Chicago: Investigating Piero's in Highland Park
737 Broadview Avenue, Highland Park, IL 60035 (map); 847-433-7795; pieropizza.com
Pizza Style: Extra thin, thin, Spessa (focaccia crust), pan, and stuffed
The Skinny: Since 1980, Piero's Pizza has been satisfying pizza cravings in the northern suburb of Highland Park. Stick to the deep dish, but don't make a special trip.
Price: Large thin crust with two toppings is $17.25; large stuffed with one topping is $21
Notes:Carry-out and delivery only; opens at 2:30 except on Friday when it opens for lunch at 11:30; second location in Northbrook
Highland Park seems to have everything people look for in a suburb. The schools are good, crime is low, there's easy access to a major city, the parks are nice, there's an active business community, and there's plenty of wealth to go around. And thanks to Ravinia it's even got one of the more enjoyable cultural institutions in the Chicago area. But while all of that is well and good, the more important quality of life question is whether there is good pizza there.
Well, the quick and easy answer is, yes, because it's one of many suburbs that is home to a Lou Malnati's. But because I've already reviewed that local delicacy, the question that I was left to answer was whether there is any great pizza exclusive to the area? I turned to the internets and came across Piero's Pizza, a local place just steps from Ravinia that has been around since 1980 and gets rave reviews from the Yelpers.
Piero's offers five different types of pizza: extra thin, thin, deep dish, stuffed, and something called Spessa, which the restaurant describes as a "fluffy bread crust similar to focaccia." Continuing with the theme of choices, the restaurant also gives customers 33 different toppings to consider.
The stuffed pizza, which I got with sausage, wasn't bad, but there wasn't a single element of it that stood out as good. The very tangy sauce was a good balance for the mountain of melted cheese, but it was overseasoned and the actual tomato flavor was pretty subdued. The cheese was fine, but curiously easy to bite through. The crust was nice and crisp, but didn't have a lot going for it in the flavor department. And the sausage, while flavorful, was put on the pizza with a shockingly light hand, though give how chewy the must-have-been-pre-frozen nuggets were, the stinginess wasn't a big deal.
The less I say about the thin crust pizza, the better. Half of it was topped with mushrooms and spinach, while the other half was just cheese. Other than the fact that the mushrooms were fresh, this was a really disappointing pizza. Because a delicious crust is not generally an expected characteristic of Midwestern thin crust tavern-cut pizza, I tend to be pretty forgiving when evaluating them. As long as the crust is thick, I'm happy to treat it like an edible plate whose only function is to add textural contrast. This soggy and largely flavorless crust was texturally indistinguishable from the cheese on top of it.
Since Piero D'Ascenzi opened the place in 1980, it has survived in the same location, apparently satisfying countless residents of the North Shore, remaining successful long after the founder sold the place to move onto other restaurant ventures in the area (including a pizzeria in Lake Forest called Ferentino's). But based on my visit, I can't understand why. Are there any fans of Piero's who will stand up and defend the place? Are there other pizzerias worth checking out in Highland Park?