I was in Chicago recently for a training session at a new dealer on the near west side of Chicago. For lunch, we went to a place called Salerno's on West Grand at Racine. (see map) My new dealer said, "Their pizza isn't too bad."
That was an understatement.
Arnie Salerno came to the United States from Italy in the late 1950's. In the mid 60's, he bought a bar in Berwyn, mainly because it had a place to live in the back. At first he began to make sandwiches at lunch. Then he decided to make pizzas from an old family recipe back in his native country. The pizzas were a hit. Salerno's Pizza on Grove is still there today. (see map)
Arnie's brothers opened their own Salerno's pizza joints in different parts of the city under a franchise agreement with Arnie. Joe Salerno opened the one on West Grand in the late 60's and it's been there ever since.
I was told there are something like eight Salerno's around the Chicago area. Most are franchise's, but the ones that are the best are the Chicago location, the Berwyn location and the Salerno's Pizzeria in Mount Prospect (see map) that's co-owned by Arnie Salerno and Frank Rossini.
There were six of us who went to Salerno's for lunch that one day. Even though Salerno's has a wide and varied menu including a lot of Italian specialties, a couple of the sales guys said the pizza is the best. The sales manager for the dealer told me, "Yeah, even though I've never gotten a bad meal here, the pizza is the best."
We went with two Extra Large pizzas - 16" in size. On one we took the old standby of sausage, pepperoni and mushroom. The other we got just pepperoni. Salerno's has a thick crust pizza (not Chicago deep-dish style, but a thicker crust), and a thin crust. We got thin crust for both.
When the pizzas came out a little less than 20 minutes later, I immediately began to salivate. I wasn't all that hungry coming into the meal as I had breakfast earlier that day not knowing if I'd have time for lunch. But when they set the pizzas down on the table on a double-decked pizza holder, there was no doubt I was going to be eating a lot of pizza.
First of all, Salerno's pizza crust is light and chewy. It's not paper thin like you'd find in St. Louis-style pizza, but very flavorful. And the toppings were absolutely wonderful. The sausage on the pizza were the big chunks with great flavor and freshness. The pepperoni was absolutely fresh and authentic, not the processed pepperoni you buy at the store for homemade pizzas. And the mushroom slices were big and flavorful. The combination of the cheese and sauce, and mixed with the meats on the pizza, it was damn good.
Salerno's cuts their pizzas into little squares - the way I like it. And the "honey cuts" in the center of the pizza (without any edging crust) were the best pieces. Oh, man. My stomach is doing jumping jacks just thinking about it.
I really liked the Salerno's pizza, eating a lot more pieces than I planned on. I'm sure I embarrassed myself in front of these guys as I just couldn't quit eating the pizza, it was so damn good. And I'm definitely going to try the original Salerno's out in Berwyn sometime. If the original is even better than the one on West Grand, it's going to be the best pizza I've ever had because this one was absolutely fabulous.
(Update - After many subsequent trips to Salerno's on Grand, it continues to be my gold standard for thin crust pizza. It is simply the best pizza I've ever had - anywhere. The other Salerno's aren't as good and you have to make sure you order the thin crust and not the original. The original is too thick and chewy for me. My wife thinks it's the cheese that makes Salerno's pizza the best. I like the sauce and the sausage. I have turned a number of people on to Salerno's and many of them agree that Salerno's on Grand is tough to beat.)