A Love Letter to a Pizza
Angelo's Pizza, 12th Street, Rock Falls, IL
Saturday I had the distinct pleasure of having my favorite pizza in the entirrrre worrrrld. Before I get into it, I disclose that this is not a New York pizza, which just the other day I declared as my favorite type of pie. It is an availability issue; there aren't any NY pizza joints in my typical Radius of Existence, which does include Chicago but excludes NY itself. If I were to for some reason visit NY more frequently, then I may become fickle and turn my gaze away from a small, nondescript cinder block structure deep in flyover country. Until that time I have given my pizza heart to a ghost named Angelo.
This IS America, after all.
The Wright family of the Sauk Valley area of Illinois, who bought the original location from the presumed Angelo, has offered their pizza and pasta varieties since the 1950s. The Rock Falls location, the humble cinder block structure, was the original. There are six tables and a lunch counter. The first thing you notice is the pasta buckets atop the Pepsi machine. Yep, that's how they sell their spaghetti and mostaccholi (please note that the two-gallon bucket is 'family size' but the gallon bucket is merely 'large', which seems to imply that it represents a SINGLE pasta portion) They don't have a liquor license, and the whole operation is extremely no-frills. In spite of all of that, their success has spawned three more modern locations in the surrounding area.
I have been to all of them, and they are comfortable restaurants with beer and wine, a more expansive menu, and the same recipe pizza. In their own right all are nice places to eat at. But they cannot reproduce the same pizza perfection as the original.
the most impressive cooking device I know of
The star of the show
All of the Angelo's locations are equipped with a Faulds pizza oven. The Faulds Oven company operated post WWII in Chicago up to the 1970s. Pies are laid onto a shelf inside where they ride on a Ferris wheel contraption at 500 degree heat. No pizza is 'stuck in the back'. Every pizza gets the same heat distribution resulting in a consistently excellent finish.
The other three Angelo's locations were built in the past 20 years. Thus, only the oven in Rock Falls has operated continually since its original installation. The other Faulds ovens were restored from parts obtained from other, since closed pizza joints. They come close but no cigar.
The pizza menu
Only rank amateurs & the willfully ignorant ever look at the right side of the pizza menu
We ordered a large original crust sausage and mushroom. Like James May and his vehicles, I'm the guy who complains that Italian food is and should remain Standard. I feel that if a pizza has more than 2 toppings, they start to interfere with one another, cancelling the individual taste notes. I don't know if this is the same everywhere, but 99% of the pizza joints I have visited offer a 'deluxe', 'supreme' or 'special' where typically you can get sausage, pepperoni, onion, green pepper, mushroom and black olive for a lower price than if you ordered all the toppings individually. So, guess what? They use less of each topping than they would if you ordered them individually. It also seems that green pepper and onion tend to dominate the meats and mushrooms. Thus you could order just a green pepper and onion pie and get the same flavor (and cut a lot of fat, not that I give a sh*t about that).
After about 30 minutes, our pizza came, piping hot!
My wife could not wait to start on her slice before I was able to snap this
In a pizza, the crust is the unsung hero. Typically if you're talking about it, it must have had a problem. I've never given Angelo's crust much thought before Saturday. It is thin and is just barely cooked so it is tender without being doughy. It tastes a bit like pasta which leads me to believe it is made out of the same flour. It does not have a 'lip', which is important.
I love a pie with a lot of sauce. As with the dough, they keep it simple by simply using the homemade meat sauce they use on the pasta. Their recipe has more than the three ingredients I was on about in my Olive Garden article. Ground beef, onions, carrots (?), mushrooms & green peppers co-mingle with the tomato base. Please note: no added sugar, getting sweetness from the onions, carrots & green peppers.
Yes, I know I just said that a pizza should only have two toppings, and this sauce features at least 5. But in much smaller proportions, in a sauce, it provides a uniform, consistent taste. It's far better than anything I can make on my own. They even sell it in jars; of course I took a jar home with me.
Angelo's has their own local sausage which they use not only as pizza toppings and in their sauce, but also as the patty in their 'Italian hamburgers' that are also a big seller. It is a very pale gray when it is cooked which leads to some double takes when having one for the first time. It is a mild, fresh meat that is honestly closer to regular ground pork than the varieties found elsewhere. The mushrooms are mushrooms. I'm not even sure why I like them, but I do.
What sets this pizza apart from all others is the cooking method, where the crust is lightly done while the outside ring of cheese caramelizes without burning, forming a mouthwatering lip. Locally made mozzarella is piled thick, and the convection provided by the Ferris wheel oven ensures it is all cooked. The result has a chew without feeling rubbery, and pairs with the strong tomato sauce to provide the flavor bomb in each bite.
A medium would have been sufficient. We were able to finish 7 of the 12 pieces of the large, and took the last five slices home. They were as good if not better the next day.
The noodly elephant in the room
The plot I have laid out thus far: smalltown pizzeria succeeds and expands, most likely due to a signature item. It is true, and as heavenly as their sausage and mushroom pie is, it is not what put Angelo's on the map.
Look up. That there is the Famous Angelo's Spaghetti pizza. Everyone I know raves about it. That's the one that built a pizza mini-empire. Every time we go to any of their locations, the server asks if we would like to try it. It must be part of their training. It ain't ever going to happen, kids. No effin' way. Keep yer spaghetti out of my pizza!