After my first experience, it took more than 48 hours before I ventured out in search of more pizza. This time, I made a purely nostalgic trip to a family pizza restaurant I remember from my childhood. Adam Kuban from Slice.com often invokes the Pizza Cognition Theory in his interviews, which states: “The first slice of pizza a child sees and tastes becomes pizza for him (or her).” http://slice.seriouseats.com/archives/2009/12/sam-siftons-pizza-cognition-theory.html
In my own case, I think that is pretty close to accurate. I don’t really recall what my first taste of pizza was, but most likely it was a Midwestern/Chicago thin/Bar-style pizza with Italian sausage from a college town in central Illinois. I am old enough to remember when Domino’s pizza actually tasted good, and was quite different from what they call pizza and sell today. Probably half the pizzas I ate as a kid were cut in slices and the other half in squares (i.e. party/tavern cut).
This long-winded introduction is to serve as an explanation as to why I chose Pope’s Pizza in Elk Grove Village, IL. For the brief 17 months that my family lived there in the early 1970’s, the one pizza restaurant I can remember patronizing, mostly on Friday nights, was Pope’s. Or at least, what is now called Pope’s Pizza, because according to their history, in those days it was known as a franchised Jake’s Pizza restaurant. I took my 2-year old daughter with me, sans wife, and we walked in on a Sunday evening. It looked vaguely like I remembered it: triangular shaped front entrance that reminded me of Village Inn pizza restaurants, with dark, old hardwood tables and chairs, and a bar. We were shown to a table and given a menu by the bartender. I ordered my usual pizza in a small size; my daughter opted for the grilled cheese and fries. Aside from a large private birthday party, we were the only patrons in the place while we were there. I started getting nervous. “What if this is another Perna’s experience?” “What if the pizza here isn’t nearly as good as I remember it?”
I chatted with the owner, Alexander Pope, along with some of his family, while we waited. He’s turned most of the chores of running the place over to his daughter Sherry these days. After about the obligatory 15 minutes, our dinner was delivered to our table. The pizza looked like I remember most of the pizzas I ate as a kid: thin, crackery crust with sauce to the edge. And it was party cut. I dove in to a tiny ‘corner slice’. Pretty good. I went in for more. And more. While my 2-year old wrestled with her adult-sized grilled cheese and dipped her fries in ketchup, I devoured my small pizza in minutes. I wish I had ordered a medium.
Good, you ask? Yes, to me it was quite good.
Well, let’s just hold up here for a minute. To me, I would label my pizza experience at Pope’s as “very good”. But consider the nostalgia factor for me. Even I would not call it the best pizza I ever had, and probably not even in the top 10. But after Perna’s, and calling upon all of my mental faculties to conjure up what I thought a typical old family pizza parlor should have as pizza, Pope’s definitely fit the bill. The crust was crisp and actually had flavor to it. The sauce also possessed flavor, but not overpowering by any means. I am guessing it is probably something like Hunt’s tomato sauce with some oregano, onion and garlic powder thrown in, but hey, it worked for me. The cheese was mostly mozzarella, but I detected a little something more, possibly parmesan or provolone. The sausage was much more reminiscent of the Italian sausage to which I am accustomed, but more of a sweet variety, not hot-and-spicy. The mushrooms were fresh, although I’ve seen better. Overall, I detected a definite saltiness to the pizza, but which ingredient(s) provided that taste, I couldn’t say for sure. Oh yes, and the grilled cheese and fries were standard and tasted good, too, but it’s pretty hard to mess those up.
For me, Pope’s restored my faith in old family-oriented Midwestern pizza restaurants. It’s the kind of place you have little family reunions at, take your little league team to after the game, or just get the family together and say, “what the heck, let’s just go out for dinner tonight as a family”. After starting out with the Perna experience, I needed to get back up on the horse and ride that crazy pizza beast again, and I’m glad I did. Pope’s is unpretentious when it comes to pizza and who they are ... and really it is nothing special (except maybe to me). But they’ve been doing it for 38 years amidst a much bigger and more populated suburb of Chicago than when I lived there back when they were brand new, with lots more competition around, even just within a three-block radius. So, they must be doing something right. My only real complaint is I thought the final bill was a little higher than I expected.
Would I eat Pope’s pizza again? You betcha!