Joe's Italian Villa
8807 S Harlem Avenue, Bridgeview IL 60455 (map); 708-599-1431; joesitalianvilla.com
Getting There: #90 Harlem bus to 88th Place
Pizza Style: Midwest tavern thin crust
Oven Type: Gas
The Skinny: Classic tavern-cut pizza from 60+year-old institution stars some of the best sausage in town. Deep dish, however, misses the mark
Price: 14-inch sausage pizza, $14.40
While I was in Stickney, Illinois, to try the pizza at Villa Nova, I was also able to stop by Joe's Italian Villa Pizza Inc. in Bridgeview. A few people have recommended Joe's to me and I was eager to check out another of Chicago's longtime tavern-cut pizzerias.
Sicilian native Frank Serio opened Joe's on Chicago's South Side in 1947. He passed it on to his son "Big Joe" and Joe's wife, Loretta, and today the place is run by their kids, Joe and Frank Serio. In 1968, the Serios left the old neighborhood and headed to the Southfield Shopping Center in Bridgeview, a suburb just outside the southwest side of Chicago that is perhaps best known as the new home of the Chicago Fire.
The pie at Joe's is old-school Chicago thin crust, the square-cut sensation that swept the region decades ago and never left. The mozzarella, which is shredded in-house, is purposefully browned in order to add a little extra flavor. The sauce is a touch sweet, but nothing like South Side joints like Aurelio's. Along with the added sugar is a decent amount of oregano to balance out the seasoning. The crisp, cracker-thin, yeast-free crust comes with a little char, which is not common for the style, but I thought added a little bit of extra flavor.
Joe's lists two kinds of pizza on their menu—cheese and sausage. Other toppings are available, but they are treated as second-class options, listed together at the bottom of the menu and offered for a lower price than the sausage. After one bite, that favoritism is understandable. The meat is positively loaded with fennel and pepper. I love fennel and thought there was almost too much, but close to the limit and over the limit are two very different things, and the hunks of pork that cover this pizza are outstanding.
Joe's also offers deep dish and stuffed pizza. I was not planning on trying either, but since they were selling deep dish by the slice and a fresh one had just come out of the oven, I couldn't resist. That was a mistake. The soft crust was essentially thick Wonder Bread and the sauce was simply too far removed from pure tomato flavor when served in that quantity. Fortunately, the cheese and sausage were still delicious and very plentiful. I decided to cut my losses and pulled that part off the slice to enjoy.
I don't hold the deep dish against Joe's; it's really outside their area of expertise. As long as you stick with the thin crust, it's tough to imagine having a disappointing pizza there. And if you get the sausage, leaving unhappy is simply impossible.
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