Barraco’s Pizza (Crestwood)
My parents weren’t really ready for the day to end after the White Sox game ended in Milwaukee. We left Miller Park around 4:00 and started heading back towards Chicago. My brother wanted to eat at Palermo’s 95th, but J called the restaurant on the way there and they said there was no way they could get 10 people in when we were planning on arriving.
We had decided we’d just skip pizza and head towards Portillo’s in Crestwood. No one was super excited about that. I mean, we all like Portillo’s, but it’s a place we eat at almost every time we go home to the Chicago area. We were all pretty set on pizza.
I kept throwing out other pizza places to J but she really wanted to find a place that would take a reservation. It was Saturday night at dinner time and that can be really hard to get a table for two in the Chicago area let alone one for ten.
At one point, I asked her about Vito & Nick’s. We haven’t eaten there since 2009 and I thought my dad would really like it. J was hesitant again, but throwing out Vito & Nick’s actually gave me another idea.
Barraco’s Pizza is a small chain of seven stores in the south suburbs of Chicago. Why did I think of Barraco’s when we were talking about Vito and Nick’s? Because the Nick in Vito & Nick’s is Nick Barraco. I don’t know the exact link between the two restaurants, but there has been a lot of turmoil over pizza in the Barraco family over the years. I know that Barraco’s Pizza serves a pizza similar in style to Vito & Nick’s and that’s what we were looking for.
We chose the Barraco’s location in Crestwood on Cicero Avenue just north of 135th Street. J called ahead and was told they’d have no problem seating ten people when we got there around 6:00.
The restaurant is on a very busy stretch of road and the small parking lot in front of the restaurant is pretty tight. It’s hard to tell if they share a building with a couple of other businesses or if the buildings just butt together, but either way, the parking lot in front is a shared lot.
We grabbed all the kids and headed inside. Right inside the door is access to a wine cellar. Neat little feature to this unassuming restaurant if wine is your thing. It’s not ours, but it still grabbed my attention as something you don’t see very often.
Immediately inside the door, you come to what is essentially the take out area of the restaurant. There is a large counter with several phones and computers for taking orders. This is something that is fairly common in Chicago Italian restaurants. It’s usually not up front like this, but having an area that is just for phone orders so you don’t have to go through the bar to do carry-out is something I see a lot of on the south side.
We got to Barraco’s a little after 6:00. J had made a 6:30 reservation, but our table was waiting for us when we walked in. A hostess took us to a dining room in the back of the space that is outfitted with large tables. We had a group of ten and they had multiple table set ups in the area for groups that large.
Barraco’s is one of those fancy Italian places that still feels like a small family establishment. They have white table cloths, marble tile floors, and dimly lit dining rooms with candles on the tables, but at the same time, you feel like it’s ok to bring the family for pizza night as well.
In addition to the dining room we were in, there was another, more intimate dining room to one side and a bar that had the NCAA Final Four on TV’s hanging from the ceiling down a hallway separated from the dining room we were in by the bathrooms.
There is also a nice outdoor space that looks like it was just built with pub height fire pit tables. We used this area to keep the kids entertained while we were waiting on our food. They had been sitting all day either in the car or at the baseball game so they really just wanted to stretch their legs some.
When we sat down, our waiter came out with two boards of bread. Each board had fresh baked, soft, Italian bread with the choice of either butter or a balsamic vinegar and olive oil mixture to dip the bread in. The girls really took to the bread and ate most of it before the waiter got back with our drinks. He noticed and brought out another couple of loaves for us.
My mom wanted to start with an appetizer and she picked something she figured the kids would like. She picked the Mac ‘n Cheese bites which came with a marinara sauce for dipping. The creamy mac ‘n cheese was fried very golden brown and piping hot when it came to the table. The kids weren’t really impressed, but the adults all grabbed one and everyone seemed to love it.
We decided two large thin crust pizzas should be enough to feed everyone. Most of the people at the table were good with a pepperoni people. The second pizza, when eating with this group, is almost always a half cheese and half sausage pizza. My dad has always preferred sausage to pepperoni and even though he likes pepperoni, my brother usually jumps at the chance to help my dad finish a sausage pizza.
I’ve explained this a few times before, but I’ll do it again. Southside Chicago Pizza is not what you picture as Chicago pizza. It is it’s own distinct food. The Northsiders have the deep dish that everyone associates with the city, but the southsiders do a thin and crispy pizza with a cracker thin crust that crunches and flakes apart when you bite in to it. It’s usually topped with a sweet homemade sauce and cooked to “well done” giving it a nice brown topping of cheese.
The pepperoni pizza was set down in front of me so that’s what I started with. The sweet sauce is what jumped out at me right away. It had a little bit of tanginess, but a lot of sweetness coming through the greasy sheen on the top of the pizza from the cheese. The pepperoni’s are underneath the cheese, so it was kind of like a little surprise every time I’d bite in to the pizza and find that little slice of meat.
Near the end of the meal, a couple slices of the sausage were passed down to me. The slices were covered with thick slices of sausage that look like they were pinched off a bigger piece of meat. The sausage added a little bit of an earthy flavor to the pizza contrasting with the sweet sauce. I really enjoyed the two slices I had. My dad, ever the critic, said it was good, but he thought it was too greasy. I don’t know if it was for the sausage or the cheese, but he was right, there were little pools of grease on the top of the slices. To me those are flavor. To him, it’s something he could do without.
We were all a little disappointed when we realized we weren’t going to Palermo’s, but Barraco’s Pizza turned out to be a great replacement. We used to drive by that location all the time on our way back to I-57 before the Tri-State connection with 57 was put in and I always wondered why we never went there. J’s family always does Palermo’s. Always. They always have, so trying new pizza places in the Chicago suburbs is something I usually have to push for or do on my own. There are Barraco’s locations spread out on the south side and a couple that are even open 24 hours. Options are always nice and it’s nice to know Barraco’s will deliver the next we need some delicious South Side Chicago pizza.