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

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

(708) 599-4747

philspizza.net

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

 

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)

Bill’s Pizza & Pub – Mundelein, IL

Since 1957

With the chill of Fall in the air, the Pizza Hound agreed that we needed a heartier pizza than the many thin crust Chicago style pizzas we’d been having. We could get deep dish, but we were looking for something a little different. A double decker pizza to be exact! So, the Hound pointed the way to the north suburb of Mundelein, home of the landmark Bill’s Pizza Pub.

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It was Friday night and we wanted to take our time, so we got off the Eden’s Expressway at US 41 to slow the trip down. The new Gaslight Anthem was playing through our speakers, but as the music played, my mind wandered elsewhere. “Isn’t Billy Corgan’s tea shop around here?” The ever-focused Pizza Hound encouraged me to get straight to the pizza, because we were hungry, and we had slowed things down a little too much already. So, we continued to travel north, then headed east on Townline Road, then north again on Lake Street, or US 45, to reach Mundelein.

First incorporated in 1865, Mundelein used to be a pretty small town. In 1950, about 3,000 people lived within its borders. Substantial growth occurred in the following decades, however, no doubt due to the construction of the Tri-State Tollway. Today, after years of suburbanization, the city boasts a population of about 31,o00 people. Bill’s Pizza & Pub remains from those small town days in the 1950s, having outgrown its original location and now residing its current building, a former garage.

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“Lodge-like” is the best way to describe the building that currently houses Bill’s. That makes sense, too, as the restaurant looks on the outside like a supper club for vacationers mixed with a local bar that everyone in town knows–and it’s located directly on Diamond Lake, one the numerous bodies of water that sprinkle Lake County, Illinois, just north of Chicago, all the way to Wisconsin. Apparently the structure used to be a garage, though.

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The place was plenty decorated already, but did a great job of adding some fall touches which help fit the cool, breezy weather. Pumpkins? Are they taunting me for not stopping Billy Corgan’s tea shop? Anyway, we did not get to check out the dining room, unfortunately. I imagine it’s just about perfect. We did, however, head over to the separate pick-up area, which had plenty of classic local pizza place-isms to enjoy. Photos, a few plaques, and a few Halloween decorations adorned the walls. A freezer with frozen Bill’s pizzas was located off to one side. Mike Ditka is still a huge star in Chicagoland, as his name affixed to the Vienna Beef ad in the center of the photo attests.

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The kitchen was full of teenagers wearing matching Bill’s shirts, chatting loudly about “teenaged” things. And that’s just fine. They were friendly and it seemed like everybody got their pizzas quickly and efficiently. No doubt Bill’s has a been a popular first job for thousands of area teenagers for a few generations. That’s a great community resource. Starting with the photo of the original Bill’s Pizza in the top right corner of the collage below, one can follow the history of the business through faces and places over the years. Not only is Bill’s part of Mundelein’s business history, it is also a player in the personal histories of countless employees and customers for nearly 60 years.

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It took us about an hour to get home because we weren’t rushing, and we just headed back the way we came. When we made it home, we headed directly for the kitchen to behold what Ernie had tracked down. Bill’s has their own printed boxes, adding a nice to touch to the experience. Is that a little bear munching on a pizza? Geez, that’s cute.

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We got the double decker pizza, a hearty pie that Bill’s apparently originated in the Lake County area. I later met someone at a wedding from the area who grew up eating the thin crust pizza at Bill’s, but he had never heard of the double decker pizza, so I don’t know how popular it is locally. But I have to say, to us, it was awesome.

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The Pizza Hound waited very patiently…

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And it was worth the wait. The pizza was fantastic from the first slice. A nice, soft rolled dough crust along the edge, with a very thin layer of crust along the bottom. Sauce, cheese, and toppings came next, just as on a typical pizza. Then, another layer of quality sauce, cheese, and toppings, with the pepperoni beneath the cheese and the sausage chunks sticking out above it. This is Bill’s double decker pizza.

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By our estimation, this differs from Chicago-style stuffed pizza–which has a top layer of dough covered with sauce–by having an entire new layer of all the components. The end crust was softer than the typically dense stuffed pizza crust, and the inside was remarkably thin for the amount of different ingredients included. That said, just one piece filled me up. Happily, for Ernie (and me), he got a lot of crust with this pizza.

This was a special trip for us, and we recommend this pizza highly. Maybe someday we’ll head up to Mundelein again and try out the thin crust. We could even try out Bill’s Pizza North, the company’s second location, in Grayslake. We may even stop along the way for tea.

Bill’s Pizza & Pub is located at 624 S. Lake St., Mundelein, IL 60060

(847) 566-5380

Bill’s Pizza & Pub Official Website

Bill’s Pizza & Pub on Facebook

Nino’s Pizzeria – Alsip, IL

Since 1948

Since 1948…wow. That’s some serious stability. It also makes Nino’s just five years younger than the world-famous Pizzeria Uno. While Uno has a thriving tourist business (not to mention a fantastic pizza) that ensures its profitability, Nino’s location far from the Loop attests to its reliance on long-term quality and consistency, as well as local customer loyalty.

Ernie and I didn’t grow up on the South Side eating the pizza at Nino’s, so traveling there was just as exciting for us as an out-of-towner’s first trip to Uno. It was quite a long trip for a Friday night to get to Alsip, too, but it was well worth it.

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Located south of Chicago on 111th Street at Cicero Avenue, Nino’s is a place where families and friends can enjoy a comfortable, relaxed dining experience. Architecturally, the building has a bit of Tudor Revival going on, and on the inside, it’s a classic pizza joint: dim lighting coming from a few lamps and neon signs; exposed brick and wood-paneled walls; cozy wooden booths; red and white checkered table clothes; old photos; beer signs…a perfect place to enjoy pizza.

But since the Hound isn’t allowed inside (that’s okay…we know the rules!), he and I got called in a carryout order and headed back to the house in Logan Square to enjoy the prize. We got the 16-inch family size thin crust pizza. A party size pizza, measuring 18 inches in diameter, is available, too. Still, Nino’s has an even bigger pizza: the Wagon Wheel! Coming in at an unbelievable 29 inches, the Wagon Wheel is perfect for a party…or a good candidate to replace weekly groceries for pizza lovers like us!

Now, to our pizza. Toppings and cheese were standard and solid, but the crust set the pizza apart from other pizzas we’ve eaten in Chicago. Made with good dough, the crust on our pizza was thin and a bit soft, which contrasts with a place such as Vito & Nick’s which has (excellent) thin and crispy crust. This difference helped make Nino’s a taste for us to remember. Check out that cool drawing of the pizza king!

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Price-wise, Nino’s comes out on the higher end of all the pizza places we visited. Our one-and-a-half topping 16-inch pizza came out to over $27 after tax, which is a few dollars over  our average.

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Nino’s also offers deep dish, stuffed, and pan pizzas. It’s nice to have all those options. While we’ve never had any of those varieties from Nino’s, the fact that they clearly distinguish between “deep dish” and “pan” shows that they know what they are doing when it comes to Chicago pizza styles. The Hound and I have found that it is fairly common to for pizza places to use those terms interchangeably, which means you don’t know what you’re going to get and there’s a good chance that it’s not as good as their thin crust. Nino’s knows the difference. And, as the menu shows, sausage is encouraged, likely because, well, sausage is super popular as a pizza topping in the Chicago area.

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Coupons came with our order. Newer coupons can be found on their official website. We got free pop, too!

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Is this the original location of Nino’s? Previously a small town of a few thousand people, the town of Alsip experienced its largest population growth in the 1960s and 1970s after the Tri-State Tollway, located to the south and west, was constructed. Did this pizzeria actually open there in 1948 when just about 1,000 people lived in the community (as opposed to nearly 20,000 today)? Or did it move from somewhere else, possibly following it’s customer base in the 1960s. It would be interesting to know the answer to that question. I’m sure someone out there knows. In the 1940s, it was probably unlikely that anybody in this area was making the relatively long trip to Pizzeria Uno on a regular basis, so Nino’s would have been a welcome pizza outpost.

Nino’s Pizzeria claims to be “Your Pizza King Since 1948.” For some residents in the Southwest Suburbs, it can at least profess a claim to the throne, though it has serious competition. Overall, it was standard, though not necessarily exceptional. However, we would have absolutely zero problem paying tribute to this king on weekly basis if we lived nearby. Long live Nino’s!

Nino’s Pizzeria is located at 4835 W. 111th St., Alsip, IL 60803

(708) 423-9100

Nino’s Pizzeria Official Website

Nino’s on Facebook (unofficial page)

Linda’s Pizza – Joliet, IL

Since 1981

A lot of times, we use other events around Chicagoland as an excuse to find new pizza places. Many of those events happen to be local pro wrestling shows, and unfortunately Ernie does not usually get to go. This is sad because he loves listening to wrestling at home…and he loves pizza. On top of that, I still need his help to find the pizza.

So, per the Hound’s instructions, I sought out Linda’s Pizza in Joliet after a Pro Wrestling Blitz show at the St. Joe’s Park Field House! Blitz always puts on a fun family friendly show of local wrestlers and occasionally big name stars. We’ve seen a few shows there, and it truly is a great American experience. There are few things more exciting than a packed show on a Friday or Saturday with people of all ages cheering for their favorite stars and booing the bad guys. It’s such a great value for families to spend a fun night together. Check out this action outside of the ring!

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One show we attended had special guests Jerry “The King” Lawler . . .

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. . . and, in one of his last shows ever, the famous manager of the Undertaker, Paul Bearer.

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The special guest for this particular night, however, was Mr. Ken Anderson, formerly known as WWE Superstar Mr. Kennedy…Kennedy!

While wrestling shows, including this one, usually sell pizza by the slice–as well as candy, hot dogs, drinks, and popcorn–to enjoy during the show, the city of Joliet had a few other great pizza choices worth checking out. We had really enjoyed Cemeno’s Pizza once in the past, so it was time try someplace new (or at least new to us), and that place was Linda’s.

Linda's West from Google streetview

Source: Google Street View

Linda’s has been in Joliet for nearly three and a half decades, and I believe this is the second location, Linda’s Pizza West. The staff was nice and efficient. Business seemed to be going well. The pizza is a solid value, with thin crust, but not too thin–what I would call medium thin.

As an unique bonus, Linda’s offers a garlic crust option, for which I happily asked for and enjoyed. It was a nice touch, adding a buttery and, well, garlicky flavor at the end of each piece. Unfortunately, the garlic content meant Ernie didn’t get to try this one, but he was just proud that he hounded the place out!

Wait…is that the Geneo’s Pizza guy on the Linda’s sign???

Linda's West sign

Geneo's sign

Source: Google Street View

Linda’s Pizza has two locations, but we enjoyed Linda’s Pizza West, located at 723 Taylor Street, Joliet, IL 60435

(815) 726-4425

…and “Ask for Garlic Crust”

lindaspizza.net

Linda’s Pizza Westside on Facebook