it always seemed like it took a long time for us to get just to Beverly on Chicago’s far Southwest Side, but as we found out, Dixmoor is quite a bit farther. Ernie had to get comfortable for a long ride.

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We actually waited until we were in Beverly to call in the pizza order, which we did from the parking lot of the wonderful Janson’s Drive-In. The lady on the line was very friendly, and even called me back to give me the correct total. Ernie wanted a snack, but we still had a ways to go.

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After Beverly, we drove through the Chicago neighborhood of Morgan Park, and continued through the city of Blue Island, a working-class suburb just south of the Chicago city limits. Blue Island has a great little downtown/main street on and around Western Avenue on a ridge just north of the Cal-Sag Channel. Though there are a few antique stores, restaurants, and bars occupying the storefronts, the area’s relative commercial decline from heights of previous decades almost gives the community of about 24,000 people a small town feel. South of the channel, another small, lower-lying district with a number of bars and restaurants is located on Old Western Avenue, the former alignment of the great road. We took a look around in both areas, marking them down to explore more in the future, then got back on Western Avenue to continue south, where Western is also known as the Dixie Highway.

This is a part of Chicagoland about which I’ve always been curious, but is still mystery to me, even after this trip. The Blue Island/South Suburban area is traditionally blue collar–which is still apparent today. A number of heavy industrial companies, such as Modern Forge, are located in the area, as well as plenty of railroad lines that allude to area’s past and present. Though there are some fancier homes of the historically well-to-do, plenty of mid-century suburban style homes of various sizes and designs, and even trailers, older, more modest homes tend to dominate the landscape.

Frank's Pizza -Dixmoor Map

Source: Google Maps

After crossing the channel in Blue Island, we crossed one set of those railroad tracks. A number of warehouses and older modest frame homes were interspersed along the road. We passed a huge auto salvage yard and a steel company, among other business, then some more tracks, and some mobile home parks. Despite the somewhat industrial working-class landscape, trees and vegetation increase, and the area feels less and less like a big city. As part of the Calumet Region, the area reminded me of the postindustial landscape Chicago Southeast Side, where heavy industry intermingled with hard-earned homes of factory workers but signs of the natural watershed landscape show themselves from time to time.  Single-family homes line the side streets on neatly-maintained lots, some small, but also some noticeably bigger than many neighborhoods in Chicago. South of Blue Island, Dixmoor, home to about 3,600 residents, is located on the eastern side of Western Avenue, while bordering Posen, home to about 6,000 residents, can be found on the western side of the street. Like Southeast Chicago, this area lost manufacturing jobs in the second half of the 20th Century. Also like that area, which witnessed the Trumball Park riots in South Deering in 1953, a racially-charged incident occurred–the Gin Bottle Riot in 1964. Most integration in Dixmoor, however, was reportedly peaceful.

After crossing yet another set of railroad tracks–and after the unusual intersection of Western with Spaulding Avenue–we came to Frank’s Pizza, in Dixmoor, on the left.

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The area around Frank’s at the time felt particularly quiet. Even though Interstate 57 isn’t too far away (you can hear the cars zooming by), we got the feeling of a bar out in the country somewhere that was know only to locals. Frank’s does have a sizable parking lot at the south end of the building, which probably means it gets busy, but we were just one of a handful of cars that night. On the north end of the business, they have some picnic tables and a sand volleyball court. A cinder block addition to the building serves as a great hand painted billboard, advertising not only the beer and food found inside, but also the fun to be had: “volleyball, bean bags, bocce ball, horse shoes, darts, pool” (not pictured). As the sun went down, I headed through the side door into this palace to pick up our food.

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For the most part, Frank’s is more of a neighborhood tavern–emphasizing the drinks and games–more than it’s a restaurant. A classic Chicago type of place, but with a noticeably more rural feeling, almost like a stop along a lake or river. People likely stop here after work, as their are plenty of workplaces nearby, and the cigarette smoke-filled tavern on this Saturday night was relatively full of locals and regulars just enjoying a drink. Off to one was side was a separate area illuminated significantly brighter than the bar side (which was pretty dark) by an overhead fluorescent light. In the corner was the counter for ordering and picking up food. I did not order anything at the bar, but the counter staff making and serving the pizza was very friendly. I picked up a hint of “who are you?” body language, but that’s a pretty typical response on Pizza Hound trips! They were perfectly nice, though, and they placed our pizza on cardboard just as it came out of the oven, cut it into squares, wrapped it in a paper bag, stapled it (along with a loyalty coupon), and we were on our way.

Frank’s coupon deal specifically rewards customers with a free large sausage pizza, further attesting to the widespread popularity of sausage in the Chicago area. At 30 coupons, Frank’s requires probably the most devotion repeat pizza eaters we encountered in Chicagoland. No doubt that’s not a hard number for local pizza lovers to reach.

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This, however, was likely our one shot at enjoying Frank’s, so we went big with the family size pizza, 15 inches (if I remember right). We got sausage and pepperoni on one side, but I wanted something different on the other half. Frank’s does not offer set combination pizzas such as the widely-popular “special”, so to get it we had to order the sausage, green peppers, onions, and mushrooms as separate toppings. This made the pizza a little more expensive than expected.

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The pizza was quite heavy, with a hefty crust. Thin crust, but on the definitely thicker side of thin. Toppings were generous. The sausage and pepperoni won the face-off, as the vegetable toppings on the other side did not really stand out taste-wise. The mushrooms appeared to canned, which is not really a plus overall, but it’s definitely not a deal-breaker. The cheese was a nice, thick layer, which with the sauce left a nice thin char along the edge. As usual, Ernie was very interested in this pizza.

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He got some crust and he was happy. I was happy, too.

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In addition to pizzas, sandwiches are available at Frank’s, including the typical Chicago beef and sausage sandwiches. A wide range of “snacks” are served, too; perfect for munching away while having a beer or two during the Bears, Hawks, Sox, or Cubs game (not completely sure about the baseball loyalties at Frank’s. . .just like Chicago ain’t always about the deep dish, it’s not as cut and dry as North Side=Cubs, South Side=Sox, I’ve found). Frank’s also sells ocean perch and, highlighting the widespread Eastern European heritage in the Chicago area, pierogies.

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Ernie and I really enjoyed our experience at Frank’s Pizza. Be sure you check out if you are in the South Suburbs, passing by on Interstate 57, or up for making drive from the North Side. It’s a true old Chicago tavern with a little lake/river flavor, typical to the Calumet Region. Sadly, the owner of Frank’s Pizza, Frank Podbielniak, passed away in 2015. Hopefully, Frank’s Pizza will live on as his legacy.

Frank’s Pizza is located at 14331 S. Western Ave., Dixmoor, IL 60406

(708) 389-1143

frankspizzapub.com

Frank’s Pizza on Yelp

 

Marcello’s Father and Son Restaurant – Logan Square, Chicago

Since 1947

Over several years living in Chicago, the hound’s mom and I ended up loving a few eateries above all else: La Pasadita for burritos and tacos; Fiore’s for sandwiches; Kuma’s and Edzo’s for burgers; Ipsento for coffee; Pequod’s for pan pizza. We were also very fond of Thai Eatery and Rangoli. Each of these places had that perfect combination between taste and value. You knew you were going to get excellent food at a fair price. And for thin crust pizza, that place was Father and Son, or as we commonly called it, Marcello’s.

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Father and Son has been around forever, and it’s longevity is well-deserved. Amid the rapid gentrification of Logan Square, with its increasingly trendy selection of eateries and stores, Father and Son holds on as a connection to preceding decades–a landmark to known throughout the neighborhood by longtime residents, past and present. In recent years, Logan Square has become home to newer–and very good–pizza options, such as Dante’s and Boiler Room, but Father and Son has stood the test of time, thriving for nearly an incredible 70 years.

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We most typically got Marcello’s for a night in and not really a traditional Pizza Hound run. Both carryout and delivery were very efficient. In fact, I think we only dined in there once, which is a shame, because the dining room is great. Large windows with line the front so diners can sit in one of the comfortable booths and look out onto busy Milwaukee Avenue. The walls have some tasteful wood paneling, with the typical images of Italy. There are also a number of tables, often filled with families enjoying a night out. Gene Siskel and Robert Ebert apparently also enjoyed dining there, too, and Ebert even said it was their favorite in Chicago. That’s a significant endorsement in our book. Make no mistake: Father and Son appears to do a good business.

In fact, the first time we had ever heard of Father and Son was from someone who grew up in the Wicker Park/Humboldt Park area. He was our neighbor, and a very friendly, talkative guy. We mentioned to him that we were going out later that evening for pizza to celebrate my birthday. With huge grin, he excitedly responded something to the effect of “So, you’re having a pizza party? Can I come? Where you having it? Marcello’s?” What was Marcello’s and why was that the first and only place that came to his mind to mention? It’s probably because it’s been in Logan Square since 1947, first located, according to this nice article, at a smaller space at Diversey and Whipple,  and then at the current Milwaukee Avenue location where it moved a few years later. Father and Son was thus a traditional neighborhood staple, known for delivering pizzas all over the area. If we had grown up there, we’d have known that.

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But we eventually figured it out, and it became one of our favorites. Father and Son serves ultra thin, tavern cut pizza. The crust is crispy and cracker-like. The chunks of sausage may not really stand out, but are definitely better than most out there. The sausage and pepperoni combination was always our favorite, but we also added onions and shrimp once or twice, which made the topping layer very thick. New York style pizza, which has a little bit thicker crust, is on the menu, though I do not recall ever trying it. The deep dish is very good, as well. Not just a plain pan pizza like many restaurants in the area; this a well-balanced, not overly-hefty deep dish with buttery crust and chunky tomato sauce on top of the cheese. All in all it had a thickness similar to a pizza from Lou Malnati’s. Some “gourmet pizza” options are available, too.

Father and Son particularly excels at Italian American pasta dishes of the red sauce variety. A basic spaghetti or ravioli dish is an excellent value and worth trying. For us, there was usually enough left over to put in the fridge and have another meal the next day. The salads are good, too. The menu is remarkably huge, rounded out with steaks, ribs, soups, seafood, a number of different sandwiches, and broasted chicken.

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Pizza from Marcello’s Father and Son is also a central player in the what we shall call the “Bat Pizza Incident of Halloween 2013.” This was a legendary event, retold to this day as part of our family lore. Each year Marcello’s has fun promotions where they cut a pizza into a particular shape and sell it for a deal on a holiday. For Valentine’s Day, they make a heart-shaped pizza, which we ordered a couple of times. On Halloween, though, the real fun happens: they cut a extra large thin crust pizza into the shape of a bat! Bat Pizza is so much fun.

Father and Son Halloween bat pizza

Source: Official Marcello’s email

Well, that October 31st we ordered the Bat Pizza to celebrate the holiday. Ernie was dressed in his Spider-Man costume, with his Halloween sidekick, Frankie.

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He had already gotten his “candy” bucket, which was full of treats and chew toys, but we should have known he would not settle for just “treats.” So, we opened the box on the coffee table and we smiled with recognition at the fun bat-shaped pizza. At that moment, Ernie immediately turned his head sideways, darted it forward, and snagged the first piece! All we could do was laugh.

Here’s some rare, grainy photographic evidence of the incident about to take place. Could this be the origin of The Amazing Pizza Hound???

Ernie loved it, and so did we. A superhero was born.

Father and Son has been extremely successful. Apparently, it has filled thousands of orders per week for decades. That success has brought some changes. It is somewhat corporately branded, so there is a bit of robot-like blandness in their menu presentation and on their website. Pictures of their food, while legitimate, look a bit like stock photos, and they seem to really push things like their gluten free menu. They also have locations in Lincoln Park/Old Town on North Avenue and in suburban Northbrook, both under Marcello’s brand name, which extends to their catering services. Recently, the company opened a counter-service location in Skokie under the somewhat trendy name Father and Son Italian Kitchen, which includes a solar-powered food truck! Despite all of that sucking out some of the old-neighborhood allure of Father and Son, the ease of being able to easily order from their online system more than makes up for it. Plus, you get online deals via email, which we took advantage of quite a bit. And the fact remains: Father and Son is still a family-run Logan Square institution with great, great food completely deserving of its success.

We miss Father and Son a lot. We feel really lucky that we lived in a Chicago neighborhood that was also home to one of the city’s finest old pizzerias. Pizza was the last meal we had in Chicago, but I regret that Father and Son wasn’t a part of that meal. I also wish we had more pictures of this great pizza; I guess we made the mistake of taking it for granted.

That’s Marcello’s…

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Not to be confused with. . .Martello’s.

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         Marcello’s Father and Son is located at 2475 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, IL 60647

(773) 252-2620

Official Website

Jim & Pete’s – Elmwood Park, IL

Since 1941

If Jim & Pete’s has been around 1941, then it certainly makes a run for the oldest pizza place we visited in the Chicago area. In the same year America went to war, two partners, Jim Sorce, Sr. and Pete Sizzo, opened a pizza counter at Chicago and Pulaski avenues in the West Humboldt Park in Chicago . By the 1950s, they had expanded service to a full service restaurant in River Forest. They operated until the mid-1980s when they moved to the current location. The Sorce family (including Jim’s son, Jim Jr.), along with the nephew of the other original partner, run Jim & Pete’s to this day, using the recipes of Jim Sr.’s wife for many of the dishes.   Check out this great old photograph of the original location from the official website!

The trek to Jim & Pete’s was a relatively easy one for us. Ernie jumped in the passenger seat and we headed west on North Avenue to the city limits, then traveling through Oak Park to Elmwood Park. North Avenue serves as the border between Elmwood Park and the beautiful tree-lined streets of River Forest, which with the expensive, large homes on large lots looks like a scene out of a 1980s John Hughes movie.

A few other restaurants dot this stretch of North Avenue. One such establishment is the fantastic Chicago classic, Johnnie’s Beef. There always seems to be a line of customers running outside around the building. The wait is worth it, though, as they serve one of the tastiest, mouthwatering beefs in Chicago. The Italian sausage and fries are great, too.

We called in the order, then drove around the neighborhood to check it out. Lots of one-and-a-half story, single family yellow brick homes and some more spacious two-story ones, each with a very neat lawn. Many appear to have been built in the 1940s and ’50s. Some homes in Elmwood Park, particularly those in the section north of Grand Avenue, were constructed in the 1920s,

Just bit west toward the river was Russell’s Barbecue on Thatcher Avenue, which looks straight out of an old Route 66 postcard, with a lot beautiful neon signage. We’ve never tasted the food at Russell’s, but I once bought a bottle of their signature sauce. To my taste, it was pretty strange, with a preponderance of an unidentifiable spice. That said, it deserves points for being unique. But anyway, we got back pretty quickly, though, as the pizza was surely ready in the standard Chicago “15 to 20.”

Jim & Pete's 2014 - Google Street View

Source: Google Street View

It was a weekend summer evening, and business was good at Jim & Pete’s. This newer building, though it’s built up to the sidewalk, looks a bit like a suburban style restaurant with parking lots on the sides. The staff was very friendly and welcoming, and they directed me to the small pickup window in the back. We had a coupon for a free bottle of Pepsi and our bill came out to about $22 including tax. As the sun set, we headed back east on North Avenue. Once at home, we opened up the treasure.

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Ernie was very interested in this pizza.

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This extra large pizza–18 inches–was something to behold. While it may look just like all the others, it was better than most. Even with simple toppings like sausage and pepperoni it somehow transcended such a basic formula. The cheese and sausage were very good, with the sausage and pepperoni found mostly on top of the cheese. The sauce was fantastic and formed a small flavorful ring around the edge leaving a small bit of crust visible. And the crust, too, was outstanding. Very, very thin and crispy–perfect for an occasional treat for Ernie. I have to admit, though, it was hard to give up any of this pizza, even to the little guy.

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Jim & Pete’s also serves double dough, pan, stuffed, and “hand rolled” crusts–and I bet they do each of them well. The thin crust was excellent, though, and I wish we could have it again. Way to go, Pizza Hound!

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We highly recommend the pizza at Jim & Pete’s. It’s amazing how any place can maintain quality for 75 years. From its earliest days in West Humbolt Park to over three decades in down the street in River Forest to today in Elmwood Park, somehow Jim & Pete’s has done it.

Jim & Pete’s is located at 7806 W. North Ave., Elmwood Park, IL 60707

(708) 453-5204

Jim & Pete’s Official Website

Jim & Pete’s on Facebook