Serious Eats: Chicago
Mundelein, Illinois: Bill's Pizza & Pub
Serious Eats Chicago contributor Daniel Zemans checks in with another piece of intel on the Windy City pizza scene. --The Mgmt.
Bill's Pizza & Pub
624 South Lake Street, Mundelein, IL 60060 (map); (847) 566-5380
Pizza Style: Cracker crust and Double Decker
Oven Type: Gas
The Skinny: Classic tavern cut pizza and the innovative Double Decker are served up in a dive bar/family/taxidermy museum
Price: 12" cheese thin crust is $12.75; 12" cheese Double Decker is $16.25
In 1957, seventeen-year-old Bill Kwiatkowski opened a pizzeria in a converted garage in the small town of Mundelein, Illinois, a decidedly rural community about 40 miles from downtown Chicago. Over time, Mundelein has become decidedly less dependent on farming, the town's population has more than quadrupled to about 33,000, and the reach of Chicago's metropolitan area has expanded to the point where Mundelein is, if not a suburb itself, at least within the reach of the Chicago metropolitan area. One thing that hasn't changed is the pizza at Bill's Pizza & Pub, which still operates on the same site as the converted garage. The old garage still stands and serves as the base for their carry-out and delivery operations. The restaurant has moved into a large building next door and is run by Bill's kids and grandchildren.
Walking into Bill's is a bit of a surreal experience for the first-time visitor. The place is a cross between a family dining restaurant and a dive bar, with a bit of a hunting lodge thrown in for good measure. It has a large bar, peanuts on every table (and all over the floor), a small arcade, a couple of televisions turned to sporting events, and a wall covered with taxidermy mounts of various animals and fish. Bottles of beer are served without glasses, food is served on styrofoam plates, and, keeping the peanut theme alive, the table tops are covered with peanut shells embedded in some kind of lucite or acrylic.
Bill's serves up two styles of pizza, a thin crust tavern cut pie and a "Double Decker," which is two thin crust pies on top of each other. Operating under the theory that if one is good, two is better, I opted for a Double Decker with sausage and mushrooms. There are a few tricks to making the Double Decker, a style that Bill claims to have invented. First, all vegetables only go on top of the pie. According to our server, Bill learned the hard way that if he put the veggies under the crust, explosions occur. Second, sauce only goes on the bottom crust because the combination of cheese under the top crust and sauce on top of it would be too much for the crisp crust to handle. And third, Bill's adds a large cornicione of twisted dough that holds the two decks of the Double Decker in place.
Like a fresh stuffed pizza, the most noticeable feature of the Double Decker is the massive amount of cheese that oozes out when the first slice is cut. In fact, the Double Decker is, in a way, an excellent combination of two of Chicago's native pizza styles - stuffed and tavern cut. The pie has the heft of a stuffed pie, but the cheese sit between and on top of a crisp cracker crust (times two!) that adds great texture and some nice toasted bread flavor. But to be fair, Bill's Double Decker precedes the introduction of stuffed pizza, so it's quite possible that full credit for this pie goes to Kwiatkowski's gluttonous imagination.
The mushrooms were fresh and had a nice extra bit of chew thanks to sitting on top of the pizza as it baked. The sausage, which had some good fennel flavor, was not particularly good, but it was a step above factory produced sausage nuggets. To the extent I could get a feel for the regular tavern crust while enjoying my Double Decker, Bill's seems to serve up a very good example of the style. I wouldn't say either that or the Double Decker is worth the drive out to Mundelein for city dwellers craving a tavern cut pizza fix, but if you find yourself in the area, whether with drinking buddies, your family, or your hunting party, Bill's is definitely worth checking out.
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