For over 17 years, Benny Impellizzeri served some of the best pizza - if not THE best pizza - in Louisville. Suddenly, Benny closed up shop in early 2005 and was inactive on the restaurant scene for over two years. In 2007, Benny and a partner, Wes Phelps, re-opened Impellizzeri's in The Highlands region on Bardstown Road (see map). The small restaurant was almost immediately overrun with people who had massive withdrawals from one of Benny's pizzas. Impellizzeri's pizzas are literally works of art - huge pizzas with tons of fresh toppings. It is almost impossible to eat even a small Impellizzeri's pizza in one sitting.
I was traveling to Louisville one evening earlier this fall and I had the On-Star Turn-by-Turn Navigation programmed to take me to the Bardstown Road location. Along the way, I was talking to my sister, Nan, who lives in the Louisville area. She told me, "Hey, I wanted to let you know, they've opened an Impellizzeri's not far from our house." Nan told me it was on Old Brownsboro Road, which was also not far from the hotel I would be staying at for a couple nights. I had On-Star re-program my turn-by-turn navigation for the new location (see map) and headed down the road.
It was around 9 p.m. when I pulled into the parking lot at Impellizzeri's in a stand alone building in the southwest corner of a strip mall between Brownsboro Road and Old Brownsboro Road. The building looks like it may have been an old Pizza Hut or some other type of pizza restaurant in the past. I took a seat in the restaurant and looked through the menu.
Now, I have to say that this would not be the first time I had an Impellizzeri's pizza. But it would be one that would be made under Benny's watch. I had already visited Tony Impellizzeri's pizza restaurant a couple years ago (see my entry here). Tony is Benny's brother and both got their start with their father, Tony, Sr., in the original Impellizzeri's back in 1978. About 14 years ago, for whatever reason, Tony broke off from the family and opened his own pizza place on the southeast side of Louisville (see map).
From what I understood, Tony Impellizzeri's pizza and Benny Impellizzeri's pizza were about the same. But in doing some research for this entry, there seems to be more of an affinity for Benny's pizza than Tony's. It may have something to do with Tony's surly attitude, such as what I encountered during my visit there. Benny, from many accounts I've come across, is a pretty popular guy who used to sing in a local rock band back in the 60's. Pizza from a surly guy definitely doesn't taste as good as one from a nice guy. Or so it seems from what I've been reading.
Impellizzeri's also serves traditional Italian food, but I was there for the pizza. I pretty much knew what I was going to get - the standard sausage, pepperoni and mushroom pizza that I always get when I want to compare pizzas. The waitress said it would be about 20 to 25 minutes, so she asked me if I would like to get an order of their garlic bread sticks to tide me over. I understand Impellizzeri's is somewhat famous for their bread sticks. I declined, knowing full well that I would have enough trouble eating a small Impellizzeri's pizza. I passed the time waiting on the pizza drinking a couple beers and reading my Chicago Tribune.
About 25 minutes later, here came my pizza. It was loaded with big chunk sausage, spicy pepperoni slices and tons of fresh mushrooms. The sauce was sweet and tangy, and the crust was thin, but not crispy. The dough used in the pizza is made fresh everyday and it's made with a recipe Benny got from his grandmother years ago. The pizza was everything I remember from Tony Impellizzeri's pizza. Honestly, since it had been a couple years since I'd been to Tony's place, I couldn't readily say which pizza was better. Both were just damn good.
I was able to eat four of the six slices, cheating on the fourth slice by eating most of the toppings off of it. I had them box up the remaining two pieces as I knew the hotel I was staying at would have a refrigerator in the room. I ended up heating two of the pieces up for a late night snack after having dinner with my sister and brother-in-law at their house the next evening.
I have a buddy, Randy Adams, whose step-dad used to make these homemade pizzas back when we were in high school. He would start with a thin crust and then just slam on tons of meat, peppers, onions and tons of cheese on until the pizza was groaning from the weight of the toppings. I've never encountered a pizza like that until I've had both Tony and Benny Impellizzeri's pizzas. And the Impellizzeri's may go even more overboard with their toppings than Randy's step-dad did. Impellizzeri's Pizza is nothing like anything else I've ever encountered in my travels. It's wonderful and it's worth the price of admission.