You'll never find canned tomatoes or a pre-made pizza crust in the kitchen at Valentina's Pizzeria, where the staff prides itself on the ingredients it makes in-house every day, from the freshly grated cheese to the sauce mixed with herbs straight from the garden. Owner Greg Steele oversees the crafting of a menu filled with a selection of pizzas, calzones, and subs as well as sides such as eggplant fries and cheese bread.
Within the cream-colored brick exterior of a century-old city building, Papa Luigi’s II marries an Italian restaurant with a bowling alley. Amid the wood paneling, wine-red carpet, and chandeliers of the dining room, taste buds can warm up with the house’s favorite appetizer—sicilian eggplant lathered in Papa’s special marinara sauce. Thin-n-crispy pizzas, which Papa Luigi’s II has been perfecting for 23 years, come loaded with canadian bacon or shrimp.
After meals, guests can adjourn to the newly remodeled, smoke-free bowling alley. Here, shining orbs hurtle down 10 lanes whose automatic bumpers forgive shaky aim, and an automatic scoring system lets bowlers tuck their personal mathematicians back into the trunks of their cars. Between rounds, players can refuel at a pub-style bar by tipping back chilled mugs brimming with imported tap beers and gazing at a trio of plasma televisions. Those seeking a new arena for competition can drop by the game room or rent the upstairs gym for shooting hoops.
In 1963, Sal Barbiere founded his eponymous Italian Inn on the principles of “Family, Superb Food, and Quality Ingredients,” according to the restaurant's website. So it was no surprise that he decided to keep the eatery in the family, passing Barbiere's to his son Steve when he retired. And when, 34 years later, Steve was ready to retire in his turn, he also passed the mantle to someone trustworthy: employee Mark Dempsey, who is himself nearly family—he has been working at the restaurant since he was 16 years old.
Today, Dempsey has expanded the restaurant to two locations, both still serving Sal's signature garlic bread and other tried-and-true Italian dishes. Chefs in his kitchens prepare pans of lasagna and spaghetti with meat or meatless sauce. Baked-to-order pizzas feature an array of topping choices including italian sausage, fresh mushrooms, and sliced tomatoes. Grand Marnier from the full bar fortifies pitchers of housemade red sangria, which enhance the food's bold, Italian flavors as well as boring white napkins that definitely look better in tie-dye.
Chandeliers and linen-clad tables lend a bit of glitz to the warm, welcoming Old Town Serbian Gourmet Restaurant. The menu that gets passed out in that friendly atmosphere features flavorful homestyle Serbian cuisine that unites the Midwest with the Old World, promising a smorgasbord of traditional Serbian stews, dumplings, pilafs, and cutlet entrees crafted from locally farmed produce. The spread ranges from multi-course feasts of chevapchichi and wholesome meals of fresh fish or stuffed cabbage. That diverse selection allows the menu to captivate the palate with dishes that are simultaneously exotic and familiar, similar to having George Clooney move in above the garage.
The “pleasingly puffy” crust and “inventive flavor combinations” the chef creates for Transfer Pizzeria Café's inventive pizzas earned the establishment a feature on Serious Eats. Today, they craft more than 40 different kinds of pizzas with different combinations of about 30 toppings, all laid atop house-crafted sauces: tomato, garlic, pesto, barbecue, and peanut. Made with local and organic ingredients when possible, the pizzas range from traditional to inventive, with combinations more compelling than that of Al Capone’s safe. The pollo verde features chicken with pesto and tomato sauce, feta, and asiago cheese, and the Diavola is topped with hot peppers and salami. Transfer Pizzeria Café's crew strives to give back to the community by featuring local art and live music, and it contributes its vegetable and fruit scraps, used coffee grounds, and discarded paper airplanes to an area compost network.
Marchese’s Olive Pit provides pizza purveyors with a menu of pies with and without red sauce. Opt for sauceless sustenance with the caramelized onion and mushroom pizza, boasting olive oil and aromatic garlic reclining on an herb-brushed crust ($14.99 for regular size), or go in the red by bankrupting hunger with Pete’s Pepper Pizza, topped with spicy serrano peppers or mild green bell peppers, plus pepperoni and onions ($15.99 for regular). Customers can conceive the most artistic pie creation since da Vinci’s Mona Lisa Face-Planted Into Pizza with the create-your-own option, which lets you add as many toppings as your stomach pleases, including olives, extra seasoning, artichokes, bacon, and more ($12.99+). Marchese’s also offers a solid selection of appetizers, from its fresh bread available with toppings such as marinara sauce, pesto spread, or olive tapenade ($3–$5.50), to Aunt Susie’s Salad, with strawberries, butter-toasted pecans, and a raspberry-poppy-seed dressing bunking atop a bed of spinach ($5.99). Lunchtimers can nosh on pizzas by the slice ($4–$5)—Marchese's Olive Pit serves up a new special slice of pizza each week—or the massive Bear’s Big Sandwich available in veggie-friendly ($5.99) or pepperoni-topped ($6.99) variations.