Dining Out: Palate-pleasing pizza and more beckons at Aurelio's

Darned if it didn't happen again. When I first visited Aurelio's Is Pizza at 590 U.S. 41 N. shortly after the doors opened in '98, it was at the urging of several satisfied customers.

After munching my way through much of the menu, I had to agree. Naples finally had a really good pizzeria.

Fast-forward to 2002, and a new mail and phone campaign has begun.

A visiting Pennsylvanian recently called the food "absolutely outstanding." Someone in Wisconsin used adjectives like fantastic and delightful when describing the pizzas and salads. And a fan in Bonita Springs said his family visits regularly, despite the long drive.

"Wish they'd open a branch in Lee County," the man mused.

In view of these comments — and reflecting back on more recent pizza parlor experiences — I decided a re-review was in order. (Yes, I considered the possibility that the owners have a dedicated PR corps, good at writing hyperbole. But despite an influx of new businesses around town, many crowing about their "authentic Chicago-style" pies, precious few meet the gold standard when it comes to one of America's favorite comfort foods.)

With two guests in tow, I recently returned to Aurelio's to see how this 43-year-old business (it was established in the Midwest in 1959) was faring in the new millennium.

Happily, we discovered that the pizza hasn't lost its pizzazz. And the Italian antipasto salad, a house specialty I enjoyed on my original visits, remains bellissima.

The latter consists of a medley of ham, cherry tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, pepperoni, green and black olives, bell pepper and pepperoncini generously piled atop a bed of crispy lettuce.

I again marveled at the care taken in chopping those veggies into precise bite-size pieces. I'd expect this at a glossy Fifth Avenue eatery but not at a casual pizza joint.

This marvelous salad (the Italian dressing's first-rate, too) comes in two sizes — small (which isn't) for $6.25 and large (serves four-plus) for $8.25. A plate of this delicious blend will add a healthy accent to the typical cheese-smothered pizzeria meal.

For the main event, my table shared another special, spinach calabrese ($8.75-$13.75), which the menu touts as low cholesterol. We were served a hot, savory turnover made of pizza dough (think calzone), stuffed with melted cheese and fresh spinach. Excellent.

In the pizza department, we tried several of the smaller pies — they range from 6 to 18 inches — to taste a variety of combos. All were excellent, made of fresh ingredients and amazingly greaseless.

Add-ons run the gamut ... sausage, pineapple, green onion, Canadian bacon, etc. I counted 23 in all. Out of curiosity, my guests and I sampled something called Gardinaire, a jalapeno pepper sauce that really livened up an otherwise plain onion-broccoli pizza.

"This stuff's good, really good," exclaimed one guest.

Bottom line: We recommend it for folks who want to add a little spice to their life.

From a list of specialty pizzas, we chose the barbecue version ($7.50 for the smallest), made up of shrimp and bacon. Open Pit barbecue sauce stands in for the traditional marinara sauce. Three more thumbs up.

The decor at Aurelio's is another plus. Memorabilia from Chicagoland covers most available surfaces. It's an appealing, original look.

Lots of people know that already, though. My mail certainly reflects the fact, and virtually every seat was taken the night we dined. Unfortunately there weren't enough servers to handle the hungry hordes. Our waiter was friendly but overworked, resulting in long lapses between courses. And it was up to us to find silverware to replace the knives and forks taken away with our empty salad plates.

Note: Delivery is not available but take-out is. The restaurant also offers uncooked pizzas for do-it-yourselfers.

© 2002 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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