I've been all over the Midwest this summer doing training for the American TV stores. One of the locations I had to go to was Appleton, WI. It's been a long time since I'd been in Appleton. I remember eating at a really nice place with Cindy a number of years ago. But my previous business visits to Appleton have usually been brief and I've gone on up the road to Green Bay. This time, I was staying in Appleton and I decided to try some of the local cuisine. I happened to find something on the Internet about Frank's Pizza Palace. I thought I'd search it out and give it a try.
Frank's Pizza Palace is located on College Ave., a main thoroughfare going through Appleton, just west of the downtown area. (See map) I was able to find a parking spot on the street in front of the restaurant. The columns in front of the place intrigued me right off the bat.
The "Frank" behind Frank's Pizza Palace is Frank Pierri. Frank was a second-generation Italian who grew up in Chicago. His father worked in a meat shop in Chicago and he made his own sausage. Much of the sausage that Frank's father made ended up on pizzas that began to grab the attention of American's following World War II. Frank's father gave the young Pierri the recipe for sausage, something that he would use in later years.
Frank Pierri traveled to the Appleton area in 1954 for a friend's wedding. He instantly fell in love with the area and the people, but he was shocked to find that there was no pizza available in the city. Frank decided to move to Appleton and open a pizza restaurant. Along with a friend from Chicago, Pat Earle, the two opened Appleton's first pizza restaurant in 1955 - Frank and Pat's Pizza Palace.
As time went on, the Pierri/Earle partnership dissolved and Pat Earle eventually opened his own Frank and Pat's pizza parlor in nearby Green Bay - now called Cranky Pat's. Frank and Pat's in Appleton became Frank's Pizza Palace. Frank Pierri continued to make his own sausage for his pizzas on a weekly basis. It became a landmark among Appleton residents for years and years who came in for Frank's thin crust pizza with plentiful toppings.
Frank Pierri's health began to fail in the late 1990's and his daughter, Jeannie Pierri-Brice, ended up buying the restaurant from him, promising to keep it in the family. Frank eventually died in 2000 and Jeannie continues to run the restaurant today.
The original pizza oven - a six-shelf, motor-driven, Ferris wheel style, gas-fired oven made by the now-defunct Faulds Oven Company - is still in use. Jeannie Pierri-Brice said that one of the reasons why Frank's Pizza Palace is in its original location is because they are afraid to move the oven. That's a good idea - I've found that all the best pizza places I've visited generally have an old time pizza oven that lends a signature zest to the pie.
Frank's Pizza Palace couples an old time feel with a cozy atmosphere. I walked into the place around 7:30 and walked through the front dining room, well within view of the huge oven, and walked back into the back dining room and got a booth. I picked up a menu, although I knew exactly what I wanted. My reference pizza is sausage, pepperoni and mushroom. I was all set to order as I waited for the waiter to show up.
But then something grabbed my attention - the Frank's Special. It featured double toppings of Frank's homemade sausage. They would then pile mushrooms on top and then you could get two additional toppings on it. It was sort of expensive - $21.50 for a 12" pizza. I thought it to be rather expensive, but I was intrigued. Then I saw that a regular 12" sausage, pepperoni and mushroom would have been just under $20 bucks. Wow! This had better be good pizza!
My waiter showed up and I ordered the Frank's Special - double sausage, "piled" mushrooms and double pepperoni. I wanted to see how they were going to get all of that on one pizza. I knew that if it was loaded with toppings, there would be no way that I'd ever be able to finish it.
I waited patiently for the pizza. With that amount of toppings on the thin crust, I knew it would take a little time to cook. Frank's also has a "deep-dish pizza" they make by putting two of their thin crusts on top of one another. It would probably hold up a little better with all the heavy toppings on the top. But I'm a thin crust kind of guy. And I love a lot of toppings on thin crust pizza.
It took about 20 minutes before my waiter brought out my pizza. It was just what I thought it would be - thick and plentiful toppings on a very thin crust. It was cut into the square party cuts, so the center "honey-pot" cuts were good and gooey. The sausage was excellent, there was plenty of pepperoni and there were mounds of mushrooms. It was very, very good.
There was no way I could finish the whole thing. I ended up having the waiter wrap up the remaining pieces and I took 'em back to the hotel and gave them to the nighttime desk clerk. She said, "Is this from Frank's? Oh, God! I LOVE Frank's! Thank you so much!"
With tip and a couple beers, the total came to $30 bucks. That's sort of expensive, but very understandable given the amount of toppings on the pizza. One of Frank's Special pizzas could have easily fed two hungry people.
I love finding old time pizza places like Frank's Pizza Palace when I'm on the road. The pizza was very good and I enjoyed every bite. I'm glad I've got something to look forward to in Appleton these days - more business and Frank's pizza!