Villa Nova: A Neighborhood Institution the Whole City Should Discover

Serious Eats Chicago contributor Daniel Zemans checks in with another piece of intel on the Windy City pizza scene. --The Mgmt.

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[Photographs: Daniel Zemans]

Villa Nova Pizzeria

6821 Pershing Road, Stickney, IL 60402 (map); (708) 788-2944
Getting There: #90 Harlem bus to Pershing Road; or Burlington Northern Metra to Berwyn
Pizza Style: Chicago Thin Crust
Oven Type: Gas
The Skinny: A local institution that deserves a place among the most-praised tavern cut pies in Chicago
Price: 14" with one topping, $15.20
Notes: Additional locations in Lockport, Illinois and New Buffalo, Michigan; also available at the Al's in Orland Park.

Passionate Chicago Slice commenter cpd007 has told me to go to Villa Nova Pizza a couple of times. I had every confidence in the recommendation, but Stickney, a small suburb located just southwest of Cicero, is not exactly on the way to anywhere I normally go. But I'm always up to explore new places when new pizza is involved and I recently made the trip.

Alfonso Tornabene, who opened Villa Nova more than half a century ago, is better known for his alleged role high up in the Chicago Outfit where he was known as "the Pizza Man." Tornabene died in 2009 and the business is now run by his daughter, Mary Adamczyk, and her husband Sonny. Owned by the same family and in the same location for 55 years, this place puts out one of the best tavern cut pizzas in Chicagoland.

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My favorite thing about the menu on the wall at Villa Nova is that just three pizza options are listed: cheese, sausage and half & half pies. There are a handful of toppings available beyond sausage, but they have rightfully been relegated to secondary status, all sitting under the heading "extras." The focus on sausage is appropriate as it is simply outstanding.

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The relatively large hunks of house-made sausage decorate every single square of the pie. The meat is fresh, juicy, and very well seasoned with fennel and other spices. The sausage alone was worth the trip, but the rest of the pie was also excellent. The sauce had a nice clean tomato flavor, which is out of the norm for heavily herbed version typical of this pizza style. And the pool of melted mozzarella was surprisingly soft for a non-fresh variety.

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I've written numerous times about thin crust pizzas where I've praised most of the pizza while forgiving the presence of a crust that serves little function other than to hold the rest of the pie. Such disclaimers are not necessary at Villa Nova. The crust is run through a roller, but it comes out of the massive Cutler oven with a crisp lightness that truly adds to the overall pizza. I'm not sure if there is butter or oil in the crust, but it had an impressive depth of flavor.

Until trying Villa Nova, it was a given that if I found myself near Midway Airport and craving a thin crust pizza, I would head over to Vito and Nick's. Old habits die hard, but I think I might have a new top choice in the area. I foresee trying both places back-to-back to make a final decision.