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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Pizza Hound waited very patiently…
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.
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