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

Villa Napoli Pizzeria – Norridge, IL

Since 1984

Villa Napoli is yet another decades-old Northwest Side/Northwest Suburbs Chicago-style pizza joint with likely a devoted local following.

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The Pizza Hound and I made our way there one summer night. From the city, we headed north on Harlem Avenue to the suburb of Harwood Heights (home of the original Jay’s Beef!), then headed west on Lawrence Avenue. It was around Fourth of July, and we passed a great bright carnival, with all kinds of lights, rides, and people. It was packed. After a few miles, we arrived at our destination. Tucked in the corner of strip mall that it shares with a hairdresser, a liquor store, and Polish bar called Lazer Knights (!), Villa Napoli serves pizza to area unique part of the Chicago area, the island of Norridge and Harwood Heights.

Villa Napoli Exterior from Google Street

Source: Google Street View

According to the Encyclopedia of Chicago, Norridge–home of Villa Napoli and today a community of about 14,500 people within about 1.8 square miles–takes its name from the nearby Chicago community area Norwood Park and the suburb of Park Ridge to the north. In the late 1940s, local residents resisted annexation by the city of Chicago, and later founded present day Norridge. Today, Norridge and the neighboring Harwood Heights (which also denied annexation), form an independent island with the Chicago city limits, much like the much larger Detroit surrounds the small city of Hamtramck. In fact, it turns out that that big fair we passed earlier was the annual Island In The City Festival!

Most streets in Norridge are lined with brick single-family homes built in the postwar decades, with a few apartment buildings and autocentric commercial developments found mostly along major roads such as Lawrence Avenue. The nearby Harlem Irving Plaza was built on former farmland in the mid-1950s, but you wouldn’t know that by looking at the landscape today. O’Hare Airport is just to the west and you can almost feel it. You can definitely hear it.

Villa Napoli - Norridge from Google Maps

Source: Google Maps

There’s no shortage of pizza with in a mile or so in the Norridge area. Annetti’s and Original Mama Mia’s are both on Cumberland Avenue to the east, and Al’s (“Est. 1999” and “Home of Chicago’s Thinnest Pizza”) is on Lawrence just a block or so away from Villa Napoli. Not to mention Bije’s on Irving Park Road in southeast corner of Norridge, and the great pizza places on Harlem Avenue in the city. There are likely more, too. Villa Napoli, however, was our primary focus for the evening.

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Inside, several tables and chairs, with booths lining the wall, and white walls with a few faded framed pictures made a dining room that was not all that remarkable. Pizza was why were there, though. A couple of guys sat at table enjoying their own cheesy extra large pizza. It looked really good.

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I headed to the counter in the back. A few older photos, some faded with time, and some newspaper articles adorned the walls by the counter. Apparently, Villa Napoli was highly rated by former Sun-Times food critic Pat Bruno. Again, we got a extra large all pepperoni, half sausage. And, of course, we ordered thin crust, the true Chicago standard.

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While this pizza was not one of our favorites, it admittedly suffered from the long drive home. The cheese had predictably hardened as it cooled, which is fine, but upon reheating it did not seem melt very well. That said, by the time we finished it (after munching on it later that night and the next day), it really grew on us. The sauce was tasty. We may not go out of our way to get it again, but it certainly is a decent Chicago-style thin crust pizza. Probably best if had at the restaurant or for carryout/delivery nearby when it’s hot and fresh. I’m sure there are people that swear by this pizza as the best, and no doubt many locals in the Norridge/Harwood Heights area collect a lot of these coupons!

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Villa Napoli offers pan and stuffed pizza, too. They have a wider variety of toppings than your typical Chicago area pizza joint, as well, with “fancy”toppings such as capers, prosciutto, and artichoke hearts, and they also have more-common, unique-to-Chicago such as Italian beef and hot giardiniera. Not to worry, there’s also plenty of old fashioned sausage, too.

Hey, Villa Napoli guy…

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do you work somewhere on the South Side, too?

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Check it out if you are in the near Northwest Suburbs. As the menu says, “Serving Chicago, Elmwood Park, Franklin Park, River Grove, Rosemont, O’Hare Airport, Park Ridge, Schiller Park, Norridge, Harwood Heights.” Interestingly, the owner apparently ran for the Norridge Village Board last year. We’re picking no sides in that fight. Still, the Hound and I fully support the inclusion of pizza in our local and national political discourse.

Villa Napoli Pizzeria is located at 8546 W. Lawrence Ave., Norridge, IL 60706

(708) 456-5022

One of the three websites for Villa Napoli we could find.

Villa Napoli on Facebook (unofficial)

Pizza Castle – Gage Park, Chicago

Since 1973

Is there any name for a pizza place more fun than Pizza Castle? What a wonderful name for a wonderful little place.

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Pizza Castle is located the Gage Park neighborhood on 55th Street between Spaulding and Sawyer avenues. Despite its location in a small strip mall, the surrounding streets are lined primarily with brick bungalows and sturdy two-flats. Gage Park is found south of the Stevenson Expressway and borders the neighborhoods of Brighton Park and Archer Heights to the north, Back of the Yards and West Englewood to the east, West Elsdon to the west, and Chicago Lawn to the south. While other pizza options really aren’t too far away, they are all still a bit of a hike if you don’t have a car (Geneo’s is somewhat nearby, though east of Kedzie). So, with it’s location and years of dependability, Pizza Castle reigns as the pizza king for the heart of Gage Park.

Pizza Castle - Gage Park from Google Maps

Source: Google Maps

It’s really a shame that we didn’t get more photos of this place, especially of the inside, which highlight the important place the family-oriented pizza joint occupies in a city neighborhood. On the outside, Pizza Castle makes the best use possible of a strip mall storefront. The windows in the front have a number lights, flags, and signs alerting passersby to delights available inside. A lot of the text on the signage appears to painted in what appears to my eyes as an older, less common typeface, giving the exterior of Pizza Castle a classic look.

The inside is the real treat, though. Colorful, bright, and inviting, it was the perfect antidote the rainy night we encountered outside. Behind the counter is a big oven, with several workers in Pizza Castle t-shirts making dough and tending to baking pies. It was clearly a busy night when we arrived. A delivery driver or two waited for orders, but were soon out the door. A small side counter with stools to stay and enjoy a slice is available, too. It is much cozier inside than the outside suggests.

In addition to the typical logos of Chicago’s beloved sports teams, the walls are covered in fantastic framed collages of Pizza Castle’s customers and neighbors. With seemingly thousands of happy, smiling, and (presumably) local faces, I couldn’t help but feel like the Pizza Hound had made the right choice for our pizza run. Check out the official Pizza Castle Facebook page to see the wonderful collages.

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The menu features all the standard toppings, as well as the classic Chicago Italian beef. Double dough is available for a thicker crust. As usual, Ernie and I stuck with the typical Chicago-style thin crust, but instead of the usual pepperoni and sausage, I wanted a little more variety. So, we got Pizza Castle’s version of the standard Chicago special (sausage, green peppers, onions, and mushrooms) called the King Arthur!

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The king and the dragon delivered the goods!

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And of course the Pizza Hound needed his own piece (crust and sauce only)!

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You deserve it, buddy!

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Pizza Castle makes their own sausage, which was delicious and a highlight of the King Arthur. Since we weren’t sure when we’d make it back to Pizza Castle, we naturally got two pizzas. The menu highlights the popular choices of sausage, spinach, and just cheese, but we opted for pepperoni. While the thin crust was good, the stuffed pizza really stood out. Delicious crust and cheese, and really one of our favorite pizzas we’ve had on our adventures.

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Pizza Castle has gotten some well-deserved attention in the Chicago area in the last couple of years, and according to their Facebook page they were just filmed and interviewed by Andrew Zimmern of the Travel Channel! Wow! No bizarre food here; just great pizza. Not bad for a local South Side pizza joint!

Deals on wings are to be had at Pizza Castle, t00. Not to mention pasta, shrimp, perch, and the standard fried stuff. Don’t forget your free RC Cola with every large and extra large pizza!

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No doubt about it, the Pizza Hound loves Pizza Castle.

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Pizza Castle is located at 3256 W. 55th St., Chicago, IL 60632

(773) 776-1075

Pizza Castle on Facebook