Pizza is a Chicago obsession. The debate about deep dish will never likely be resolved. But most people forget that there are other types of pizza in Chicago. In fact, one of the most iconic brands isn’t actually from Chicago at all – it began farther to the south in the suburb of Homewood. Need a hint? “Tell ‘em Joe sent me.”
Aurelio’s Pizza stands as the second oldest pizza brand in Chicago, and the first of all Chicago-area brands to franchise. Now celebrating 59 years in business, Aurelio’s continues to expand the brand both in Chicago and around the country. In my personal opinion, this is some of the best pizza around and I agree with one of their mottos, “It’s the sauce.”
But how did this all start?
It all began with Joe Aurelio. On August 20, 1959, the first Aurelio’s Pizza opened its doors at 2041 Ridge Rd in Homewood, Illinois. This small storefront had just enough room for about 4 tables and a small kitchen with one pizza oven. In 1959, Pizza was a relatively new concept. Joe would sell 6 or 7 pizzas a day, but Joe’s home cooked Italian beef sandwiches kept him going. Joe made some changes to the dough and sauce recipe and began using fresh, homemade Italian sausage rather than pre-cooking it. These changes made quite a difference and pizza sales began to grow.
In 1974, Aurelio’s Pizza became the first Chicago pizzeria to franchise its concept, becoming just the 5th pizza franchise company started in the United States. On December 18, 2001, a sad day in the pizza world, Founder, Joseph A. Aurelio Jr. passed away after decades of heart trouble.
It was now time for Joe’s only son, Joe, to run the family business.
Now, the franchise spans over the entire country. In addition to dozens of locations in Illinois and Indiana, Aurelio’s also has locations in the following cities:
- Naples, FL
- Ft. Myers, FL
- Marietta, GA
- Roseville, MN
- Las Vegas, NV
I was invited to the relatively new South Loop location of Aurelio’s to become re-acquainted with their offerings. Joey Aurelio, carrying on the legacy into the second generation, was the perfect host for me and a group of other food writers. He is passionate about making sure Aurelio’s maintains the highest possible standards of quality and his enthusiasm is infectious. He took us on a tour of the kitchen, and it was the most scrupulously clean and well-organized restaurant kitchen I have ever seen.
The South Loop location is located at 1212 S. Michigan, on the corner of Michigan and Roosevelt. The restaurant has a wonderful rooftop deck with great views of Grant Park and even the weekly fireworks from Navy Pier. They offer live music on weekends up on the deck and have one of the best locations to watch the final turn of the Chicago Marathon every year.
So many thing impressed me about Aurelio’s, but two stand out in particular:
- The gluten-free pizza crust is the best I have tasted. I do not have a medical requirement to avoid gluten, but many of my friend do. Most of them told me in advance that I had to try the Aurelio’s gluten-free pizza. Wow! If I had not known in advance about the crust, I would have had no clue it was gluten-free. Other pizzas I have tried (in other restaurants) do not compare. I highly recommend this one.
- Aurelio’s will subdivide your pizza in quarters. Most pizza restaurants offer an option to divide a pie in half, with different ingredients on each side. Aurelio’s does one better – they will let you divide into quarters. That’s a great thing when you’re with a group of picky eaters.
Aurelio’s has developed a loyal fan base over 59 years, and some of the menu items have become iconic. Three of those are:
- Sausage Pizza – From the beginning, Aurelio’s developed a unique and foolproof method for creating their much-loved sausage pizza. The freshly-prepared sausage is placed on the pizza raw and then cooked as the pie cooks. This creates a juicy, flavorful sausage instead of the dry, overcooked version prevalent on so many other pizzas.
- Super Six “The Works” (Sausage, ham, pepperoni, green peppers, mushrooms, cheese) – One of the top sellers at all Aurelio’s locations, this pie has the six most popular ingredients all in one place. What’s not to love?
- Spinach Calabrese™ - The famous crust is stuffed with mozzarella cheese and fresh spinach marinated in Mama Aurelio’s secret seasoning and special marinara sauce then baked until golden brown. The portion is gigantic, so be prepared to share.
The South Loop location of Aurelio’s Pizza is located at 1212 S. Michigan. This location is open Mon - Thurs: 11am to 10pm; Fri - Sat: 11am - 11pm; Sun: 11am - 9pm. For more information, call 312-374-4459 or visit the Aurelio’s website. You can also follow their social media conversations on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.