In search of the perfect pizza: Lisa's
As I've mentioned before, I grew up in Riverwest, and my parents always ordered pizza from two pizzerias within a block of our house. I never knew Lisa's Fine Foods, 2961 N. Oakland Ave., existed until I got to high school.
Joseph Bongiorno opened Lisa's in 1960. It continues to be owned and operated by the Bongiorno family led by Joseph's son, Gary Bongiorno, Sr., who has been in the family business for the past 50 years!
Lisa's is located a few buildings south of Linnwood Avenue, so it blends in as a white multi-story home with a storefront. It might be missed by those who don't know of its reputation for delicious thin crust pizza. Fortunately, that doesn't seem to be an issue on the East Side.
I can't remember the first time I experienced Lisa's pizza, but I never forgot it.
Visitors will have a few stairs to navigate before entering the open dining room. During the early dining hours, the light coming in from the large picture windows almost prevents the need for indoor lighting.
The walls are painted in shades of maroon and beige. Dark-colored wooden beams add to the warm feel of the dining room, and antique clocks and lamps are displayed on a wooden shelf surrounding the room.
Between the arriving diners and the constant phone ringing for carry-out orders, the two servers on duty hustled to keep up yet maintained a friendly and welcoming demeanor.
The menu features items you'd expect at an Italian restaurant and a few that you might not expect, such as southern fried chicken, ribs and cod or perch fish dinners.
Appetizers, sandwiches, and Italian dinners fill the rest of the menu. Spiedini is an item I don't come across very often on Italian menus. Lisa's spiedini is stuffed eye of round rolled with a special Italian seasoning blend and bread crumbs and served with fries and a side of pasta.
You'll also find spumoni and cannoli included in the dessert section, and those who enjoy a drink with dinner will find a selection of wine and beer available to them.
After surveying the menu for a few minutes, I was ready to order. "One Super, please."
The Super is one of four specialty pizzas listed on the menu. It includes sausage, mushrooms, pepperoni and green peppers.
The other specialty pizzas include the Special with sausage and mushrooms, the Veggie with mushrooms, green peppers and black olives, and the Super Deluxe with sausage, mushroom, pepperoni, green peppers, onions and black olives.
Pizzas come in three sizes, a 12-inch small, a 14-inch large, and a 16-inch extra large. The 12-inch cheese pizza starts at $11.25. Additional toppings range from $.75 to $3.50 depending on the size of the pizza and topping selected, of course.
Pizza sauce lovers can also order extra sauce starting at $.50, and crust lovers can order thick crust, which is essentially a double crust.
By the way, if you go to their website, you'll find a $2-off coupon for the large and extra large pizza.
When my pizza arrived, I thought it was a thing of beauty. It reminded me a little of the pizzas that I grew up with.
The crust was thin and had a bit of a charred look on parts of the edges. It sure looked like it would be crispy. The diced green peppers and pepperoni provided a nice color contrast to the sausage and mushrooms. I was in my happy place.
As I suspected, my first bite had a nice crunch to it. Not exactly like a cracker, but satisfying nonetheless. The crust did get a little softer toward the center as is common when the grease from the meat toppings concentrate there, but I didn't mind.
The large chunks of Italian sausage were spicy, but not too spicy. They added a great flavor to the pie. Bongiorno told me that Lisa's grinds its own meat and makes the Italian sausage in house. I'm definitely a fan. Lisa's also uses fresh mushrooms which provided another bonus.
The pepperoni slices were a little smaller than average but also provided a delicious and somewhat spicy flavor. I'm still searching for the small pepperoni slices that curl up into "bowls" when they cook and have slightly crispy edges. Anyone? Bueller?
Lisa's pizza sauce is neither sweet nor spicy, in my opinion, but did have a good flavor to it and was applied heavy enough for me to taste it, but I think I'll order extra sauce when I visit again.
I didn't get a chance to ask Bongiorno what the plan was to keep Lisa's open when he retires some day. It didn't sound like a third-generation family member was heavily involved with the restaurant, but I could be wrong.
Either way, I'll have to make it a point to visit again soon. If you like thin crust pizza, then you should visit soon, too. Lisa's pizza is on my list of favorites and probably will be for as long as it's open.
For those who are wondering who Lisa is, Joseph Bongiorno wanted to keep the name of his restaurant short and sweet, so he selected the name of one of Gary's cousins, who currently resides in California.
Order a Lisa's pizza with bacon. It has full strips of bacon on it...AMAZING.
Big Ebe's in Stallis has the mini pepperoni grease cups you crave. At least they did back in the day. The pizza's pretty tasty too. Carryout only.
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