A restaurant with many firsts, Aurelio’s Pizza is a veteran in the pizza industry and also the oldest pizza franchise. A true family legacy, which was started in 1959 by Joe Aurelio, today the torch is carried on by his son who has grown the company to 68 stores across the country.
Lucky for us, it all started here in Homewood, Illinois, and lucky for me, there’s one in the South Loop too. I visited my neighborhood location last week with my dad, and can say with certainty that it was my most favorite visit at this popular ‘Sloop’ pizza eatery.
And why wouldn’t it be, when I got to meet, greet, wine and dine with owner Joe Jr. himself. Joe is one of the nicest people you will ever meet, and his passion for Aurelio’s runs deep. He is one proud owner, as he should be.
Everyone knows him there and he takes the time to stop by every table to personally inquire about their dining experience. His involvement is hands-on, as he stopped several times even during our tour to give a helping hand to a server or two. You don’t see that kind of humility anymore. It’s heartwarming!
Aurelio’s is no doubt the champion of thin-crust, tavern-cut pizza. And, they can design it for you however you like it. The most accommodating pizza place when it comes to splitting toppings or fulfilling combination requests. Build it and it will come! Their family recipes include carefully thought of processes for making the dough, sauce and cheese. An interesting fact I learned while there was that they remove the sugars from the cheese so that it doesn’t burn. I didn’t even know cheese had sugar!
Their kitchen is cleaner than my own and I have OCD, which should tell you something. Every cook and server has a smile on his or her face, a testament to a great company culture. Their wall of fame suggests that Aurelio’s has been home to many famous pizza loving celebrities including legends like Ernie Banks and Muhammad Ali. Such is their legacy.
I got to create my own pie with a personal tutorial from Joe, and could very well have a second career in pizza-making. I saw pans that were 40 years old and watched as cooks assembled pizzas with ease. It was such a fun experience.
Drinks were a fantasy come true. Every imaginable drink is made here and we got to sample most. My favorites were the Lakeshore (with Malibu Rum, fresh juices and blue curacao) and the Chi-Tai (with light and dark rum, orange liquor and fruit juices). Can you tell I like rum? Worry not, because if you like the harder stuff, I got great feedback from the table regarding the Woodford Old Fashioned they make. The wine and beer selection is extensive too. My beer-loving dad raved about the Aurelio’s Batch 39, which will be the featured beer at their upcoming 59th Anniversary celebration on August 20th. Don’t miss it!
Their food is not limited to pizza, so if you want to visit with a non-pizza loving friend, they are covered. We sampled an assortment of appetizers to begin with, starting with my favorite American fried snack, Jalapeno Poppers.
These were crispy good, while the giant bowl of Onion Rings were the most fried yet non-greasy treats I have devoured.
To mitigate the saturated fats, we ordered their Caprese Salad. Both my dad and I were instantly blown away; everything from the tender tomatoes to the generous balsamic drizzle was perfection. With a great combination of the hot and the cold for starters, we were ready to indulge in some cheesy pies.
My pizza showed up just in time and I was very pleased with the outcome. It’s hard to take credit however, when the ingredients are so good and fresh, because there’s no such thing as a bad pizza at Aurelios.
The Calabrese came a large semicircular calzone, stuffed with spinach, garlic and marinara sauce. Oh if you could’ve smelled the aromas!
We ended with their Cookie Sheet Skillet with huge scoops of vanilla bean gelato and whipped cream. This dessert needs no description except that it holds its own to the pizza.
In more related news, Aurelios’ is now selling their pizza sauce at select stores on the South side, namely, Walt’s and Casey’s. About time I say! Joe sent me home with a few jars which I’ll be putting to good use soon. That, and the leftover pizza which I’m eating as I write this.
I’ll leave you with this, if you love pizza or even only like pizza, and you haven’t been to Aurelio’s yet, I will question your claim.