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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Palermo's [Meeting #71]

Palermo's [GoogleMaps]
4849 W. 95th Street
Oak Lawn, IL

CPC invaded Palermo's on 12/11/08.

Palermo's is our first fan request Chicago Pizza Club Meeting. It was on our list of places to try, but since we received maybe 5 emails over the last few months suggesting we try their thin-crust pizza I moved it up on our priority list. It's been a long standing Italian restaurant in Oak Lawn for over 30 years. In that time, its thin-crust pizza has developed a following around the city as one of the best although a quick tour of less illustrious review sites reveals real "love it or hate it" opinions from other customers.

Palermo's and the nearby Italian restaurants on this stretch of 95th street all have a similar cavernous space divided into many small and cozy nooks. And they all know how to fill them up - they always seem to be operating at near maximum capacity even on a cold Thursday evening. After some drinks and chatting with one of the owners, we placed our order. We were given the options of having the pizza come out at the same time or staggered as they came out of the oven as well as a choice in our deep dish and stuffed crusts between regular, slightly burned, and slightly undercooked. We chose to have the pizzas delivered with regular crusts and asked for them to be brought out as soon as they were done baking.

We ordered:

  • Thin crust with pepperoni and mushrooms
  • Regular with pineapple and half canadian bacon
  • Stuffed with spinach
  • Deep dish with sausage and onions
The most striking thing about a pizza from Palermo's is the sauce. They use abundant amounts on their pizza and they have a very sweet sauce. You can pick up some basil and garlic in it, but it appears that it's otherwise a very smooth (texture-wise) paste-based sauce with a decidedly sweet start and finish. Overall, I think some of us found the sauce to complement the salty pepperoni quite well, but that when the pizza was topped with pineapple and Canadian bacon the whole pie became noticeably sweet. Similarly, the stuffed pizza had its sweetness tempered by what appeared to be generous sprinkles of Parmesan cheese over the sauce. Ultimately, I think our members and readers will judge Palermo's based on its sauce. It's entirely on one end of the sweet/savory scale so be warned if this will be a non-starter for you.

The toppings were perfunctory and abundant. They had a hard time standing out amidst the sauce on the pizza. I will note that it appears that the mushrooms were canned, although I personally didn't notice the canned mushroom brininess right away, and the spinach, while excellent, appeared to be frozen based on the color and way it was chopped. The cheese was the standard pizza mozzarella. I enjoyed it and found that they put on a good amount, except for the stuffed pizza which was tightly stuffed with lots of spinach. By choosing to sell four pizzas, they essentially choose to sell you four different crusts. The regular is that kind of in-between crust that you find in Chicago. I found ours to be soggy and collapsed. The thin crust is nearing the cracker thin crust of bar pizzas in Chicago and had a nice breadcrumb coating on its underside. This crust was certainly crispy and had a good crunch to it. The deep dish pizza crust was surprisingly light and crisp for a denser crust. Finally, the stuffed pizza crust did a good job of holding the heft of its contents and still being noticeable despite the avalanche of spinach. Word to the wise, they bring these pies out piping hot from the oven. Let them sit for a few minutes before digging in, maybe even longer for the stuffed pizza.

Tony and his staff made frequent stops at our table to make sure everyone was kosher. At the end of the meal, they gave us dessert wine and a platter consisting of creme brulee, tiramisu, and Nina's cake, a variation on the Italian cassata. Nina's cake was new for me, a cake with rice pudding as the filling. The pizzas came out in an appropriate time frame despite the heavy rush of diners and large volume of take-out and delivery orders. The bill came out to $14 apiece for all the pizza we could eat.

Petey gives Palermo's a 5.975

Palermo's Italian Cuisine on Urbanspoon


  1. The sauce at Palermo's made an otherwise good pizza average, average pizzas below average, and a below average pizza terrible.

    The regular crust was a little on the chewy side, but otherwise fine. The cheese and toppings were fine. But the sauce, which was very generously spread all over the pie, devastated this pizza. This was, by far, the sweetest sauce I have ever had. Making it worse was it's thickness - it seemed like a whole lot of tomato paste went into it.

    The thin crust was significantly better. It had less sauce than the thin crust and the pepperoni helped balance the sweet sauce. The crust was nice and crisp, and was definitely the highlight of that pizza.

    The deep dish pizza was the one that killed Palermo's for me. It had a nice 1/2 inch crust that was surprisingly light, but the sauce and the bland sausage made this pizza inedible. This was the first time I have refused to finish a slice since the Pizza Club went to La Villa exactly six months before Palermo's.

    The last pizza I had was the stuffed spinach, which was the best of the night. The pizza was topped with a thin layer of sauce that was covered with parmesan cheese which cut through a lot of the sweetness. There was a lot of spinach stuffed into the pie, and it was well-seasoned with garlic and, it seemed, some other kind of cheese (ricotta?). Still, while it was the best pizza of the night, it was not particularly good.

    It's rare that I've had such variation in different pizzas from one restaurant and it makes Palermo's difficult to score. Overall, I give Palermo's a 4. I will not return.

  2. After much debate, I decided to give this pizza a 5.8 overall. I do think the thin crust was quite good, but I'm not sure that the others were all above average. I will say, however, that I loved the thin crust pepperoni pizza with the sweet sauce. If I had just ordered that pizza my score would be much higher since I am indeed a fan of the sweet sauce.

    Alas, we ordered all 4 pizza styles and they must all be judged together. I didn't think the deep dish was terrible, I thought it was average. I got lots of sausage on every bite and liked the crust. I thought the stuffed had too much spinach. It was as of someone exploded a spinach farm in their ovens. You could certainly taste the spinach, but nothing else. There was very little cheese in this pizza. I would like to see if a pizza stuffed with pepperoni came with the same quantity of pepperoni as spinach.

    The Hawaiian pizza just failed due to sweetness and an undecided crust.

    Every review of this place only comments on their thin pizza and I can see why. I would certainly try it again and if I lived in the area it would be in my pizza rotation like it is for many. My only recommendation is to make sure you add parmesan yourself or make sure you have salty meats to help balance the pizza.

  3. Yeah, can't really argue with any of the above comments, I really liked the crust on the deep dish pizza, but it was rare that I could even taste over the strong, sweet sauce. I thought the toppings were all fine, except for the stuffed pizza where I felt that it had waaaay too much spinach. The best pizza of the night was by far the pepperoni and mushroom thin crust pizza. I really liked the pepperoni on this pie and thought the sauce worked the best on this pizza, whereas on the others it just overpowered. I give Palermo's a 5 based on one pizza being very good and the other three being just ok or very disappointing.

    And though it doesn't (and can't) reflect in my score I have to mention that the staff was very friendly and attentive and the whole restaurant had a nice, homey atmosphere.

  4. Sweet Sauce! Although all four pizzas had distinct tastes and varied crusts, the sugary tomato puree was abundant and prominent in each. I'm a self proclaimed sweet tooth so I didn't mind my initial bites of the pineapple regular pie. My excitement lessened as my throat constricted due to the level of sugar, but I continued sampling. Pepperoni and mushroom on the thin and crispy crust did play well with the sauce. I must say I'm not a fan of mushrooms, espcially those from a can, but the salty pepperoni stood out and made it one of my favorite pizzas of the night. The crust that won me over was that of the deep dish with sausage and onion. Although I did enjoy eating this slice, my last few bites of crust were the most enjoyable. Again, the crust was a bit sweet, in addition to buttery, light and crispy. Mmmm! The sausage did not seem to be of the highest quality, but it was edible. The stuffed spinach pie was my least favorite. I found it to be extremly salty and cheesy. I had no interest in finishing my piece...opting for a pineapple corner.

    Overall, I was satisfied with the pizza selection (exception - stuffed spinach). I appreciated the variety and think they did an average job executing each style. Certain elements stood out as impressive (deep dish crush) while others faded in comparison (quality of ingredients).

    Palermo's gets a 6.

  5. Pizza, Pizza; Palmero style. In my opinion all the pizzas were quite delicious but the thin crust with pepperoni and mushrooms stood above the rest. Other members noted that the mushrooms were canned, which is too bad because otherwise this pizza could have been that much better. I don’t think I noticed the mushrooms, maybe because they weren’t flavorful enough. Everything else on that pizza was outstanding. The others were not as good, but quite good. I didn’t think some of the pizzas were too sweet, just in the style of Palmero. I give the pizzas an 8.

  6. 1) Regular Crust with pineapple and ham. This was my first piece and I really should have let it settle before cramming it in my mouth. I immediately burned part of my lip and stripped the roof of my mouth. Ouch. That aside, I found the crust to be a good thickness and had enough slight yeast flavor, tasty enough to savor the outer crust. The cheese blend was well balanced as well. The sauce was sweet, which doesn't personally bother me on it's own, but with the pineapple it was a bit overkill, enough to drown out the flavor and saltiness of the ham.

    2) Thin crust with pepperoni and mushrooms. This was my favorite. The pepperoni was spicy and flavorful enough to hold its own and balance out the sweetness of the sauce. The mushrooms were bland, but not offensive and not really even noticeable. I thought the crust was nice, not too thin, good crunch. I did eat it with a fork though so can't speak as to how easy it would hold up eaten by hand.

    3) Pan with sausage and mushroom. As a personal preference, thick crust isn't my favorite and I rarely enjoy it so I feel that I'm not the best judge for this slice. While I disagree with one of my co-diners who thought that the sausage was flavorless, it certainly didn't have enough flavor to make up for the blandness of the rest of the slice or for the lack of mouth roof (I.e. mouth having been burned).

    4) Stuffed spinach. I should have paced myself with the other slices because by the time I made it to the stuffed spinach, I was no longer as excited to be eating. Again, because of that I may not be a fair judge. I found it to be a very standard spinach slice, nothing very exciting, just a bunch of spinach, probably frozen, mixed with a little ricotta, between two slices of dough. It wasn't bad at all, but unremarkable, especially compared to stuffed slices at other Chicago joints.

    If I were to eat pizza at Palermos again, I would stick with the thin crust and keep away from any potentially sweet toppings. I would also wait a good 5 minutes after it's at my table to dive in.

    I give the pizza a 5. If I lived anywhere near Oak Lawn, I would probably visit again due to the quality of service.

  7. Man, what a great day. In addition to my regular food, I got ribs in the morning and then pizza for dinner. I only got to try the extra thin crust with pepperoni and mushrooms. I don't normally like mushrooms, but everything on this pizza was excellent. I give Palermo's a 25.

  8. I generally don't dig the pineapple/ham combo, and it was a disaster with this super sweet sauce. But I liked the rest of the pizzas. You have to love spinach to love their stuffed spinach pie, but this girl does love spinach. It is just piled in there, mixed with some garlic and I think perhaps a touch of ricotta but if so not much. I disagree with those who say it wasn't sufficiently seasoned - I think you just gots to love the spinach itself to enjoy it in such quantities. It was my favorite pizza at Palermo's.The pepperoni and mushroom thin crust was pretty good because of the pepperoni, but I just can't stand canned mushrooms. Yet this pie still worked b/c its toppings balanced out the super sweet sauce. And the sausage and onions pie was not too adventurous, similar to and about a 1/2 point under Connie's, but it was not bad. I liked the crust on all the pizzas.


  9. I'm absolutely shocked. I really liked this place, as do TONS of south siders since this place was packed. I hate reading the other comments before I post my comment because I don't want to be influenced by those loosers. But I slipped this time. I saw MCH's review first and knowing he put a piece of pie back on the tray (and I finished it), I wanted to know what he had to say. So I decided on my score first, then read the reviews. Ouch. But I am not a follower! They will not influence me! ...so here it goes:

    SAUCE: I LOVED the sweet sauce, even with the pineapple! I have a sweet tooth, but also thought it balanced out the salty toppings beautifully. There was LOTS of sauce all over the place and I love every second of it.

    CRUST: Usually, MCH will go on and on and on about the crust, but all he could come up with for this place was 'nice and crisp'. That's bulls@*% my friends! It was light, buttery, chewy, crispy on the bottom and everything I've ever wanted in a thin crust. It even retained its crispiness after sitting for a while.

    I'm surprised at the lack of other CPC comments on this thin crust, good or bad. I'm pretty sure MCH and Andrew want to give birth to Vito and Nick's lovechild (I haven't figured out the logistics of this yet, but I bet they would if they could), since they still can't stop talking about that greeezy, nasty mess of a limp crust. I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree about our ideal thin crust composition.

    TOPPINGS: We never get pineapple on our pizzas, and I think its pretty obvious we should never get it again if everyone is just going to trash it. I like the pineapple/ham combo every now-and-then and it was delish.

    The topping section is where I'm going to have to side with a couple of my fellow CPC members. There were about zero fresh ingredients. The pineapple and mushrooms were canned and the spinach was frozen, which is perfectly acceptable. But the use of fresh ingredients can make a good/acceptable pizza superb. As for the sausage not being 'flavorful' enough: I had burned popcorn for dinner the night before and I was just excited to be out of the workplace for the first time in a week, so I'm not sure I noticed much about the trivial flavor profile of our miscellaneous hog scrap meat, I mean sausage. This is a little troubling, since I know how good sausage can be (mmmmm, La Madia calzone), but like the canned/frozen ingredients-it wasn't bad.

    All in all, the toppings were plentiful and adequate, and basically the only thing I would improve about this place. That being said, the toppings are a HUGE component and often most noticible part of a pizza. Therefore, in accordance with our scoring guidlines, I cannot score Palermo's higher than an 8. Even though I think I could eat Palermo's regularly if it were closer, I do think they are lacking in the 'excellent mix of quality ingredients and flavors' department (I don't think that last sentence speaks very highly of my palate. Oh well!) So I'll give Palermo's a 7.5/10

    Last note: I thought we would score Palermo's a lot higher as a group. This place was huge and packed. The service was phenomenal (even before I was busted taking pictures around the restaurant) and the atmosphere was cozy. People obviously love it and keep going back for more. It is really good pizza for a really good price, but maybe its the Nina Cake (yummmmm)?!!!

  10. You should try the original Palermo's vs the Oak Lawn incarnation...