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Desperately Seeking Monicals (in Chicago) (long)

  • t

In the past two weeks, I've gone to Pat's and Giordano's in a futile attempt to reproduce the thin crust experience I had at Monicals in rural, downstate Illinois this past June. I've done a little research and I've run into random sentiments on-line from Urbana-Champaign alumni, saying the only thing they missed about Urbana was Monicals and it was the only reason they'd ever go back to visit. The next time any of you are lucky enough to drive south on the 55 or 57 and pass one of those "Food Next Exit" signs, look for the Burgendy colored Moncials sign amongst the McDonalds, Burger King and Popeyes ads -- it should shine out to you like a beacon of hope. I've visited both the one in Clinton and in Urbana, fearing inconsistency with these franchises, but they were the best pizzas I'd ever had. (And I love Art of Pizza stuffed, as well as Zachary's in Berkeley).

In the meantime, is there a pizza in Chicago that even remotely resmebles Monicals? The crust: a very thin (yet dense) cracker-like crust that isn't merely "crisp" -- it's crunchy -- when you're chewing, it sounds like you've had a mouthful of grapenuts. The texture of Pat's crust was more like a saltine cracker -- a little airy, perhaps some would say delicate, but the crust did not hold up and went soggy. Giordano's was at least 3 times the thickness of Monicals and the outer edge of the pie had the consistency, thickness, and taste of a hard breadstick -- a plain flour-y taste. Also, way too many toppings, mostly cheese, and the sauce had too high of a moisture content so that the toppings slid around in a sloppy manner and I was deprived of the deep flavor of a drier sauce that had been cooked into the outer edges. Could someone please help me? It seems ridiculous to me that I'm dreaming of driving out of Chicago for over an hour into the middle of no-where for a pizza. But I keep finding excuses now to visit colleagues in Urbana... Any help would be greatly appreciated. I just re-located from San Diego (the best tacos el pastor and homemade horchata if you cross the border and you'll get 3 tacos for a dollar -- not to mention the Vietnamese food at Saigon) as well as Berkeley, so I'd be happy to provide any helpful info for those of you heading out there. Thanks so much.

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  1. Well, you could drive to Decatur instead of Champaign. But Monicals is definitly a downstate gem.

    Link: http://leahj.blog-city.com

    1. Hi,

      I have passed Monicals many, many times and never walked in. Isn't it the operation where they drive VW beetles with a tomato on the roof? Just have to get a picture to share next time.

      When I am in Champaign, I get hung up on the BBQ opportunities.


      2 Replies
      1. re: Cathy2

        Actually what you're thinking of is Garcia's... In C-U there is a Monicals on E. Washington in Urbana and one on Mattis in Champaign. They specialize mostly in med-thick crust pizzas.

        Monical's is great. And if you like excellent thin crust pizza, you should definitely try Papa Del's next time you're in C-U.

        1. re: Ms. Paris

          Grew up in C-U going to Monical's after Little League games for "family pleasers". Not much that can compare to it in Chicago except for maybe Art of Pizza.

          But if you want to get to the stratosphere of pizza, it's Papa Del's. A book could be written about the Papa Del's experience. I don't have the time to get started on it now :)

          But if you want the best--make an excuse to go to C-U and head straight to Pop's on Green Street.

      2. When I saw this posting it was a little ironic as I ate at a Monical's just last night. The closest Monical's to Chicago is in Manteno (exit 322 on I-57), which is about an hour's drive from downtown or so.

        I also love the cracker thin crust there, and that the sauce is spread out to the edge of that crust.

        Cathy2, which BBQ places are you hooked on in the Champaign-Urbana area?


        1. try john's at western, just north of armitage. thin thin saltine like crust, excellent sauce redolent of herbs and a little spicy, easy on the toppings.

          plus a slightly bizzaro lunch counter feel to the place.

          1. What a treat to log on to find a review of Monicals! I grew up in Arcola (30 mi. south of C-U) and my family regularly ate at Monicals in Tuscola. My mom is still fairly offended every time I go home and request that one of our few meals together be at Monicals instead of in her kitchen.

            I have never been able to find a great substitute up here in CHicago--have lived here for 8+ years. However, the thin crust at My Pie on Damen, just north of Armitage, is very good. Give it a shot!

            1. I hear you! I was home in July and had lunch with my family at a Monicals in Canton, IL. My dad is friendly with the owner and we grew up going there at least a couple times a month. They had a "family special" with a one-topping pizza, pitcher of soda and large salad bowl - it was $9.99 (probably more now). There's one in Peoria too, but it's not as good as the one in Canton, for some reason.

              The pizza is still my favorite. People think I'm nuts when I say I live in Chicago, but my favorite pizza is Monicals. The only other pizza I've had that comes close is Otto in NYC.

              1. I recall that T-Bird's (Urbana) had a crispy crust pizza. This was in the early 80's. Does this place still exist?

                3 Replies
                1. re: keithkeith

                  D'Agostino's, Bacino's thin crust, Art of Pizza are all pretty good if you're not looking for deep dish

                  1. re: keithkeith

                    T-Birds has been gone for a VERY long time. There's a very popular italian restaurant there called Timpone's that also has very good cracker crust type pizza (at least they did when I was there 10 years ago).

                    You actually paid for food at T-Birds instead of scarffing their Friday Happy Hour free hot dogs?? : )

                    1. re: LAWoman

                      Yes, Timpone's pizza is good, but if in the area I would try the pizza at the Bread Co. next door (old Treno's location if that helps). Fabulous very thin crust pizza with great toppings baked in a very hot oven. The place is run by a Swiss couple no less, and dinners there also have fondue and great pastas and entrees as options. Enjoy!

                  2. My parents live in Princeton (about 20 minutes west of Starved Rock) and there is a Monical's on Main Street. I've passed it for at least 13 years thinking, for some unknown reason, that it was on the Pizza Hut level. Now I know to give Monical's a try next time we're out that way!!

                    1. Never been to Monical's, but My Pi has a very thin and crispy crust. I'm near the one on Damen, so I get takeout and put it into the oven to crisp back up.

                      1. I've searched long and hard, and I've found 2 places worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as Monical's. The first is Vito and Nick's on 81st and Pulaski. The second is Zaffiro's in Milwaukee. Both are out of the way, smokey dives, but the crispy pie makes up for the effort to get there.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: jefesloan

                          I don't remember Monical's well (although I went to UIUC in the early 80s) but I will say that V&N and Zaffiro's are two of the best ultra-thin crust pizzas I've ever had anywhwere. Vito & Nick's also has a restaurant at the Lemont Lanes bowling alley, and there are 2 or 3 Vito & Nick's II restaurants that are owned/run by another faction of the family, and they serve a very similar pizza.

                          The biggest problem with pizza like these (especially Zaffiro's) is that it takes a LOT to fill you up!

                        2. Skip Monical's and go for the real thing...Old Orchard Lanes pizza. Old Orchard is a twenty lane bowling center (you heard right) in Savoy IL, just south of Champaign. They have the original Monical's pizza recipe. It's heads above the now cardboard-like pizza at Monical's. The pizzas that OO turns out are not cookie cutter pizza...each time you order the pizza will have it's own personality. Always a thin cracker crust and quality toppings. When they're good, they're insanely good. When they're not that good, they are superb. Hint: Don't go during league play which is every night at 6 PM unless you want to sit at the counter or in the bar. The bar, by the way, is excellent, and they recently added an outside seating area directly adjoining.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: dekethedog

                            I lived in Champaign for almost 20 years, just moved to the St. Louis area (and can't stand Imo's), though there are some worthy pizza places, Pi tops among them.

                            I too can vouch for the Old Orchard pizza...didn't know that about it being the original Monical's. Reminds me to hit it when in town next. Worthy thin crust places of newer vintage include Jupiter's...two locations in downtown Champaign and SW Champaign at Village at the Crossing.