Sky Full of Bacon

The Great Unknown Chicago Pizza

Years ago, when LTHForum was new and time was infinite and I had nothing better to do than go on for 1500 words bringing up Georges Bernanos in a pizza review, I posted something about a thin crust pizza place way up in Mundelein:

Every once in a while I think of what must be, without doubt, the most obscure book I have ever read. I found it in the library of my Catholic high school, was perversely attracted to it by the fact that it had not been checked out since 1958 or something, and read it– or more likely only part of it– for a religion class book report.

Alas, I don’t remember the precise name, and I’m sure it’s unretrievable by the usual means. The title was something like “Unknown Saints of Rural France,” by Father Somebody or other, S.J. And basically it was an effort in ecclesiastical expense account justifying; shortly after WWII this priest had had a bicycling vacation in France, and to make more than a holiday out of what he was doing, he spent part of it going from village to village, tracking down tales of especially pious people who had been mentioned to him by someone else a village or two over.

Most of them were farmwives, the long-suffering women who are the mainstay of every church, and there was little enough remarkable in the story of any of them– no unsuspected Bernadette Soubirouses or Therese Martins having visions among them, just hardworking peasant mothers. Had the good father been more of an artist, he might have made something of his theme, that in the devotions of these unremarkable women, often half-ignored even by their families, was to be found the truest sainthood and love. This was, after all, the time and countryside of Bernanos’ Journal d’un Cure de Campagne (and Bresson’s masterful film of it), about saintly grace going unnoticed and even despised by the world. But he wasn’t an artist, and I was a high school punk amused by the book’s flimsiness as a vacation document rather than touched by the artistic portrayal of grace, and so here we are, 25 years later, probably more of us reading this now than ever read the book in the first place, using it merely as a device for a review of a pizza place in Mundelein.

* * *

What made me think of Father whoever and his forgotten book was the fact that I had had to go up to Gurnee Mills, of all ultra-worldly places (though the Bass Pro Shop is certainly worth a visit), and then decided to take some meandering old-school road back rather than zip back on boring 94, the idea being– like Father bicycling from village to village– to see what unknown historic or culinary curiosities might be revealed along the former highways now shoved aside by the giant expressways and the chains they draw like magnets. I wound up on Route 45, whose supply of old road houses and such things was none too plentiful except perhaps around Gages Lake– but I only needed one, and at Diamond Lake Road and 45, I found it. A handsome vintage neon sign announcing a little hot dog and pizza stand called Bill’s, next to which sat a larger, hunting-lodge-like establishment called Bill’s Pub.

The Pub was not open but in the window of Bill’s the stand, they promised “Fabulous Hot Dogs.” I was prepared to try them but secretly I had my heart set on pizza, because I saw a box which said “Since 1957,” and one of my rules is, always try a pizza that dates back to the 1950s. There is always a small possibility that in the intervening 35+ years, they have NOT screwed it up by trying to make it more like Domino’s or something.

I asked the young lady behind the counter which I should have, the hot dog or the pizza. At first she answered with the answer that always shows a lack of imagination, “They’re both good,” but then, warming to her theme, she said that she has gladly come in on her days off to have the hot dogs, and she has gladly come in on her days off to have the pizza, and that I couldn’t go wrong either way. And so, bowing to her enthusiasm, I ordered a small thin pizza.

Fifteen minutes later the box was perched on the hood of my car. The verdict? This pizza, unknown and unheralded in Mundelein, was worthy of the same devotion given to any cracker-crust thin pizza to be had in Chicago– not better, perhaps, than Vito & Nick’s, Candlelite, Zaffiro’s, etc., but undoubtedly comparable in its paper-thin crackliness, its foldability, its boldly spicy tomato sauce and thin layer of quality mozzarella. Given its location off the beaten path in a far northern suburb, it is unlikely ever to be known to the greater world; it is unlikely pilgrimages will be made to it from Chicago; but I can only say that I hope it is appreciated by its family and friends, that they are grateful to have its example among them, providing warmth and sustenance night after night, and that I have been encouraged to continue my quest by the fact of having found this example of pizza grace toiling in obscurity.

Bill’s Pizza & Pub
Diamond Lake Road and Route 45
Mundelein, IL 60060

I revive this ancient palimpsest mainly because attending the Lake County Fair in its new fairgrounds gave me my first chance to try Bill’s again, indeed, to dine inside. And you know what? I really do think this is one of the best thin crust pizzas in Chicagoland, right up there with Vito & Nick’s, Marie’s, Pat’s, Candlelite as it was a few years ago, D’Agostino’s or Zaffiro’s of Milwaukee for that matter. The crust is cracker-thin, yet it doesn’t just soak up grease like Pat’s does; there’s a little more kick to the sauce and sausage than at D’Agostino’s, though it’s still definitely on the mild side; really, this is an admirable old school thin crust in every way that deserves to be better known. And as for the place itself— oh man, it is a trip. Northwoods hunting lodge on acid, with goofy stuffed animal displays, peanuts on the floor, and gaudy stained glass images of Disneyesque deer. It must be seen to be beyond belief.

Oddly enough, when I wrote my original review it enraged a northwest suburban LTHer who thought I was mocking his part of the world with city condescension. So make no mistake: I am sincere when I say this is one of the best pizzas in Chicagoland and you should make a considerable drive to go have it. Maybe not all the way from home, but certainly worth a 15 mile detour in the northern reaches.

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