The Daley Question
December 4, 2012
Q: See if you can find out if the Villa Girgenti passed their pizza recipe out to anyone when they closed their place on Paulina. It was a '60s North Side high school hangout, and they had the best thin crust pizza ever. What a waste to no longer sell it. I will never stop searching for this.
—Sue Ellen Levins, Chicago
A: Clearly, Villa Girgenti was a popular spot in its day because you are not the only one to still bemoan its passing some 37 years later. Food bulletin boards, such as Chowhound and Roadfood.com, have tributes to the restaurant, once located at 7625 N. Paulina St. (telephone: SHeldrake 3-9872).
Perhaps my favorite nod is found in an Aug. 2008 posting on Roadfood from "Rumaki," a Minneapolis-based correspondent.
"Villa Girgenti was a great 'red sauce' Italian place with wonderful eggplant parmigiana and good Italian bread," recalled "Rumaki" in the post. "On one occasion I ate five loaves (OK, they weren't that big in diameter) all by myself. The jukebox was great -- among other things, it had Mario Lanza singing the Drinking Song from "The Student Prince." And they had a wonderful 'Hamm's Beer' sign with illuminated "sky-blue waters."
"Rumaki" is Jane E. Kirtley, professor of media ethics and law at the University of Minnesota's School of Journalism and Mass Communications and director of the Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and the Law.
"It was a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful place," Kirtley told me in a telephone interview. She was a college student, living in the southern part of Evanston, and Villa Girgenti was a quick hop for her and her friends. Kirtley has only a vague recollection of the thin-crust pizza so many people vividly recall..
"I usually had eggplant parmigiana,'' she explained. "It was an eggplant parmigiana place,'' she explained.
Michael Stern, the Winnetka-born and Connecticut-based co-author of "The Lexicon of Real American Food," remembers Villa Girgenti with fondness.
"I remember it was my favorite Italian place to go to,'' he said. "I loved the pizza there."
Yet, pizza was secondary in an order placed by the Chicago Tribune's Kay Loring. She took note of a visit to the "Villa," as devotees call it, in a column published Dec. 1, 1967. She described it as a place "short on elegance, long on genuine tastiness" where one could "dine deliciously" in an informal setting "patronized by many young people." Loring quoted an unnamed fried as saying high school kids "really go" for Villa Girgenti's pizza, so she ordered a "small" Girgenti special as an appetizer to go with cocktails.
"It turned out to be quite sizable and so crusty and savory we were hard put to it to save a bit of appetite for our veal dishes, which were tops,'' Loring wrote, adding the veal dishes were veal braciolette and veal in butter. (Interestingly, Loring later included the pizza in her "Taste Treats of '67.")
Stephen Milioto of Plainfield said his dad, Charles, operated the Villa restaurant until 1975. He died two years later.
"My dad came from Sicily. He took pride in that restaurant,'' Milioto said. "I lost him when I was 18 years old. I don't know what he did with that pizza recipe."
Milioto said he's never found a pizza like those at Villa Girgenti. The closest he's found is at Pequod's Pizza (pequodspizza.com) in Morton Grove. There's also a Lincoln Park location at 2207 N. Clybourn Ave.
Give one of them a try. Let me know.
Do you have a question about food or drink? E-mail Bill Daley at: email@example.com. Snail mail inquiries should be sent to: Bill Daley, Chicago Tribune, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago 60611. Twitter @billdaley.
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