In 1966, taxi drivers Sam Levine and Fred Bartoli finally became fed up with their stop-and-go lives full of honking horns and rush-hour traffic. So they shut off their engines, handed in their keys, and took root. Along with pal George Loverde, they invested in property just off the bustling Magnificent Mile, but then didn’t know what to do with it. According to a 2004 profile in the Chicago Tribune, they got their direction when someone finally said, “Put pizza in it.”
Though the rest is history, it wasn’t quite easy. Bartoli and Loverde came from Italian and Sicilian backgrounds, but neither knew the key to a good pizza. It wasn’t until they hired Alice Mae Redmond, the woman responsible for the dough at Pizzeria Uno, that the Gino's East Chicagoans know and love was truly born. Although Alice Mae retired back in 1989, the recipe for her flaky, golden deep-dish pizza crust lives on.
Today, Gino’s still stands at its original spot on Michigan and Superior but has also stretched to 10 other city and suburban locations. Whether dining downtown or in St. Charles, customers find Alice Mae’s signature crust piled with mounds of cheese, sauce made from vine-ripened tomatoes, and plenty of fresh toppings—from sausage and pepperoni to jalapeños and ground beef. Hot from the oven, pizzas arrive at tables snuggled inside seasoned deep-dish pans, ready to welcome a fork and knife. Thin-crust varieties are also available for those who don’t know how to work silverware, as is a bounty of sandwiches.
The Exclusive Company—a Wisconsin-bred music-and-movie retailer—has given the gift of song since 1956, earning a Best of Milwaukee award from Shepherd Express readers in 2011. Passionate staffers guide visitors toward sprawling collections of rock and jazz and bins brimming with DVDs, Blu-Ray discs, and loose 8mm slides from Kenny G's summer vacation. In addition to peddling new vinyl releases such as El Camino by the Black Keys and Revolver by T-Pain, the shop functions as a trading post, helping to find loving homes for preowned films and music. All used discs are carefully buffed into shape before meeting their new owners, and each comes backed by a money-back guarantee, which promises store credit if a preowned item exhibits biting tendencies. Most used CDs, DVDs, and vinyl cost less than $20.
Papa John's crafts oven-baked creations from a menu brimming with robust topping options. Fresh roma tomato slices, baby portabello mushrooms, and jalepeño peppers adorn pizzas with garden variety, as well as black olives imported from Spain's Herrara grove. Meaty options such as grilled all-white-meat chicken, filler-free spicy italian sausage, and hickory-smoked bacon add layers of heartiness to slices, and cheese blends pair mozzarella with parmesan, romano, or asiago.
Chef David Maish trained at Chicago's Washburne Trade School, worked corporate events and banquets, and cooked at casual dining restaurants before opening the first David's Bistro in 1997. That Des Plaines location was open for nearly a decade, and after a brief break from business, David reopened his namesake restaurant in 2009, this time in Antioch. At the new location, David stresses the importance of hospitality and employs a knowledgeable wait staff, as highlighted by NBC5's Street teamer, Hungry Z, who said, "Chef David goes out of his way to ensure his staff knows the menu as well as he does."
The menu features a lot of the same contemporary American recipes David prepared at his last restaurant, such as the maple-glazed salmon. But the number of dishes has expanded to include more international ones, such as new zealand lamb chops, as well as vegetable-filled pastas and pizzas topped with buffalo mozzarella and baked scallops. There’s also a kids’ menu filled with child-sized portions of spaghetti and meatballs and grilled cheese paninis, as well as pages where kids can color or practice their long division.
Michael's Italian Restaurant's kitchen cupboards are bare. Their sparseness doesn't stem from a food shortage, but from the eatery's devotion to fresh ingredients. To wit: chefs deftly knead fresh batches of homemade pizza dough daily, and they coat the disks with ladles of from-scratch pizza sauce. They simmer organic beef with fresh-squeezed lemon juice, and they fly in fresh fish from Chicago each morning before enhancing the fillets with white wine lemon sauce. In addition to traditional dishes, they've added contemporary flourishes to the menu such as gluten-free pizzas and pastas and meatballs equipped with 4G technology. Regardless of which entree guests select from the expansive menu, knowledgeable servers are always on hand to suggest pairings from the eatery's vast wine list.
A colonial-style brick mansion with two stories of picturesque wraparound porches and balconies greets visitors as they approach Tony & Mia's. Once inside, they’re met by the smell of pizzas, pastas, risottos, and steaks along with the approachable familiarity of homestyle Italian meals. Framed prints of famous Renaissance paintings fill the walls. And the warm glow of antique chandeliers evokes memories of sharing a Thanksgiving meal at the grandparents' farmhouse, or perhaps of stealing the neighbor's chandelier.
Head Chef Camille DiNicola wills into existence stone-baked, mozzarella-topped pizzas, slow-braised beef ravioli, and marinated Cornish hens. Her husband⎯manager Randy Piering⎯ensures the comfort and satisfaction of each guest. Diners relax with glasses of fine Italian wine and small plates as they listen to professional crooners sing Sinatra standards, or gather on the lawn to watch the expert spheroid-flinging of the neighborhood bocce league.
Nicolino's chefs assemble fresh ingredients into hearty pizzas, pastas, and Italian entrees using decades-old family recipes while patrons wager on equestrians flashing across more than 60 plasma-screen TVs. The dining room beckons nongamblers and self-wagering competitive eaters alike with dishes topped in tangy tomato-cream sauces and imported prosciutto served amid chandelier lighting. Charbroiled steaks tempt landlubbing appetites, and rock shrimp, bay scallops, and fresh scrod lure taste buds out to sea. In the lounge, a candlelit bar hosts conversations and nine self-service terminals and a live mutuel teller field bets on horses at nearby Arlington Park as well as venues across the nation. Patrons flick 17 personal plasma TVs between races and other sporting events or search for insider commentary by Mister Ed on free WiFi.