Monday, November 11, 2013

Review: Monical's Pizza, Bloomington IL

With the past month, I've traveled to Columbus, OH and Bloomington, IL (via the south side of Chicago), which provided an opportunity to eat some Midwestern pizza. I had some idea of what I might find, thanks to this excellent guide to regional pie styles on Slice - SeriousEats.
A slice at Monical's. Click on any pic for full-size resolution.

I traveled first to Columbus, where I had a superb pizza with a wafer-thin crust at Rubino's. That was my first taste of this style, and whetted my appetite for more.
Pepperoni pie at Rubino's, Columbus OH

Only a few days later came my journey to Bloomington, which is located 2 or 3 hours from any major airport (it sits alone in the center of a square you might draw from map points in Chicago, Indianapolis, St. Louis, and Des Moines). I decided to fly into Midway and rent a car. That opened an opportunity to find some distinctive Chicago pie, but that came at the end of my trip.

My time in Bloomington was tightly budgeted, with three business meals. My only free-agent dining came at lunchtime on the day of my arrival. I had failed to plan ahead to scout out destination pie, so I drove from my hotel to the closest shopping plaza, and there I spotted Monical's Pizza.

It had the look of a chain, but I figured (correctly) that it must be a smaller, regional chain because I had never heard of it. From their website, I count 65 locations, mostly in Illinois and Indiana.
Part of the homey dining room area

I entered at a counter for ordering, and reviewed the whole-pie choices (no individual slices) of thin crust, pan pizza, gluten-free, or "The Point" which boasts "more cheese, more toppings, sweeter sauce, and a thicker crust." I was intrigued, but I chose the 8" personal size thin crust pizza. I opted for pepperoni toppings after learning that the "sausage" topping was crumbles, not real chunks or slices of Italian sausage.

After ordering, patrons pick a spot in the dining room and the pizza is brought to you in a hybrid table-service fashion.
My Monical's pizza
For visual comparison, a frozen Totino's pie

When my pie arrived, I saw a thin, sickly-looking disc that would have disappointed me (visually) even if it had been a store brand frozen pizza. I chuckled as I thought that Bloomington - with its heartland values and friendly residents - was a long way from Trenton, New York, and New Haven.

On lifting the first small slice, however, I noted the rigidity of the crust, and when I took a bite, I immediately sensed the similarity to that wonderful pie at Rubino's in Columbus. The crust had some al dente character and flavor of its own. The conventional sauce and cheese were highly seasoned and salted, and applied judiciously in proportion to the thin crust. The pepperoni was average commercial grade, but still enhanced the pie and it was all baked to a crispy and browned-edge satisfaction.

Was it as good as Rubino's? No. Was it destination pie? No. Was it tasty, well-executed, and balanced? Absolutely.
A very thin pie! (one slice is upside down for crust view)

The following day, I chatted with a local about Monical's. He shared his high regard for the pizza, the flavor, and the value, and asked if I had the French dressing. Apparently, it is wildly popular on both salads and on the pizza. Monical's has its devoted followers; Yelp, Urbanspoon, and TripAdvisor all full of raves about Monical's thin crust pie.


This was an unexpected and delightful find. Monical's pizza gets a solid 8 and beats 95% of the floppy crust stuff, even in New York.


Monical's Pizza on Urbanspoon

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