Thanks to our furnace and air conditioner getting replaced earlier this summer, the money that we had saved up for a vacation up to Michigan was used to pay for the down-payment on the new H/VAC system we had installed. Instead, we took a week off and just didn't do much of anything. But we did take a day trip up into Southwest Wisconsin and Northwest Illinois. We stopped in Galena late in the afternoon on our way back home and decided to get some dinner at Cannova's Pizzeria, a little place that has a long history.
The original Cannova's was opened in Freeport, IL in 1921 by Sicilian immigrant Anthony Cannova. Actually, the Cannova family ran a grocery store, but had a little pizza tavern in the back of the place. Anthony ran the place for nearly 25 years before his son, Frank, took over the family business just after World War II. Frank eventually closed down the grocery store part of Cannova's and focused upon just running his little pizza restaurant.
Frank Cannova moved the pizzeria to Cannova's present day location on Empire Street in Freeport in 1964. (See map) Nearly 20 years later, he transferred controlling ownership over to his daughter, Linda Beckman, and her husband, Patrick. The Beckman's later opened the Galena location in 1994, and a sister, Debbie Rasmus, and her husband, Kyle, opened a location in Neenah, WI in 2005. And earlier this year, the Beckman's announced that they were looking to open a fourth Cannova's Pizzeria in Monroe, WI, about 25 miles north of Freeport. I don't know if that place has opened yet.
I understand the menu at all the Cannova's locations is about the same. All their restaurants use the same recipes for pizza and sauces that Anthony Cannova used when he opened his original pizza tavern 90 years ago. Cannova's Pizzeria features pizza and pasta dishes, as well as a Sicilian steak and an Italian seafood dish with shrimp.
Many of the shops along North Main Street in Galena were beginning to shut down for the day when we got into town. Cindy and I walked along the street doing some window shopping and stopping into the occasional store that would still be up open past 5 p.m. (and some stores weren't open at all on Tuesdays). We had walked past Cannova's Pizzeria earlier (see map) and Cindy said, "Oh, this is the place that Marcia and I had eaten at when we came up to Galena that one day!" Cindy said she had an outstanding muffaletta sandwich that was made with Cannova's homemade bread on her previous visit. She told me that she always wanted to go back and try their pasta. We decided to do just that.
In previous trips to Galena, I remember walking past Cannova's and seeing people eating their thin-crust pizza through the windows. Although we had pizza on Sunday night, and were planning on having pizza in a couple nights with our niece in Chicago, I was up for getting a pizza at Cannova's.
We walked in around 6 p.m. and the restaurant was less than full of people who were eating early like we were that day. Cannova's is a small, narrow place with a lot of dark wood paneling and subdued lighting. The large front windows allow for a lot of light to come in during the daylight hours, but it has a nice comfy and cozy feel to the place. The only thing that makes the Galena location somewhat different from the Cannova's in Freeport is the lack of the signature grand piano that is played most nights by local musicians during the dinner hours.
A very amiable, yet hulking waiter came over to greet us after we found an open table for two next to the wall. He welcomed us to Cannova's in a soft and soothing voice that betrayed his 6'3" and over 250 pound size. I ordered up a beer from the bar and Cindy got a glass of wine as we looked over the menu.
Even though I was going to get pizza, I couldn't help but look over the rest of the menu to see if there could be anything that would change my mind. The pasta dishes sounded wonderful including the meat filled (or cheese filled) tortellini that could be made with Anthony Cannova's original recipe alfredo sauce. I'm a big fan of tortellini, especially meat filled tortellini as it's somewhat difficult to find restaurants that feature that type of pasta.
Cindy was set on pasta and she decided to get a half-size portion of Fettuccine Alfredo. Along with her fettuccine, she got a house salad with Cannova's homemade creamy Italian dressing. I got the Sicilian pizza, a small, that featured fennel sausage, roasted garlic, pepperoni and a chunky tomato sauce.
Even before I tell you about the rest of the meal, the highlight of the whole evening was the homemade bread our waiter brought to our table along with Cindy's salad. The bread was just outstanding, so much so that I was worried that I'd pig out just on the bread and wouldn't be able to enjoy my pizza. The bread is made in Cannova's oven daily and placed on racks just outside the kitchen. Individual loaves are then sliced and served as warranted. I told the waiter, "Man, I can't stop eating this bread! This is wonderful!"
He said, "I know." He patted his somewhat ample stomach and said, "the bread can be addicting..." And he gave out a hearty laugh.
Cooked in a brick oven at a high temperature, it didn't take long for my pizza to make it to the table. Cut into triangle slices, it was swimming in garlic, pepperoni, sliced homemade sausage and large chunks of tomato sauce with fresh oregano all over the top. Our waiter also brought fresh parmesan cheese in a bowl, along with fresh hot red pepper flakes alongside. That was a very nice touch and a great alternative to having to use shakers to help accent the pizza.
Not that the pizza needed any additional taste accent. The Sicilian pizza was just outstanding. However, the taste of the garlic was somewhat overpowering. I couldn't taste any of the homemade fennel sausage on the pizza. I finally picked off a chunk of sausage and popped it in my mouth. "Oh, there's the taste," I exclaimed. The sausage was great.
Cindy's fettuccine alfredo was equally loaded with garlic and topped with fresh parsley. She said, "Oh, my God! This is some of the best fettuccine alfredo I've ever had!" She offered me a bite after she took a slice of the pizza. I have to say that the taste explosion in my mouth was almost overwhelming. She was right, it was some of the best alfredo sauce I've ever had. And I'm a sucker for a good alfredo sauce.
Cindy was amazed at the size of the portion of fettuccine alfredo that she got. "Boy, I'd hate to see what a full order of fettuccine looked like," as she struggled to finish all the pasta in the bowl.
I too, was having trouble finishing off a small pizza at Cannova's. The waiter came around and asked if I needed a box for the remaining five or six slices. I said, "I had so much bread that I knew if I didn't stop eating that I wouldn't be hungry for my pizza. You're right, that bread IS addictive!"
He laughed and said, "I'm tellin' you. You can't believe how many people gorge on the bread before their meal and are absolutely stuffed halfway through their main entree."
Our waiter brought back the pizza in a to-go box and had wrapped an additional five or six slices of their homemade bread and placed them on top of the pizza box. "I figured that you'd like to have some more at home with your pizza." I about kissed him.
Then he asked if we would be interested in any dessert - cheesecake, tiramisu, spumoni. I howled in protest because I was so full. Cindy asked him if their tiramisu was homemade. "Made fresh every day in our kitchen," he replied. So Cindy ordered a piece with two forks. And I have to say that even though I was stuffed, the tiramisu didn't go to waste. It was a little dried out, but still delectable enough that were able to finish the whole generous slice he brought out.
We loved everything about Cannova's Pizzeria in Galena. The food was excellent, the service above par, the atmosphere was relaxing, the bread was... Good God, the bread was worth the price of admission, alone! (Although a day later, it had dried out even though we put it in a ziploc baggie. But it was still good for toast!) Every day, I lament not having any really great Italian restaurants in the Quad Cities and I really wish the Beckman's would one day consider bringing their great menu to the area. Until then, we'll just have to make the hour and 20 minute drive up to Galena to get a great pizza and some great pasta at Cannova's.