Mama Luna’s Restaurant & Pizzeria – Cragin, Chicago

Since 1960

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

img_6416

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

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

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

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

screen-shot-2016-09-26-at-8-27-42-pm

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

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

mama-luna-today

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

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

DSC04764

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

DSC04762

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

DSC04767

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

DSC04769

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

DSC04774

And smell it, too, says Ernie!

DSC04780

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

DSC04785

More please!

DSC04781

Waiting patiently.

DSC04789

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

DSC04790

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

DSC04788

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

DSC04793

Svengoolie presents The Wolfman!

DSC04791

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

DSC04794

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

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

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

DSC04795

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

2014-10-18 21.16.02

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

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

(773) 889-3020

mamalunaspizza.com

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

 

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

Since 1953 (1958?)

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

Di Vita's - Google Map

Logan Square and Avondale. Source: Google Maps

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

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

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

IMG_4502

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

IMG_4503

IMG_4505

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

IMG_0010

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

2014-04-06 18.40.38

Not even by the spectacle of WrestleMania.

2014-04-06 18.40.32

The arrival pizza perked him up, though!

Version 2

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

Version 2

and backward.

2014-04-06 20.21.31

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

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

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

(773) 588-5868

Di Vita’s Official Website

Di Vita’s on Facebook

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.

IMG_4447

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.

IMG_4450

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.

IMG_3347

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.

IMG_3345

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.

2013-10-31 19.34.20

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…

IMG_4495

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

IMG_4498

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

(773) 252-2620

Official Website

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.

2014-07-12 21.16.07

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.

IMG_3361

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.

IMG_3431

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.

IMG_3433

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!

IMG_3436

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…

IMG_3432

do you work somewhere on the South Side, too?

Version 2

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)

Mr. V’s Pizza – Forest Glen, Chicago

Since c.1960s

Mr. V’s Pizza is one of many independent pizza shops on Chicago’s Northwest Side, a land of great pizza. According to the business website, it has been serving pizza to locals for over 50 years!

We would not have guessed it had been open for that long by giving the building just a quick look. Located in at the end of a strip mall containing a cleaners and a Chinese restaurant–and not far from the Metra tracks–Mr. V’s has tables and booths and a counter for ordering illuminated by fluorescent lights. All of which give the place a pizza-by-the-slice feeling. A neon sign in the window, however, beckons to pizza lovers driving by looking to take dinner home for the evening.

2014-06-07 20.18.16

The Forest Glen neighorhood, the home of Mr. V’s, is sandwiched roughly between (with some exceptions) the Eden’s Expressway, Cicero Avenue, and a forest preserve to the east, a forest preserve to the north, Foster Avenue the south, and Elston Avenue and the Metra tracks to the south and west. It’s a small, fairly well-to-do community, with some fairly high home prices in the area, even for a common bungalow. Some other small neighborhoods within the official Forest Glen community are located to the north. Jefferson Park, a neighborhood on the other side of Elston, is larger and more varied in its housing stock. All of these places seem like great places to live.

And great neighborhoods demand pizza. The Northwest Side of Chicago has several good pizza choices, but many of them are located to the west of the neighborhood, particularly on Milwaukee Avenue. Mr. V’s Pizza, serving Forest Glen and the northern portion of Jefferson Park, therefore stands as the easiest choice for the area. “Heading home and hungry?” asks the Mr. V’s website. As noted, the pizza joint is conveniently located near the Forest Glen Metra Station!

After picking up the pizza, it was a quick drive home for us to open up the box and enjoy our meal. The Pizza Hound was very interested!

2014-06-07 21.07.48

We opened up the box, and the pizza was huge–18 inches! Taste and value-wise, it was very middle of the road. Don’t get me wrong! We ate every bite. The pizza just didn’t distinguish itself too much. The cheese hardened pretty quickly as it cooled to room temperature. This could be due to the cheese being, as the website notes, a blend of mozzarella and provolone. In that case, the cheese probably has nicer consistency right out of the oven. The toppings, thin crust (medium thickness), and sauce were standard. Again, we enjoyed it and were glad to have it.

2014-06-07 21.07.51

At the time we visited, Mr. V’s offered a free one-topping small pizza with the purchase of an 18-inch pizza, so of course we had to go for that deal. To our taste, this small pizza was noticeably better. Unlike the big guy, which was tavern-cut, the small was pie-cut, and instead of pepperoni and sausage, we got sausage as the only topping. The sausage complemented the other ingredients well, and the cheese wasn’t overdone. This all made for a well-balanced pizza. We recommend trying a sausage pie at Mr. V’s.

In addition to the regular Chicago-style thin crust, Mr. V’s sells “double thick” pizza and pan pizza. And loyalty is rewarded at Mr. V’s! CoIs that a drawing of owners Orazio and Luigi on that card?

IMG_3364

And don’t forget great hot dogs, beefs, and polish sausages at Duke’s, just up Elston Avenue from Mr. V’s! The Pizza Hound likes the french fries!

Mr. V’s Pizza is located at 5285 N. Elston Ave., Chicago, IL 60630

(773) 736-9434

Mr. V’s Pizza Official Website

Mr. V’s Pizza on Facebook

Frank’s Pizzeria – Schorsch Village, Chicago

Since 1952

Through the light snow as the Pizza Hound and I traveled down Belmont Avenue, a glorious neon sign beckoned. The sure sign that a classic Chicago experience was inside.

Frank's Pizzeria from Google Street View

Source: Google Street View

And that is a great neon sign. The only photo I managed to snap of it was crazy blurry, so I didn’t even bother posting it. But to me, a sign like that says “years of dependable quality,” and the sign didn’t lie. Frank’s has been open since 1952, making it one of the older pizza places we’ve visited.

Where Frank’s really excels is the dine-in experience. Many of the pizza places Ernie and I visit are mainly carryout. Even if a place has a dining room, sometimes it’s pretty boring and it’s not the most exciting place to enjoy your meal. The dining room at Frank’s, however, like the neighborhood surrounding the establishment, is a comforting time warp to decades before. Little appears to have been changed since maybe the ’50s or ’60s.

Covered with wood paneling, the interior of Frank’s is relatively compact, with several small, private booths lining the walls on either side and a few tables and chairs in the middle. Tablecloths and a few plants add to the atmosphere. When we went to Frank’s, the place was completely empty. People these days probably prefer newer, flashier places for a night out, and I get that. But treasures like Frank’s die all the time, and once they are gone, they are gone for good. As quiet as it can be there, Frank’s Pizzeria is surely a great place for private date or a secret agent meeting, though. Cozy and inviting, you will be treated to the way people used to enjoy pizza.

Of course, this trip was early in our pizza houndin’, so I don’t have any good pictures of the interior. Maybe it’s best that way. Go yourself and be surprised. It really is a treat.

We got carryout, as usual, with our typical thin crust. Tasty classic Chicago-style pizza cut in squares. We also ordered the breaded ravioli, which was good, as well. Breaded–or toasted–ravioli used to be pretty much an exclusively St. Louis thing (trust us, you can count on it on just about every menu in the city), but it seems be branching out all over the country, including to Chicago.

Frank's Pizzeria Menu

Frank’s does pan and stuffed pizzas, as well, and you can get double dough if you want your thin crust to be a little thicker. You can even get popular Chicago food items such as Italian beef and giardiniera as toppings. What’s up with the “half and half – 2 ingredients only” listing? Shouldn’t it be the same price as a one topping? I’ve seen this at a few other older pizza places and it confuses me a bit. Maybe it’s left over from years ago when people didn’t load down their pizzas with a lot of toppings and one different topping on each was all the variety one desired.

Frank's menu pizza listings

Frank’s also offers a number of appetizers, ribs, and “golden fried chicken,” the last of which seems to be fairly common on the menus of pizza places in all corners of the city.  And like many other pizza joints in Chicago, loyalty is rewarded. Collect 20 and get a free pizza!

Frank's Pizzeria cards

Frank’s Pizzeria serves good pizza that’s probably best enjoyed in their classic dining room. Going there is a great opportunity to get a slice of somewhat slower and timeless version Chicago than the craziness that happens as one gets closer to the lake. For these all reasons, Frank’s Pizzeria has become a favorite spot for my friends Christian and Brittney. Christian eyes his prize below.

IMG_4137

Frank’s Pizzeria is located at 6506 W. Belmont Ave. in Chicago

(773) 283-2564

Updated: Official Frank’s Pizzeria Website

Lonnie’s Pizzeria – Dunning, Chicago

Since c.1999

Situated in just west of the Schiller Woods on Irving Park Road at N. Cumberland, Lonnie’s Pizzeria isn’t too far from O’Hare airport, in the Dunning neighborhood. About one hundred years ago, the surrounding area was relatively sparsely populated, but today the community is made up of over 40,000 residents who live mostly in single-family homes. Those residents are lucky enough to not be too far from a few great pizza restaurants, but make no mistake, Lonnie’s is itself a great stop for pizza on the Northwest Side.

Lonnie’s Pizzeria is a little younger than many of the pizza places Ernie and I have visited (as the menu proclaims “Celebrating Our 15th Anniversary), but Lonnie’s is definitely well on it’s way to a long life selling great pizza. The Pizza Hound directed us there on a drizzly spring night to try it out for ourselves.

2015-01-03 20.28.03

Lonnie’s is housed in a small take-out building, with a few bar stools and a counter. We’re not entirely sure, but the building could have been a hot dog stand or fast food restaurant at one point. According to the official website, the owners originally dreamed of a successful hot dog cart, but pizza ended up as their calling.

Which is great for the Pizza Hound and me because Lonnie’s has great Chicago-style thin crust at probably the most affordable price of any pizza of it’s kind in Chicagoland. The total came out to just over $14 for an extra large topping-and-a-half pizza. That’s shockingly affordable for such a great pizza, especially when it seems that most of the pizzas of comparable style and number of toppings seem to hover between $18 and $20 at most places.

The pizza was delicious, too, and went over very well back at the homestead. Good crust, cheese, and sauce. They also offer pan and stuffed crusts, as well as a few specialty pizzas. The Pizza Hound definitely recommends Lonnie’s as a great choice for a quick pizza carryout if you are in the area.

Here’s the front of the menu:

IMG_3373

Collect 20 coupons for a free pizza!

IMG_3392

Lonnie’s Pizza is located at 8343 W. Irving Park Road, Chicago, IL 60634

(773) 589-1501

Lonnie’s Pizzeria Official Website

Lonnie’s Pizzeria on Facebook