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Monday, March 30, 2009

Armand's Pizzeria [Meeting #76]

Armand's Pizzeria [GoogleMaps]
7400 W. Grand Avenue
Elmwood Park, IL 60707

CPC invaded Armand's Pizzeria on 3/25/09.

So, after our plans for eating at Freddy's were foiled by their horribly early 7 PM closing time we made alternate plans to go to Armand's instead. Armand's is a family owned restaurant that has been in Elmwood Park for over 50 years now. You're quickly greeted by a friendly staff and handed menus to review. They can be chatty or business-like depending on your preference and they're not intrusive. It's clear that this staff has been working together for a while and that they have a solid base of returning customers. We saw multiple families having dinner and a few people on awkward dates.

On a trip to the bathroom, I took a detour into the kitchen and found it to be clean and orderly. They use gas ovens for their pizzas here and can clearly accommodate large orders with the number of ovens I saw.

We had a small group for this outing, but the hunger was strong. Along with three or four pitchers of reasonably priced beer, our order consisted of:

  • Thin crust with sausage and garlic as toppings, with the arrabiata sauce in place of the traditional marinara
  • Pizza Nova carbonara - mozzarella, basil, garlic and capicola
  • Pizza Nova signature - artichoke hearts, fontinella, red roasted peppers, and basil
  • Pizza Nova di gio - roast beef, giardiniera, and green peppers
We broke with the usual CPC tradition of ordering every style of pizza that a restaurant makes. We avoided the pan pizza here due to the reputation the restaurant has for good thin crust pizza. Whether that was a mistake or not is hard to say; we didn't see anyone else ordering it either. Hopefully some readers can chime in about this pizza.

The thin crust was a fine example of the Chicago tavern-style pizza. The sausage was really plentiful and the cheese was browned all over. Some people think this is burned cheese, but I find it to be perfect for this style of pizza. We decided to try the arrabiata sauce instead of the traditional sauce on this pizza and I'm glad we did. It truly was an arrabiata sauce worthy of the name and this pizza was likely the first one finished despite it being the largest one. The crust was crisp despite heavy toppings, plentiful cheese, and a lot of sauce. It had a particularly satisfying "bready" flavor to it that was a welcome change from some bland crusts that we've had recently. The Pizza Nova style is their modified Neapolitan-meets-Chicago take on traditional pizza. It is cooked in a gas oven like the rest of the pizza and has a thinner crust with more esoteric toppings. It lacks the char and pull of a hotter wood-burning oven crust, but it doesn't affect the toppings or cheese. I'll leave more specifics thoughts on the Nova pies to the comments, but I'd like to make a few points. The carbonara was delicious, largely due to the capicola. It didn't taste like any other capicola I have tried. It almost tasted smoked, which I don't believe is how capicola is traditionally made. I really enjoyed this pie. The signature was heavy on the artichoke and not particularly balanced. Depending on your esteem for artichokes this can be excellent or disappointing. The Di Gio had nice giardiniera, but the beef was like many beefs on pizzas in the city - dry, relatively flavorless, and forgettable.

I keep getting to these meetings so early because they're in the suburbs. Although it's true I live further west than most of my friends, I'm still surprised at how accessible some of these near-West suburban pizzerias are to city dwellers. From accounts I have found on the internet, we showed up on a relatively quiet night. I'm sure the rest of the Italian menu is above average and some of the pizzas were very good. They have three locations now, all in the West suburbs. For anyone living in these parts, I feel confident you have already heard of Armand's if not actually eaten here. For city dwellers looking for a good tavern pizza, it's not as far as you think.

Chicago Pizza Club gives Armand's Pizzeria a 7.1

Armand's Restaurant & Lounge on Urbanspoon


  1. The thin crust pizza from Armand’s was by far the best of the four pies. As El Presidente mentioned, the cheese was a nice golden brown, exactly how I like it. The proportions of cheese, sauce and toppings were nearly perfect for this style of pie. The arrabiata sauce was excellent, having just the right amount of kick to it. That being said, I am anxious to try a pizza with their traditional sauce. Our server was kind enough to bring out a cup of their standard pizza sauce to taste, but having it on the side isn’t really the same as on a pie.

    If you are with a group of pizza-lovers with diverse palettes, Armand’s should be right up your alley. If I were eating the pizzas in a blind taste test it would never have occurred to me that the Pizza Nova came from the same spot as the thin crust pie. I am a huge fan of tomato sauce on a pizza and unfortunately for me the Pizza Nova style pies had none.

    Of the three Novas we had, the carbonara would be my first pick. The capicola had just the right amount saltiness to balance the creamy cheese and acidic tomatoes. The flavors didn’t blend nearly as well on the Nova signature as they did on the carbonara. The roasted peppers did not compliment the artichoke and fontinella cheese and were bit overpowering on the signature. When I first bit in the Nova di gio I thought of a Philly cheese steak. Although I ate a lot of Philly cheese steak in the past, I’m not so big a fan as to think a pizza should be modeled after this taste sensation. Skip the Nova di gio.

    The service was great, the décor is traditional pizzeria and the thin crust pie was much better that I expected. Overall I’m going to give Armand’s a solid 8. The Pizza Novas were fine for the style of pie they are, but Armand’s earned an 8 based off of their wonderful thin crust that was cooked to perfection.

  2. So, I really wanted to like Armand's. I wanted it to be great because the whole production there is aesthetically pleasing. Classy old sign, big restaurant, friendly service, 50 year history etc.

    But it wasn't great. I think the thin crust was quite good and like Neil said, I'm not sure if the regular sauce would have been as good on the pizza. It was hard to tell when tasting it in an isolated way. The real misstep was the creation of their new Nova pizzas. They're not terrible, but they don't excel and they take away some of the shine from the thin crust.

    Of the three we tried, the carbonara was also my favorite. The meat almost tasted smoked and they were generous with the mozzarella. Next time, I'm sticking with the thin and trying the original sauce to see how it compares to the pleasantly hot arrabiata.


  3. At first what stood out for me on our visit was how pretty the font on the sign out front was, and how excellent was the service. Our waitress was very sweet, seemed genuinely excited that we were there for our first time, and later in the evening generously gave us a side of the regular sauce to try, when we realized that out of our four pizzas, none included it.

    On ordering, I thought the "Di Gio" was going to be my favorite, with its roast beef and giardenara -- (yum, right?). I knew I wouldn't like the "Signature" much, since canned artichoke hearts ruin everything for me. (It's unfortunate, I've tried to like them, but I just hate can-brine flavor.) But, I was surprised that the "Di Gio" was probably my third favorite, not because it was bad or anything, but because the sausage pizza and the caronara stole the show. Out of those two pizzas, the quality of the ingredients was what blew me away. I found the housemade sausage to be very flavorful and enjoyed its pairing with the arrabbiata sauce, (which I thought was tasty, although maybe a little heavy on the Tabasco flavor). The capicola and fresh mozzerella, both of which had a very fresh feel, really made the caronara stand out. I don't know much about the preparation of capicola and so had no preconceived expectations of how it should taste -- but man, that is a delicious meat. Honestly, usually I'm not a fan of sauceless pizza, but with toppings of this quality, I can let that slide. I also enjoyed the grit of the nice dusting of cornmeal on the bottom of our pizzas. It's a simple pleasure, I appreciate it when it's there.

    Overall, I enjoyed the experience of the restaurant and some key ingredients but was not super impressed with every aspect of the pizzas that we tried. Due to 3/4 of our order being the special pizzas, I kind of feel like we ordered the wrong thing at Armand's, and would like to give it a do-over. The regular sauce that we tried had a fresh tomato taste and was sweet -- I would really like to try it combined with sausage and jalepenos, as I think it would be balanced out by some spice and other strong flavors. I give it a 6.5.

  4. I had a great time at Armand's, and the pizza was quite good. The homemade sausage pie with arrabiata sauce was definitely the winner. As others have noted, we errantly ordered 3 "nova" pizzas because they seemed to be the specialty, and only when they hit the table did we realize that none of them had sauce. I guess getting there early and enjoying a pitcher of beer on empty stomachs may have muddled the ordering process. Oops.

    That said, we did get to try the regular sauce on the side. It was very simple, but pretty good, tasting of nicely cooked and blended tomatoes with a slight touch of garlic and other mild seasoning. I loved the crust, especially the regular thickness. Flavorful, good salt level, good chew.

    If you're a sausage fan, definitely try it here. As I said, that pizza was my favorite. I also liked the Carbonara. I was pretty disappointed in the signature, as it was a combination of toppings that sounded great to me and is featured in other dishes on Armand's menu. I love artichokes, even canned, but I think the hearts work better when they're broken up a bit instead of in large chunks. A bite with an artichoke chunk tastes only of artichoke. Artichoke problem aside, this pizza tasted okay but others make a good point about it being unbalanced.

    The Di Gio was my least favorite. I just don't like roast beef when it's bland. All I tasted was giardiniera.

    Armand's is a great neighborhood spot and I would suggest trying the sausage or ordering up whatever your favorite combination is.