Chicago Pizza Showdown Pt. 2: Tony’s Little Italy in Placentia
I was just starting to go though DEEP Chicago Pizza withdrawals when I first heard about Tony’s Little Italy. I was so excited because Placentia is SO close to my parents house! So I’ve taken quite a few trips to visit them and then ‘treat’ them to Pizza from Tonys… For me, Tonys was OH so close, but still missing that soul of real deep dish Chicago style. The sauce was generic and not chunky. And my biggest issue has always been that the toppings were always ‘meh’ and slight, the cheese on his pies have always been WAY too overpowering… So it always feels like it too much cheese and not and the toppings. However, it had been a while since my last trip to Tonys. And I had heard they got new digs, my parents were having guests over for the big game and so we went to go pick up the pie to see if they had perhaps also raised the level on their pie…
The new digs are a much improvement over the old place which was basically a storefront. It’s not a full deal restaurant, but there are a good amount of tables, a decent selection of beers and TVs to watch the game. They seem to be doing very well in the location too. The ovens were as busy as ever… so if you plan to order in, realize it’s going to take some time…
We called in our order, large stuffed with sausage and green peppers and when it came up, I asked P. to carry it just to see the expression on his face. He gasped at it’s heft… The darn thing must have weighed like 15lbs. When we got home he gasped again for she was a thing of beauty…
But upon closer inspection… something became blantly obvious… It was like the old Tony, but WORSE…. there was hardly any sausage or green peppers on each slice!! I took the first slice:
And my fears were confirmed. Tons of GOOEY cheese. Thick Hefty buttery crust, but hardly any sausage of green peppers!!! I joked with SO that I think that slice at Zelos had more sausage than this whole darn pie!!
So once again, I have to admit Tony’s is as close to what I’ve been able to get that is like Lous or my favorite My Pie. Especially in appearance, but still just keeps missing that mark with the ingredients. So for this battle of the Chicago Pies… The clear winner is Zelos…
Once again, a great review, even if I do disagree with it. That beng said, I have been to Zelo only once so I need a return visit.
Some of your criticisms of Tony's are just what I like...I like the less-chunky sauce, although the last time I was there it was a bit runny. However, it is exceptionally fresh-tasting. I found the cheese/crust/sauce balance to be just right for a stuffed crust pizza...but as a sausage guy, it could have used more of it.
We can agree to disagree but it's a boon to pizza lovers to have both Tony's and Zelo in SoCal...along with a number...too few, unfortunately) of others. I encourage you to hit Sal's, Romano's, CPH...and maybe even toss in Selma's in my hometown (Rancho Santa Margarita) for comparison. Sal's and Romano's are on my list to try if and when I can get out that way.
Once again, great write-up!
As a former Chicagoan, your reaction was very close to mine. When I was at Tony's a few month's ago my eyes watered upon the look of the pizza -- an uncommon sight here in southern California -- but when I took a bite -- too much cheese and the sauce was missing something. The crust was good but overall it lacked balance in flavor. Zelo's is slightly more "gourmet" than traditional Chicago deep dish but given the slim pickins in these areas it's still reigns supreme. And for traditional Chicago thin crust style it is Casa Bianca in Eagle Rock. Beyond the places discussed here nothing come's close ot Chicago style so don't waste your time. Eventually, I'll have to make a run to RSMBob's other recommendations. Chicago pizza - gotta love it!
One note regarding my other recs...the only one I have been to is Chicago Pasta House in Moreno Valley, owned by what I believ is one of the original employees of Giordano's. This was my go-to place (despite the LONG drive) before I found Tony's. For deep/stuffed, I have only had recs and read reviews but Sal's in Anaheim and Romano's in Riverside sound like the real deal. For thin, if you are up in the LA/SFV area, one of my favorites when I first moved here years ago was Little Tony's in NoHo. CB is my #1 when I can get there, and I have found only good but no great in OC. It would be interesting to try Vito's in Anaheim...like Tony's Little Italy, Sal's, and CPH, they are places that have all been out here a LONG time, unusual for OC. Speaking of Vito's, you can read on CH here about the re-birth of Vito's in LA...Vito's was a somewhat legendary run-down NY-style pizza joint near LACC off the 101 near Vermont. It shut down a few years ago but was my regular stop before a Dodgers game. Very good pizza and now open in a new location.
By the way, I just saw that Tony's Little Italy was named the top pizza in OC by AOL City Guide...gotta say that is pretty impressive for a single small family-run place.
Y'know aside from that great cornmeal crust, the other great thing about Zelo's is that they pile on with the ingredients.
This is almost a necessity ... the ingredients have to balance out the thickness of the crust.
Arggg! Now I am salivating - and I have to wait til May to get to Chicago!! ;-) Thanks again for the wonderful write-up, Dommy!!
Though the pictures look delicious, those Pizza's are not authentic Chicago-style (born & raised). Zelo's put corn, pecans and goat cheese on their pizza and Tony's looks like pizzahut pan aside from the sauce being on top.
Zelo's does look the closest, but no self-respecting Chicagoan would ever put anything other than sausage and maybe pepp. on their pizzas.
Try flash frozen mail order pizzas from Malnati's. Thats the closest I've come to ever having "chicago style" in Souther Cal.
jeffro, I respectfully disagree with much of what you have said.
First of all, the cliched phrase "Don't knock it 'til you've tried it" comes to mind. If you haven't been, you need to get to Tony's and to Zelo. Tony's is very close to what you would find at Giordanio's, Bacino's, Nancy's or any of the other standout stuffed pizza places in Chicago...note that this is different from the single crust deep dish/pan pizza found at Lou Malnatti's, GIno's East, Uno/Due, etc. The pics are nice but don't do it justice.
As for toppings, I agree sausage is king in Chicago and is the only thing I like on (or in) the pizza...and not the "rabbit pellet" stuff many places call sausage! However, there are a LOT of other popular toppings that are perfectly acceptable...and one of the more popular ones for stuffed pizza is spinach!
Zelo is kind of a Gino's Eats meets California Pizza Kitchen...it's got the base with a CA flair. Tony's is the more traditional stuffed crust and Tony has about 6 relatives who own italian restaurants in the Chicago area, primarily in the northern suburbs.
If you are going to eat pizza at home, the frozen Lou's are not a bad option for convenience, although they don't come cheap. However, the best pizza is enjoyed in a restaurant, and eating a fresh-cooked pizza at Zelo and Tony's blow away a frozen Lou's or any other frozen pizza in my opinion.
re: Das Ubergeek
Well.........if you mean the sausage should be sliced thin like pepperoni, most Chicagoans would heartily disagree. Pizza suasage in Chicago is not sliced and not the tiny dense flavorless pellets but is somewhat chunked, basically pulled from the raw sausage and apllied to the pizza. For thin crust it is usually pre-cooked but for deep dish or stuffed, it is often applied raw...the long baking time cooks it. Another common characteristic of sausage in Chicago is the inclusion of fennel as a spice component.