Sunday, January 31, 2010

Upcoming Review: Bernie and Betty's Pizza

Invasion completed. We hit Bernie and Betty's Pizza last Saturday night. I hope to have the review posted by Wednesday.


Feline like a pizza? Top Cat's Chill & Grill

Once again I found myself with a little extra time available between a workout and a basketball game last Friday night. So, on the advice of someone at work I rolled into the Laketown area of Springfield to sample some pie at Top Cat's Chill & Grill.

Where they're located:
1822 Adlai Stevenson Dr
Springfield, IL 62703-4233

Call 'Em:
(217) 529-4005

The Pizza:
Pepperoni and Jalapeno

The Crust: Thin

The Dish: This was my first ever visit to Top Cat's. The first thing I noticed was that this place is a lot bigger on the inside than you would think after just seeing it from the outside. They need all the room too because they can pack them in. It's really a pub style restaurant with a good atmosphere that is very family friendly... I saw numerous kids in the building enjoying the food as much as the adults.
I settled in at a small table in the bar area and enjoyed some Doss Equis and watched the Australian Open on huge flatscreen projection TV that can also be seen from the main dining area while I waited for my pizza to arrive.
The service was fast and friendly but my waiter did let my first beer sit empty for a tad too long. I think he realized it and other than that one minor annoyance he did a really good job. My pizza arrived in good time and fresh from the oven. I sipped my beer a little and watched the steam rise off the hot pizza while the guy at the table over the short wall between us tried to convince hist wife that yellow mustard goes better with a bratwurst than brown mustard. I'm with the wife... brown mustard. Come on.

How'd it eat? I want to preface this section by saying I really wanted to love this pizza. I had heard some excellent things about the pie they put out at Top Cat's and I think I went in with a few preconceptions. I was expecting the cheese to be softer mix of processed mozzarella with some real mozzarella. Don't get me wrong... the cheese was good. Just different than what I expected. I also expected the crust to be different than what I got. I thought it would be slightly thicker but still be on the thin know still thin but with a little doughy consistency. What I got was good old fashioned St. Louis style thin crust. It was a tasty crust too. I'm not sure if they spread a little olive oil or something on the crust prior to baking it but this one was good. Better than expected.

My toppings were pepperoni and jalapeno peppers because I was in the mood for a spicy kick. Boy did I get it. The peppers were just spicy enough without being overbearing and delivered in copious amounts evenly around the pie. The pepperoni had equally impressive flavor but it was drowned out by the cheese. I had to dig a few slices out of the abundance of cheese to get a sample. A little less cheese and a little more meat would be an improvement, in my opinion.

Now let's get to the sauce. On your basic pizza it is located right between the crust and toppings. This pizza was extremely short on sauce. I know many people prefer a little less sauce.. it cuts down on the heartburn later. I dislike the heartburn too, but I need some flavorful sauce to kind of be the gateway between a good crispy crust and the toppings. It kind of fuses the two together. It's an important component in a complete pizza. It's a delicate balance in my opinion. It is easy to have too much or not enough. This pie did not have enough.

Overall I enjoyed this pizza from Top Cat's. There were a couple of aspects I would prefer them to do differently (more sauce, less cheese), but in the end they still have make a tasty pie with plenty of upside, including a fantastic crust. Add in the friendly neighborhood atmosphere and you've got the recipe for a great Friday night with family or friends.

SPP Ranking: 6.6

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Saturday Notes

I'm just geting prepped for some pizza tonight. Just got done watching some Hoosier basketball. (Tough loss to the hated Illini. Props to Illinois though... they finished better.)

Gonna head over to church and get right with the G-O-D and then off to a Springfield restauraant with a great reputation for pizza and get a dinner and review in...

Gonna be good company tonight although Justin and Megan will missed.

Later MMA fights...might take some pics.


Friday, January 29, 2010

Friday Night Pie

After getting a recommendation from someone at my day job I found a couple hours to make a dinner stop for pizza at Top Cats restaurant.
I worked out twice today so I was hungry for a little pizza pie.

Stay tuned for a review on Top Cats pizza Sunday. I also plan to hit a legendary Springfield pizza place Saturday night prior to the Capital City Cage wars. Look for that review in he next few days as well.


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Back in Springfield - Targeting a Pizza

Well, after spending last weekend in the metroeast I am back in the 217 to get a taste of some Springfield pie. Saturday night is the night...

Meanwhile I continue on with my diet and exercise regimen. I even rented a locker at the gym and stocked it with workout gear, towels and swim trunks. That way I am always ready to go.

So can I sample pizza all around town and maintain my diet? Only time will tell. I'll keep you posted.

I have targeted a Springfield favorite for Saturday night. Stay tuned.


Monday, January 25, 2010

Imo's: That's a good pizza!

Last Wednesday was my 39th birthday and my younger sister hosted a little get together to celebrate. As the guest of honor I was allowed to choose the meal and I of course opted for Imo's pizza. As a former resident of the St. Louis area I grew up eating that delectable concoction of provel cheese, pepperoni and thin extremely crispy crust. My sister prepared an excellent salad to go with this delicious pie that featured assorted greans (including spinach) and a chopped olive mixture that was tasty. Imo's house dressing was available as well as a bottle from Zia's and some kind of poppy seed dressing.
My other sister finished out the meal with two homemade ice cream cakes. One of the cakes featured my favorite candy (Hershey's Fifth Avenue) and the other was loaded with Oreo cookies. Here is the kicker...all of this and I am in the midst of a diet. I have to say I fared pretty well but did go over a little on the pizza. Hey... it was my birthday!

What makes Imo's so good? It's the provel! (From wikipedia)
Provel is a white processed cheese that is popular in St. Louis, Missouri. Provel is produced with Cheddar, Swiss, and provolone. It is soft at room temperature, with a gooey and almost buttery texture, and thus has a low melting point. It is the traditional topping for St. Louis-style pizza. It is also often served on salads, chicken and the Gerber sandwich. Some restaurants go a step further and use Provel for their pasta dishes with white sauce instead of the customary fresh Italian cheese and cream. Although popular in the St. Louis area, Provel is rarely used elsewhere.

The pie I indulged in was the pepperoni and bacon which is my Imo's pizza of choice but any pie from Imo's gets it done. We also had a pepperoni and pineapple, and a pineapple with green peppers, onions and ham. Just about any pizza topping goes with yummy provel cheese. The cheese is slightly smoky with a sharp finish and just really compliments anything on a crisp unleavened pizza crust. The toppings from Imo's are top notch but frankly I could use some more of them. That's my only real knock on an Imo's pie is that sometimes they seem to be a little stingy, especially with the juicy, delicious pepperoni.
Each pie is also seasoned with a mixture of oregeno, basil and thyme. This seasoning sprinkled over the top of an already baked pizza sticks to the melted cheese and hot toppings and adds another level of flavor. I'm a big fan of this mixture and often use it on pizzas I bake in my own oven.
The Imo's sauce is used sparingly but not much is needed to be the perfect base between crust and toppings. The sauce is from an old world recipe and was developed especially for Imo's pizzas by founders Ed and Marge Imo. It has a nice flavor with a hint of basil and maybe a pinch of sugar to knock down the acidity. I think the sauce would go well pasta and garlic bread too!

I hate that I have to drive 100 miles to get one but it is well worth the trip.

If you are ever in or around St. Louis I highly suggest making time to enjoy a meal from Imo's. Get their salad with the house dressing to go with your pizza and wash it all down with some ice cold Anhueser-Busch product... you won't regret it.

SPP Ranking 9.7

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Mario's Italian Restaurant and Pizzaria

With an hour and half to kill in between a workout and a City Tournament basketball game I found time to sample a pie from the E. Clear Lake location of Mario's. I was happy to not have a wait at 6:30 on a Friday evening. It's nice to drive up to a good restaurant and walk right in and sit down.

Where they're located:
3073 E. Clear Lake Ave.
Springfield, IL

Call Em:

The Pizza:
Garlic Sausage and sliced pepperoncini

The crust: Thin

The Dish: Mario's is another local restaurant that has an excellent reputation of serving tasty pizza. You can get your pizza with a choice of different pizza sauces including Bianca sauce which is a buttery garlic sauce without a tomato base as well a white alfredo sauce. Being a somewhat of a traditionalist I went with the basic tomato pizza sauce and garlic sausage with pepperoncini. Mario's offers cheddar cheese as a topping too and I asked the waitress to have them sprinkle a little cheddar in with the mozzarella on my pie. My server was very accomodating with my order and brought over another server who had been with Mario's for a while to help describe the different sauce choices to me.

You can't go wrong with the atmosphere at Mario's. There are a lot of brown and red hues and slightly dim lighting which really remind of some of my favorite spots in St. Louis on "The Hill" like Bartolino's old location on Hampton Ave. Mario's is perfect for a romantic evening of pasta and wine or a family evening of pizza and soda-pop as they have multiple dining areas to seat customers.

After getting my order made I enjoyed an appetizer of a cold Bud Lite while waiting for my pie to bake.

How'd it eat: There are a lot of good things about Mario's pizza. The toppings where fresh and numerous, the sauce was flavorful but not overpowering, the crust was crispy and evenly baked. There was definitely a balance to this pie. The toppings of garlic sausage and sliced pepperoncini were spread out well around the pizza and really mixed well. The garlic sausage is a great pizza topping and will adorn any future pies I order from Mario's. The pepperoncinis had a hot kick that followed the garlic flavor well.
I thought I tasted a hint of basil in the sauce but it wasn't so much as to affect the flavors of the toppings and crust.

There's always somehting to be said about crust because crust is an easy thing to mess up. The fllavor of Mario's crust was just okk, there was nothing really special about it. The thing I really liked about this crust was that it was so uniformly baked. Usually with pizza crust whether it be tick or thin crust, the level of crispiness is always greater the closer you get to the edge of the pie. Meaning the pieces on the outside edges of the pizza are always crispier than the pieces in the centers. (Assuming you have a square cut pie.) Mario's crust was even from center to edges which I think is pretty hard to do because I rarely see it. There wasn't wone part of tis pizza with a flimsy or soggy crust. Goooood stuff.

You want to sit down and have a solid pie and good environment to enjoy it in? Eat at Mario's.

SPP Ranking: 7.9

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Weekend Update: Mario's and Imo's

Just a quick note as I get ready to head out to work early on a Saturday morning. (gotta take advantage if the OT is offered)

Last night I hit Mario's Italian & Pizzaria (3073 E. Clear Lake Ave.) for some Friday night pie and a couple of cold ones. The pizza was a thin crust garlic sausage and sliced pepperoncini. I love the atmosphere in that old building, reminds me of a few spots on "The Hill" in St. Louis.

Speaking of St. Louis... I'm heading that direction tonight to sample a pizza from one of the all-time greats, Imo's. It'll be with family which will make it even better than usual. I'm looking forward to it.

Stay tuned for my reviews on both of these pizza's within the next day or two!


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

St. Louis Legend this Saturday - Imo's Pizza

Okay, so plans have changed a little this week. I had planned on hitting Dillion's or Bernie & Betty's for some pie at the end of the week, but being that my birthday is this week I am getting to spend some time with family this weekend. I love my family but the best thing about this particular visit will be the presence of some of St. Louis' finest..."The square beyond compare"...Imo's Pizza.

So a review and photos will be forthcoming. It's only an hour away and not enough Springfieldians appreciate the subtle goodness of provel cheese and crispy thin crust, so Imo's will get some face time on the blog. My next city review will have to get pushed back to next week.

Got a question or a suggestion? Wanna have your say? Click the comments section and follow this blog.


Monday, January 18, 2010


There are several restaurants around town that you always hear about but never really go to or even know where they are. Especially if you live outside of the city like I do. Gabatoni's is one of those spots. I've been looking forward to having some pizza all week and I intended on eating at another local pizza place for the Project but my wife vetoed that selection so I came back with Gabatoni's and she agreed.

Where they're located:
300 East Laurel St.
Springfield, Il 62703

Call Em: 217-522-0371

The Pizza:
1/2 Bacon and Tomato and 1/2 Ham and Mushroom

Crust: Thin

The Dish: Gabatoni's has been around for a long time and by the looks of the exterior and interior of the restaurant, that much is obvious. Restaurants stay in business for long time because they are doing something right, and Gabatoni's is no different. They do pizza extremely well. The atmosphere is friendly, even if it is old school...what with the wood paneled walls and cramped dining area.
Marcie was our server and she provided excellent service throughout the evening.
We started with salads and had the house Italian dressing which was really good. The salad itself wasn't great. It was just some sloppily chopped iceberg lettuce and piece of tomato and some shredded cheese. Would have liked some other greens and maybe some croutons or olives in it.
We ordered the 16" pie and split it in half as far as toppings go. I enjoyed a cold beer while waited for the pizza to arrive.

How'd it eat: Frankly this was an interesting pizza. First of all the crust was unusually thin. (see the photo section). I've never had pizza crust this thin before. The thing about it was that it wasn't too crispy. I'm not sure how they make crust that thin and it doesn't get hard as a rock in the baking process. I really enjoyed the crust. My side of the pizza had bacon and fresh tomato and those toppings where tasty. The bacon was crumbled and was crispy but was not spread around well enough. There were some pieces that had too much bacon and some that didn't have enough. There was just enough sauce to make the pizza and it had a nice flavor. The lack of a good amount of sauce was enough to turn my wife off to Gabatoni's pie but I really enjoyed it.
The 16" pie was cut into squares and cooked to perfection with nice brown edges and everything evenly melted on top. I really think they should put a little more cheese on these pies but that is my only real knock on this za.
I plan to eat here again or at the very least get it as carry ot on my way home from work.

SPP Ranking 7.5

Sam's Pizza - Springfield

Mama Mia! Sam's Pizza
I've lived and worked in the Springfield area for 10 years and the other Friday night was my first time ever sampling Sam's Pizza. I've driven past the pizzaria on North Grand hundreds of times over those years and never stopped, much to my chagrin. Frankly, I can't think of a good reason why I hadn't tried Sam's yet. So on a guy's night out rolled into Sam's Pizza.

Where they're located:
731 N. Grand Ave. East
Springfield, IL 62702

Call Em: 217-522-9111

The Pizza:
1/2 Spinach and Bacon, 1/2 Cheese

Crust: Thin

The Dish: This is an old style pizzaria type restaurant that reminded me of some pizza joints my family would frequent in the St. Louis area. There are photos of local celebrities and politicians adorning the walls as well as some distinctly Italian accoutrements that keep the Italian theme but also give Sam's its unique local feel. There appeared to be plenty of regulars as several people carried on conversations between tables and the carry out window was hoppin!!! This place does a fantastic carryout business, which is no surprise.
Our server was very friendly and helpful although the other person in my party was disappointed to hear they were out of milk that evening. They had plenty of Budweiser which was just fine with me.
After enjoying a nice basket of bosco sticks (cheese filled breadsticks) with marinara dipping sauce, our pie arrived. Personally, I don't think there is much out there more appetizing than a fresh, hot pizza brought to the table straight from the oven. This pizza was no exception. It was delivered to our table with steam from the oven still rising up off of the gooey delicious cheese. It sure looked good... but how would it taste?

How'd did eat?: Let's cut to the chase. The pizza was magnificent!!! I had to pinch myself as I enjoyed the first couple of slices of spinach and bacon pizza and washed it down with a swig of the King of Beers. It was that good. While all aspects of this pizza were outstanding, the topping were especially good. Spinach, which is a strong ingredient was used in just the right amount and the crumbled bacon hid well in the molten goodness of mozzarella until I sunk my teeth into it to release the flavor.
The thing that really made this pizza go was the outstanding crust. It was crispy and crunchy and added the perfect texture and taste to go with the wonderful toppings. There is absolutely no doubt that Sam's Pizza on North Grand has the best crust in town. That includes restaurants that I have already reviewed and ones I've frequented before and not reviewed. Right now this pizza is at the top of my Springfield list. Definitely worth the stop.
I can't believe I have never eaten this pizza before.

SPP Ranking: 8.8

Palermo Sicilian Cucina

Sicilian Magic: Palermo
Springfield is full of restaurants. Many of which offer pizza. Some are good, some are not so good and some should be avoided. When it comes to pizza, we are chomping at the bit... so to speak, to get a taste of the pizza from Palermo Sicilian Cucina. We had already visited Palermo a few times and had been very impressed with their pasta and salads. So on Valentine's day we stopped in and tried one of their heart shaped pies.

Where they're located:
751 S. Durkin Dr.
Springfield, IL 62704

Call Em: 217-546-3050

The Pizza(s):
Carnosa (Sausage, pepperoni and ham)

Crust: Thin

The Dish: We were lucky to get into Palermo after nothing more than a 15 minute wait on Valentine's day evening. This small, family run establishment might be one of the best kept secrets in Springfield. The more people that find out about it, the longer the waits will be to get seated. But how is their pizza?
After being seated we made our order. We ordered the Carnosa (All meat pizza) and a small cheese pizza. The Carnosa also would come in the shape of a heart in honor of this February holiday. While waiting for our pizzas to arrive we enjoyed a delicious salad made with crisp greens, plump, juicy cherry tomatoes and generous addition of black olives. Another in our party had chicken cacciatore added to his salad and was very pleased with it.
Personally, I enjoy some cold beer with my pizza and was excited to down some Peroni beer on this evening with the Palermo pies.
When the pizzas hit the table, we were still drying off after a slight miscalculation of proper balance and angle to carry a drink tray. A baptism of water and Peroni delivered by a nervous waitress had the potential to ruin the evening... but we carried on anyway. Truthfully, only a couple in our 5 person party were spilled on and the waitress was mortified. To her credit she got things cleaned up quickly and although she probably just wanted to crawl in the pizza oven and hide, she stuck it out and provided stellar service the rest of the way.

How'd it eat?: Let me preface by saying that this pizza is not Sicilian style even though the restaurant is run by Sicilians. It is Neapolitan style which is the classic style of pizza you most often see sold in the U.S.. The Carnosa was certainly heart shaped and loaded with toppings. There wasn't an inch of this pie that didn't have some sausage, pepperoni or ham. The cheese, fresh mozzarella, was used in just about the right amount to melt all throughout the meat toppings but did not totally overtake it. While I would have liked a little more sauce, the amount used worked well with the other toppings and it had a nice garlic/tomato flavor.
The meat toppings, especially the pepperoni and sausage were nicely seasoned with hints of black and red pepper and really went well with the crispy crust this pie was baked on. It was cut party style in squares was given a thumbs up by everyone seated at our table. I devoured 5 squares on top of the tasty salad and my pizza craving was well satisfied. There's no doubt that the folks at Palermo know what they are doing in the kitchen. I hesitate to post a review about how excellent the Palermo dining experience is only because I'll have to start competing with other Springfield residents for table. It's that good, and worth the wait. We'll be back often.

SPP Ranking: 8.3

Out of Town: Chicago Deep Dish Done Right, Papa Del's!

From time to time I am going to hit an out of town pizza joint and I'll throw the review down right here on I'll try to keep the out of town stuff as Springfield-centric as possible. In this case I made a trip about 80 miles due east from The 'Patch to Champaign-Urbana for an Illini basketball game and we decided to have pizza afterwards.
For those who are from the C-U area or former students from that area the choice of Papa Del's is the obvious "no-brainer" when getting pizza in that general area. Here's how it went down.

Where they're located:
206 E. Green St.
Champaign, IL 61820

Call Em: (217)-359-7700

The Pizza(s):

Large Sicilian deep dish sausage, pepperoni, mushroom.
Large Super stuffed sausage, mushroom and black olive.

The Crust: THICK

The Dish: We arrived at Papa Del's Green street location after taking in an Illini win over Iowa on Super Bowl Sunday. Since it was Super Bowl Sunday we were lucky enough to walk right in and sit down which doesn't happen often at this pace. Our waitress was not very good and it was obvious she had somewhere else she would have rather been. But, she brought cold beeer and got our order in. Please be ready to wait...just remember that the wait is worth it. The Sicilian deep dish and the Super stuffed pizza both take a full hour to bake so take advantage of Papa Del's selection of adult beverages. I went with a Dos Equis Amber, another in our party had a Shock Top Winter Ale, and the rest had soft drinks all around.
When the pizza arrived we were more than ready. I think the long wait adds a little to the experience because the anticipation of eating it really gets your mouth watering.
The pizza looks like a typical Chicago style deep deesh pizza with the thick, crisp crust, with the "toppings" and cheese hidden beneath a layer of red pizza sauce. There was a seasoning spread over the pizza which takes away from the look of it a little. Kinda looks like someone sprinkled some oregano over the top of it.
Let's talk sauce. Their sauce is one of Papa Del's best attributes. It's tangy and thick and has a very unique flavor that is different than anything I've had before. The cheese is gooey and flavorful meshes so well with that tangy sauce. The part of this pizza that stood out head and shoulders above everything else was the sausage. This pizza had chunks of sausage almost as big as golf balls and they were really, really good. The sausage had a full spicy flavor that really kicks some tail. I'm not sure there's any other way to describe it. This pizza is just really good.
The Super stuffed pizza has all the great attributes as the Sicilian deep dish except it includes an extra layer of cheese inside the crust.

I'm just gonna lay it out there. This pizza is every bit as good as Giordano's or Uno's out of Chicago. If you want a very good deep dish pizza and your in the great dominion south of Interstate 80, you know what Chicagoans refer to as "Southern Illinois" Papa Del's is the place to go. Better yet... call ahead and get the carry out and beat the crowd. Or just come in on Super Bowl Sunday.

SPP Ranking: 9.1

Coz's Pizza & Pub

Coz's Pizza and Pub is the first pizza place in Springfield that we'll review here on the Springfield Pizza Project. I chose Coz's because of it's close proximity to my day job and more importantly because I have heard nothing but positive word of mouth about the pies served up at this west side institution. Plus, who could resist the ridiculous "It's so good I'd eat it off the floor!" commercials they run on the local network from time to time?

Where they're located:
4441 Ash Grove Dr.
Springfield, IL 62711

Call 'em:
(217) 726-7700

The Pizza(s):
Medium pepperoni and mushroom


The dish: There were a couple of things I liked about this pizza right from the start, before I ever took a bite. First of all, being a former resident of St. Louis I have a natural affinity for a pie sliced up into squares instead of the classic traingle shape. Secondly... I saw a what appeared to be a firm, thin, crispy crust. Thin & crispy squared up right. Asthetically, a very good start for a pizza.
The toppings however weren't what I was hoping for. Where's the cheese? Not much of it on this
pizza. Getting the right amount of cheese on a thin crust pizza is difficult though. It's easy to have too much or not enough. In this case it was the latter. The pepperoni was less than stellar and there was just barely enough for my taste. I sampled a piece of the pepperoni by itself and it did have a nice, spicy kick, so that was good. The mushrooms looked good but appeared to be a little dried out. didn't seem fresh at all, but they weren't canned, Once again not enough. Come on Coz...load up that pie.

How'd it eat? Let's hit the good points first. EXCELLENT crust. There's no doubt about it, Coz's has a good thin crust. Probably the best I've had in Springfield. The sauce... just OK. Decent taste with a smooth finish. If I get heartburn from this pizza it will be from the pepps, not the sauce. Coz's sprinkles a spice mixture on their pie that I'm mixed on. The flavor overall is pretty good but the oregano was too much. I'd like it better without the oregano.
Overall, this pizza was just mediocre. Outside of the nice crust there wasn't a whole lot special about it. Would I eat it off the floor? Absolutley not. I wouldn't really eat anything off the floor, so I guess that's not exactly negative.
The restaurant itself has a cozy tavern feel and the atmosphere was friendly enough. I received quick service that wasn't overly helpful, but not rude either. Maybe a little indifferent. I picked my pizza up at the bar. The person at the take out counter sent me there to get my pizza. I got a couple of "Who is this guy?" looks from a some of the patrons at the bar, which gave it that old South St. Louis neighborhood bar aura. Not a good thing, unless you are one of the regulars.

SPP Ranking: 5.9