Pizza Party

A fully-loaded supreme pizza from Carmelo’s with spicy buffalo wings and mozzarella breadsticks.
Carmelo’s New York Style Pizza, Pasta & Subs,
4508 West Ave.

On a cold evening after a long day of holiday shopping, my sister and I were hungry, tired, and seeking comfort. We hunted down Carmelo’s, located about a mile inside Loop 410 in a little strip center on West Avenue, with the intention of taking home a pizza and eating it as we curled up in fleece in front of the TV.

But the warmth of the guys behind the counter made us rethink the plan. “I really wish you’d stay and eat it here,” said owner Clint Hennigar. “It’s so much better when it’s hot out of the oven.” When we shuffled our feet and pondered the notion, he offered another solution. “Maybe you want a take-n-bake pizza. We sell a lot of those. We cook it halfway, then you just take it home and finish it in the oven. Tastes almost as good as sitting here and eating it. Almost.”

“Almost” clinched the deal: We accepted the hospitality and tucked ourselves into one of two tiny tables. Carmelo’s really is a take-out place whose bread and butter (or dough and sauce) is delivery. But dine-in customers are certainly welcome. Discovering they were out of bottled water, one of the guys ran (literally ran) across the street to a convenience store to buy some for us. That’s hospitality.

The basic house salad of romaine, tomato, onion, and pepperoncini with freshly made Italian dressing reminded us of the house salads at pizza joints in New Jersey. So did the pizza-serving tray, placed tableside to free the small tabletop for plates, glasses, and condiments.

As a bit of a pizza snob, I was compelled to apply my analysis. First, the crust-fold test: If a slice can fold without breaking at the crusty edge or dripping too much grease from the point, it passes. Second, the string check: If the cheese pulls to a string on the first bite, it passes. Third, the sauce test: The sauce must be seasoned correctly without being cloyingly sweet. Finally, the topping review: There should be ample and evenly distributed extras like mushrooms, sausage, or pepperoni. Carmelo’s passed every test.

Carmelo’s also turns their dough into calzones and stromboli, and serves classic Italian subs filled with homemade meatballs, sausage, and chicken parmesan. Other house specialties include lasagna loaded with meat and real cheese, manicotti, ravioli, fettuccini and spaghetti choices. Chef Lalo knows his stuff and his stuffing.

Before we headed home with our leftover slices, my sister ordered a cannoli. Filled to order with sweetened ricotta, the crunchy shell never suffered the indignity of a soggy bottom. My visiting Hawaiian sister was in New Yorker heaven. You will be, too.

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