Thursday, December 11, 2014

Review: Lucca Grill, Bloomington IL

With each visit to America's heartland, I become more certain that the Midwest is overlooked as a great region for pizza. Even pizza novices instinctively recognize Chicago as a source of an authentic pizza style, and the cognoscenti acknowledge the specialty pies of Detroit and St. Louis. Still, the Midwestern wafer-thin party-cut pies are under the radar for most folks outside the region. 
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Great examples of this style, which has much in common with the pies that easterners might tag as bar pizza, can be found at Vito & Nick's in South Chicago and Rubino's in Columbus, OH. Plenty of Midwesterners are loyal to the pizza from the regional chain Monical's.
Lucca Grill
Vito & Nick's, Chicago

The best of these pies share one thing in common with the best pizza in New York and New Haven - longevity. Many of the best places have been in business for 30, 40, 50 years or more. I love to get a chance to eat the same pizza that my parents or grandparents might have had. And that brings me to Lucca Grill in Bloomington, which recently celebrated 75 years of operation.

Senator John Kennedy, an early Lucca's patron

The exterior actually reminded me of Vito & Nick's, with its yellow brick construction. Inside, it was an immediately welcoming space where you can sense the history. Nobody knew my name, but it still felt just as warm and cozy as Cheers. This place is so old school, the restroom still has one of those continuous-loop cloth towel dispensers. You may never have seen one if you are under 50! 

I was greeted promptly when I arrived at lunchtime on a bitterly cold weekday. The menu was extensive, but I zeroed in on the pizza. There were many specialty pies, but most of them had (for my tastes) too many toppings. I chose a 12" version of "The Barber Shopper" which was topped with mushroom, onion, and sausage.

Brennin, a pizzaiola who was working as a server that day, recommended a Shiner Cheer, a holiday brew from a Texas beermaker. She also calculated that she could save me a few dollars by placing my order under the lunchtime pizza special, only later realizing that I would get a 10" pizza instead of the 12" pie I ordered. To make amends for that "error" in which she was trying to be helpful, she offered to make me another pie, on the house. I declined that generous offer, but I certainly appreciate that Midwestern approach to customer service.
Great pies, great pizzaiola, conventional oven

The pie arrived quickly, accompanied by a small plate of very mild pepperocini. The mushrooms and onions were expertly sliced and proportioned so that they did not weigh down the pie. The meat was juicy chunks of genuine Italian sausage, cooked on the pie. The sauce was properly tangy. The cheese was a perfect role player here.
Nice color underneath

Wafer thin!

Every pizza lives and dies by its crust, and this wafer thin crust was crisp yet chewy, rigid but not dry or cracker-like. It was a near-perfect base for all the lovely stuff riding on top. The small party cuts were easy to wolf down, and it took a bit of discipline to refrain from eating each cut in one bite.

Lucca Grill is a winner on all counts. The ambiance is a 10, the service was an 11.  This is superb pizza, and eating it in this setting enhances the experience. I can't imagine coming back to Bloomington and not revisiting Lucca Grill. 

This is a spot for locals. If I were a Bloomington local, I might hesitate to share the secret of the great ambiance, service, and food, lest it be overrun with hipster foodies. But this is a secret too good not to share. 
Lucca Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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