I truly believe that Salerno's on Grand west of the loop in Chicago is the best thin crust pizza I've ever had (see that post here), with Vito and Nick's on Chicago's South side a close second (see that post here). But I've eaten at a couple other Salerno's and wasn't overly impressed with their pizza. (See those posts here and here.) Then I found the secret - at the other Salerno's I'd been ordering their thicker crust pizza. The dough is more raised and more chewy. I'd rather have the crust paper thin and somewhat crispy. It's all a matter of taste, but I'd take a thin crust over a deep dish pizza any day. And I love deep dish pizzas from the likes of Lou Malnati's and Pequod's. So, imagine my surprise when I found another Salerno's restaurant not far from the hotel I was staying at one evening - Salerno's di Lucca in Mount Prospect.
The only problem is that this Salerno's is not part of the other Salerno family restaurants that I've tried in the past. It was somewhat confusing to me, but the gentleman who owns Salerno di Lucca in Mount Prospect - Frank Sbragia - has been involved in a handful of restaurants over the past nearly 40 years. In addition to running Salerno's di Lucca over the past six years, Sbragia has also run other Italian restaurants such as Rossini's in Niles, IL; Sassi in Prospect Heights, IL; and Spazio di Lucca in Deerfield, IL. Sbragia, who was born in Lucca, Italy, learned a little bit about cooking authentic Italian food from his father who was a chef. When I asked one of the waitresses at Salerno's di Lucca if they were connected to all the other Salerno's around the Chicago area, she said, "No, we're not. But we're better."
I kind of got a little chuckle out of that. We'll have to see...
Salerno's di Lucca also has a thriving catering business that can take care of groups from 15 to 500. Their catering menu features a large list of Italian specialties, appetizers, panini sandwiches, desserts and even ribs.
Salerno's di Lucca is located in Brentwood Square strip mall at the northwest corner of E. Kensington Rd and Wolf Rd. in Mount Prospect. (See map) There's a few other restaurants in the complex including an interesting looking Mexican restaurant and a hot dog joint. But I was interested in pizza that evening.
After a confusing entrance into the restaurant (I tried to go in the emergency exit), I found the restaurant to be about half full of patrons that evening. I was told by a lady that I could sit anywhere and I chose a table toward the back of the restaurant. The decor of the restaurant isn't much - a number of tables with vinyl tablecloths dot the floor of Salerno's di Lucca. White Christmas-type lights ring the upper walls and over the large front windows. It wasn't pretentious at all and somewhat inviting.
The dinner menu is not much different from the catering menu other than offering a few more sandwiches including a "build-your-own" sandwich menu that features your choice of a number of Italian meats, cheeses and breads. They also have a number of eclectic pizzas with toppings that include roasted egg plant, grilled portobello mushrooms, roasted red and yellow sweet peppers, and goat cheese.
A waitress - one of four or five they seemed to have working that evening - came over with a basket of assorted breads. Olive oil and parmesan cheese were on the table and I tried some of the bread as I looked through the menu. The Italian bread was a little dried out, but they had some sort of a bread stick that was sort of crispy on the outside and hollow on the inside. It was actually pretty good.
My waitress, Janet - a younger lady - came over and took my order. I went with my standard Italian sausage, pepperoni, and mushroom pizza - a small
. I had finished my first beer by the time she brought the pizza out about 15 minutes after I'd ordered. I asked for a second beer and she disappeared with my empty bottle to presumably go get a new one for me.
The pizza featured a very thin crust and a generous amount of fresh toppings. While the crust wasn't all that crispy, but it was sturdy enough to hold the toppings and cheese in place. The pizza sauce was a little sweet, maybe a tad too sweet for me, but it wasn't a deal breaker. The sausage chunks were very flavorful, as were the fresh sliced mushrooms. The pepperoni slices were also very good - they weren't as salty as I've found with some pepperoni on other pizza. With fresh parmesan cheese, red pepper flakes and dried oregano sprinkled on top, it was a great pizza to eat with a beer.
Speaking of beer, I had a slice of pizza and realized that Janet hadn't brought me back my beer. When I said that she disappeared, she really did. I didn't see her again. The one waitress who I had talked to about the Salerno's connection finally came over to check on me and I said, "Hey, my waitress went to get me a beer about five minutes ago. I haven't seen her since." So, she went and got me a beer. Janet only showed up after I couldn't eat any longer and dropped off the check. I asked her for a box for about three pieces of the pizza and some other waitress showed up with it. Janet didn't get a good tip.
One of the hallmarks of a good pizza is how it tastes a day down the road. I did have a refrigerator in my hotel room and a microwave so taking the leftovers with me was a no-brainer. After a long day working a dealer event and having no lunch, the final three pieces of pizza were a welcome snack the next evening. The crust held up well and didn't get soggy like some leftover pizza can be.
While I can't say that Salerno's di Lucca was better than the Salerno's on Grand pizza, it was very good. Fresh toppings, very good crust and a sauce that was a tad too sweet, but still it was good. Other than my server's less than stellar service, Salerno's di Lucca was a great find in the northwest suburbs of Chicago.