In St. Joseph Michigan, a Taste of Chicago's South Side at Silver Beach Pizza
Serious Eats Chicago contributor Daniel Zemans checks in with another piece of intel on the Windy City pizza scene. —The Mgmt.
Silver Beach Pizza
410 Vine Street, St. Joseph MI 49085 (map); 269-983-4743; silverbeachpizza.com
Pizza Style: Thin crust
Oven Type: Gas
The Skinny: Good Midwestern pizza with surprisingly flavorful crust conveniently located for beachgoers and Amtrak riders
Price: 13-inch Margherita with one extra topping, $16
Over Labor Day weekend, I joined the long line of Illinoisans who made the quick trip to the other side of Lake Michigan to Northeastern Indiana and Southwestern Michigan. This was my first trip to that exotic part of the world since last spring when I reported on Stop 50 Wood Fired Pizzeria. Much as I would have loved a return trip there, I only had time for one pizza over the weekend and I decided to try somewhere new. Coincidentally, a couple of weeks earlier, a Slice'r emailed me to say that if I found myself back in the area, I should check out Silver Beach Pizzeria.
And so it was that I ended up at the St. Joseph Amtrak stop, where the small depot houses a pizzeria. Much more important to the success of Silver Beach Pizzeria than the three or so trains that stop at the front door each day is wildly popular Silver Beach, which is about a one-minute walk west. While the pizzeria's location sounds ideal thanks to the near constant traffic (at least in the summer), it actually has a troubled history. A couple of different places failed there before 2005 when brothers Jay and John Costas and Tony Bertig bought the place from the city and opened their pizzeria, a franchise of Gelsosomo's Pizzeria, a mini-chain based in Portage, Indiana, that's been around since 1979.
We ordered the Margherita, one of 17 specialty pizzas offered at Silver Lake. There is also a build-your-own option and we actually picked from that too, opting to cover half of the pizza with sausage, one of 25 available toppings. The square-cut pie came with a very generous application of cheese, toppings and sauce as is normal for the style.
The sausage, freshly made and heavily seasoned, had some nice chew to it and good flavor. The basil, cut into strips and apparently put on the pizza prior to cooking, was fine, but lost a good deal of flavor in the oven. Fortunately, the quantity made up for the diminished strength of the severely wilted herbs. The sauce belies Tom Gelsosomo's roots on the south side of Chicago; it's thick, sweet, and applied with a very heavy hand. The Margherita also comes with garlic, which looked like the pre-minced variety and didn't add much flavor at all.
It's not often that a crust on a Midwestern tavern-style pizza stands out. Those pies typically feature crisp largely flavorless crusts that primary serve as little more than an edible plate. That was decidedly not the case on my pie at Silver Beach. The Margherita is billed as having an oil-based crust. The result was a rich, airy, crisp golden crust that featured some nice crunchy bites around the outer edges.
I can't say that anyone should run far out of his or her way to try Silver Beach Pizza, but if you're hanging out on the nearby beach and need some food, it's definitely worth a visit. And of course if you find yourself on a train from Detroit to Chicago, you'd be wise to call ahead and order a pizza to grab when the train stops in St. Joseph.