The Pleasure of Pizza

February 2019 View more

Story By Carly Boers

Brothers Mike and Paul Traverso with the restaurant’s white and signature pizzas

Chicagoans are an especially fanatical group of pizza connoisseurs. Everyone has personal ideas about the best kind of cheesy delight. We won’t attempt to convince you that the crisp edges of thin crusts are superior to deep-dish, or that you’ve committed geographical treason when you order pie-shaped wedges (we’re talking to you, Pieroni’s customers).

Here instead, we present you with the skinny (no pun intended, as pizza is decidedly undiet) on 10 local joints that fit our qualifications: a Naperville address with no more than three overall locations. Although we’re not antichain—with a nod to our friends at mainstays like Lou Malnati’s and Aurelio’s, and Water Street newcomer MidiCi—our goal here is to introduce readers to a wide range of pizza personalities. From classy, date-worthy spots to hole-in-the-wall dives, your next slice of the saucy, gooey bread of life is but a phone call away.


Chicago-style with a Balkan bent order it delivery/carryout best pie Ed’s Special, a mélange of feta, mozzarella, provolone, and Parmesan cheeses, plus diced tomatoes, black olives, and onions

Owner Eddie Feka is a self-taught chef from Albania with a penchant for bread, and it’s reflected in his pies’ memorable dough. But make no mistake: Save for a sprinkling of outside-of-the-box toppings (gyros meat, feta) and specialty pies like the aforementioned, this is a Chicago pizza joint through and through. The restaurant commemorates its 30h anniversary this year and though the counter-service space is rather bare bones, Feka runs a warm, Cheers-like operation, calling customers by name and teaching his staff to do the same.

1550 N. Route 59, 630.369.8600


Crust styles galore, available buffet-style for the indecisive order it in house
best pie Braconi’s Signature, simply topped with sausage and fresh basil and served on wheat crust

For over a decade, the family-owned, family-run pizzeria has dabbled in styles ranging from cracker-thin to pan, and you can sample them all on the lunch buffet, which offers five rotating pies daily. The homemade wheat crust is a fan favorite, as is the gluten-free version, which packs more flavor than many of its peers. Make a note to stop by when spring hits—the serene back patio is a great spot to sip a glass of Chardonnay with your pie. Or dine in the Pradel Room, which contains memorabilia from former Mayor George Pradel’s career in law enforcement.

796 Royal St. George Dr.

Little Pop’s Lasagna pizza features meatballs, sausage, and ricotta.


Pizzas customizable to the hilt

ORDER IT delivery/carryout
BEST PIE The appropriately named God Father—a combo of Italian beef, onion, and giardiniera

Open since 2010, Cassano’s enlists family recipes, including several straight from the owner’s “Nana.” You’ll find all the crust choices (thin, thick, and stuffed double-thick), but keep things simple by focusing your efforts on the cracker-thin version, which allows tangy sauce and myriad topping options—including shrimp, French basil, and roasted red peppers—to shine. You’ll find neither frills nor alcoholic beverages, but you can place your order, belly up and wait with a cold one next door at White Tavern, then grab your grub and eat it at the bar.

421 E. Ogden Ave.


Bubbly crusted, oak-fired oven pies

ORDER IT in house
BEST PIE The prosciutto-crowned namesake Fiammé takes bestseller rights, but for a rare treat, try the Montanara—a margherita pizza built on crispy-chewy dough that’s been flash-fried, then baked

Looking for a date-night-worthy pizza spot? This warm, decidedly upscale spot is the city’s best bet. Food-wise, 27-year-old chef Preston Gasper holds fast to the restaurant’s Neapolitan roots, going so far as to enlist imported double-milled 00 Caputo flour in his dough. Pizzas hit the 800-degree oven for two minutes before emerging with their characteristic leopard-spotted crust. Got dietary restrictions? Fiammé has you covered, churning out gluten-free, dairy-free, and vegan pies using separate utensils.

19 N. Washington St.


Flavorful toppings take center stage

ORDER IT delivery/carryout
BEST PIE BBQ Chicken, with a ranch dressing/barbecue sauce base, oven-braised chicken breast, red onions, smoked bacon, and fresh basil

Toppings are king at this simple carryout and delivery operation. Brothers George and Sam Syreggelas took over the eight-year-old business last year, and according to George, the goal is to use crust as vehicle for building deep layers of flavor, instead of a means for haphazardly loading on cheese. He recommends the ultrathin crust, a light and crisp style he likens to what’s traditionally served in Chicago taverns. Those looking for a little more heft will find both New York and pan-style options on the menu.

1468 E. Chicago Ave.


Hearth-baked pizza that has withstood the test of time

ORDER IT in house
BEST PIE The Combination, a trusty standby generously topped with sausage, mushrooms, green peppers, and black olives

Cranking out pies (on crusts ranging from extra thin to deep-dish) since 1974, Little Italian continues to pack its checkered tablecloth-covered
booths with hungry families and its spacious bar with pizza and sports
fans. The restaurant changed hands in the ’90s, but the iconic pizza remains unaltered. Try the house-style crust—a hand-tossed beauty that strikes the ideal balance between flimsy and gut-busting.

373 E. Bailey Rd.


Hand-tossed New York-style pies

ORDER IT in house
BEST PIE Lasagna pizza with a hearty combo of meatballs, sausage, and seasoned ricotta

After realizing Naperville was devoid of the pizza they grew up on, native New Yorkers Mike and Vicki Nelson persuaded their nephew to share a few recipes from the Little Pop’s he runs in upstate New York. They quickly honed in on the style they so dearly missed and the rest is history. Hand-tossing dough, using a modest amount of sauce, and sticking to the basics when it comes to toppings, they also throw in a little regional flavor by enlisting high-quality Wisconsin cheese. Should you manage to keep your pizza-consumption in check, finish with housemade tiramisu.

1819 Wehrli Rd.


Usual-suspect toppings atop artfully braided crust

ORDER IT delivery/carryout
BEST PIE The Pieroni, a generously sauced ’za packing sausage,
mushrooms, green pepper, and onion

Aaron Keller started working at Pieroni’s in 1990 when he was just 15 years old. For a decade, he put in his time, prepping doughs into the shop’s much-loved signature braids—and never questioning why. In 2000, the pizza joint he grew up in became his own when he bought out the current owners. Today he employs a small but mighty staff, training them to get to know and retain his loyal guests, and yes, braid those crusts.

541 W. 87th St.


An under-the-radar purveyor of budget-friendly pies

ORDER IT delivery/carryout
BEST PIE Rocco’s Western Style, a barbecue sauce–based creation with Italian sausage, bacon, and onions

Though this long-standing joint has changed ownership since opening, it maintains the mom-and-pop feel, churning out family pleasing pizzas at modest prices (when is the last time you fed the whole crew for $20?) from its tucked-away digs in the corner of the Naperville Plaza shopping center. Choose from all the familiar suspects—thin crust, double dough, pan, and stuffed—but follow the regulars’ lead and go thin.

192 W. Gartner Rd.

GM Jason Trakan prepares Traverso’s Signature pizza: sausage, mushrooms, green peppers, and onions.


Square-cut, thin and crispy ’za with cheese blanketing nearly every millimeter

ORDER IT in house
BEST PIE The White pizza, a light but succulent gem drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil and topped with garlic, ricotta cheese dollops, diced tomatoes, and fresh basi

Brothers Mike and Paul Traverso have the restaurant biz in their DNA: Their father and uncle ran a string of taverns and pizza joints, both in the city and suburbs (the first Traverso’s is still going strong after more than 40 years in Orland Park). In 1993, they debuted this cozy, family-friendly nook, where their 80-something mom—“Mama T,” who was raised in northern Italy—still drops by to make ravioli by hand and perform quality control of her Old World recipes.

2523 Plainfield-Naperville Rd.

Uncle Pete’s Pizza

Oversize pies delivered in a hefty, Chicago-style crust

ORDER IT delivery/carryout
BEST PIE Gus’ Glory, an Italian beef in pizza form that’s topped with juicy meat and hot peppers

Started in Chicago in 1947 and churning out pizza locally since 1980, Uncle Pete’s has zero fluff on the menu: Save for garlic bread and pop, you’ll find pizza and only pizza. Under the guidance of owner and Naperville native Jay Becker for more than three decades, the kitchen whips up fresh dough daily, creates its own piquant sauce, and offers a surprising amount of fresh veggies as toppings. You’ll find a fine thin crust, but focus your stomach space on pan-style—and be warned that a medium tips the scales at a whopping five pounds.

815 N. Washington St.

Two of Fiammé’s wood-fired pizzas: Pistachio Pesto (top) and Fiammé (bottom)


Between a stint as Giordano’s corporate chef to his intensive study at Italy’s oldest pizza school, certified pizzaiolo Leo Spizzirri knows his way around deep-dish, Neapolitan-style, and everything in between. At the year-old North American Pizza & Culinary Academy in Lisle, he inculcates both restaurant chefs and home cooks in the art of pizza-making. Here, his seven must-have items for crafting perfect pies at home.

Tools Worth the Investment

Pizza stones—but not the round kind. “You stick your pizza on that little target, and cheese ends up all over your oven, your smoke alarm goes off, dog is barking,” Spizzirri says. Instead, use a rectangular stone on each of your oven’s racks to emulate a brick oven. ($28.99, Target)

Digital scale—For the most accurate results, weigh your ingredients instead of measuring them. ($20–$149, Williams Sonoma)

Digital thermometer—If you’re really going to do it right, you’ll need to check the temperatures of your dough and water. “You’re dealing with a living, breathing thing, so you’ll want to make sure you’re maintaining the correct environment,” he says. ($14.95–$69.95, Sur La Table)

Game-Changing Ingredients

Italian 00 flour—This finely ground, superabsorbent variety is a must to properly anchor your dough. ($2.09, Caputo’s)

High-quality olive oil—“Buy the best you can afford, because you don’t need a lot,” Spizzirri says, adding that the oil not only lends flavor, but actually affects crust quality. Try Colavita. ($11.99, Zeppe’s Italian Market)

San Marzano tomatoes—“These are from a specific region in Italy, and they’re just delicious,” says Spizzirri, who is partial to Mutti, a Roma variety from Parma. ($20.94/six 14-ounce cans, Cost Plus World Market)

Fior di latte (“Flower of the Milk”)—Spizzirri says you won’t find a mozzarella richer, creamier, or more suited to your pizza than this one, made from fresh cow’s-milk mozzarella. ($7,

Photography by Olivia Kohler