With Jon's roommate of nearly three years moving on to the greener pastures of the Tucson, Ariz., desert, we needed to find a group-friendly place to for a farewell dinner. If it could be affordable, all the better.
Aurelio's Pizza was an ideal choice for a lot of reasons. The moving roommate, Paul, is from Chicago and actually worked as a busboy for an Aurelio's in his hometown of Crete on Chicago's South Side.
The restaurant is a little loud and a lot crowded, so we wouldn't stand out if dinner got a little rowdy, which it didn't. Even though it's a pizza joint, there's a lot of other things on the menu.
IF YOU GO
- What: Aurelio's Pizza
- Where: 590 US 41 North
- Phone: 239-403-8882
- Hours: 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Saturday
- Food: Chicago-style Pizza, Italian food and other favorites from the Windy City.
- Service: Spotty. It took a long time for the waitress to take our order. Although she refilled our drinks sometimes two or three times in a 10-minute span, she could also go long stretches of time without being seen. In her defense, it was 8 p.m. on a Friday night. Even in the off-season, that's a busy time.
- Atmosphere: It's a good place to take a group of friends or family for pizza. It's not too loud, but it definitely isn't a hushed Naples eatery.
- Prices: Pizzas, $4.95 for a six-inch cheese pie to $29.95 for an 18-inch specialty pizza. Appetizers, soups and salads, $2.25 to $10.25. Pastas, $7 to $9.75. Sandwiches, $4.75 to $7.75.
- Beverages: Beer and wine
- Value: Pretty good. The pizzas are big and filling. Our 13-inch margherita pie was big enough for two people, plus a little bit left over for a midnight snack. Without drinks, a couple could easily have a good meal for between $20 and $30. Not too bad for the area.
- Restaurant Guide: Check out what other Neapolitans are saying about Aurelio's Pizza
But most importantly, Aurelio's has damn good pizza.
Jon: That pizza, oh that pizza. It's pretty much perfect. I think a margherita pie is a good way to judge the quality of a pizza joint. And this one (a 13-inch for $16.50), was about as good as you can get. It had a great crust and a perfect blend of mozzarella, tomato sauce and basil. The herbs were incredibly fragrant and fresh tasting, making what could have been a pretty normal pizza into something more than that.
Jenna: The fresh herbs aren't what makes this pizza though. It's the dough. The dough tastes like a nice, fluffy doughball covered in cheese. Aurelio's dough tastes like homemade, like someone spent hours slaving over a mixer preparing it. Dough like that is often hard to achieve when it comes to chain pizza joints, but the dough at Aurelio's makes me want to spend a weekend trying to recreate it.
Jon: When most people think of Chicago-style pizza, they think of the deep dish. But that's just one part of the Chicago pizza puzzle. Chicago also has pizza with a thin, but soft crust that gets a little crispy around the edges. And it's cut in traditional party-cut squares, instead of wedges like New York pizza.
Aurelio's has deep-dish and stuffed pizzas too. But for me, it's hard to beat the original thin crust. This brand of Chicago-style pizza is pretty hard to find outside of the Chicago metro area. Aurelio's is the only place I know of that you can get it in Florida.
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Still not everything at Aurelio's was as spectacular as the margherita pizza. In fact, a few things were downright dreadful.
Jon: Even after dipping my Italian beef sandwich ($6.25) into the house gravy, it was way too dry. It tasted like the meat was cooked hours before they served it, then set aside under a heating lamp.
But at least it had flavor, which is more than I can say for the bruschetta ($4.50). At first glance it looks overloaded with herbs and tomatoes. But one bite and you realize it's all flash and no substance.
Jenna: You're right, and that's not something I say often. This bruschetta was sub par. There was too much garlic, and the flavors just tasted off. On the plus side, the bread was nicely toasted, so it held up to any juices that could have oozed out of the toppings.
The Italian antipasta salad (a small which serves at least two for $6.95) was great. The salad was filled with ham, pepperoni, cheese, peppers and olives.
The flavors were great. It tasted just like the antipasta salads I get at street fairs in my hometown. The salad was served ice cold, which made the lettuce extra crispy.
My only complaint, there was a lot of salad dressing on it. The dressing — a house Italian, of course — was excellent. Next time, I'd just ask for it on the side.
Jenna: Aurelio's is all about the pizza — the kind of pizza that is reminiscent of the stuff my Italian grandma makes. But the other menu items don't compare. My advice: If you're heading to Aurelio's and want to try something other than your usual pepperoni pie, try spicing up the pizza with one of the other toppings the restaurant has to offer.
Jon: I think Aurelio's is one of the absolute best places to get a pizza. Whether you are a fan of the Chicago-style or not, there's no denying that the flavor is all there. But when you go, stick to the pizza. Don't let the other menu items tempt you away from the one thing this restaurant does well.