It was mild midsummer evening when the Pizza Hound caught a scent that took us south to Frank’s Pizza. Though I had driven by the place years before, there was no way I would have found this place, located south of Chicago in suburban Dixmoor, again on my own.
For us, it was a long way to go south to 143rd block of Western Avenue to find Frank’s Pizza. Supposedly, Western Avenue is the longest continuous street in an American city, and trust us, it can sure feel like it, especially when the traffic is bad. In the past, it always seemed like it took a long time for us to get just to Beverly on Chicago’s far Southwest Side, but as we found out, Dixmoor is quite a bit farther. Ernie had to get comfortable for a long ride.
We actually waited until we were in Beverly to call in the pizza order, which we did from the parking lot of the wonderful Janson’s Drive-In. The lady on the line was very friendly, and even called me back to give me the correct total. Ernie wanted a snack, but we still had a ways to go.
After Beverly, we drove through the Chicago neighborhood of Morgan Park, and continued through the city of Blue Island, a working-class suburb just south of the Chicago city limits. Blue Island has a great little downtown/main street on and around Western Avenue on a ridge just north of the Cal-Sag Channel. Though there are a few antique stores, restaurants, and bars occupying the storefronts, the area’s relative commercial decline from heights of previous decades almost gives the community of about 24,000 people a small town feel. South of the channel, another small, lower-lying district with a number of bars and restaurants is located on Old Western Avenue, the former alignment of the great road. We took a look around in both areas, marking them down to explore more in the future, then got back on Western Avenue to continue south, where Western is also known as the Dixie Highway.
This is a part of Chicagoland about which I’ve always been curious, but is still mystery to me, even after this trip. The Blue Island/South Suburban area is traditionally blue collar–which is still apparent today. A number of heavy industrial companies, such as Modern Forge, are located in the area, as well as plenty of railroad lines that allude to area’s past and present. Though there are some fancier homes of the historically well-to-do, plenty of mid-century suburban style homes of various sizes and designs, and even trailers, older, more modest homes tend to dominate the landscape.
After crossing the channel in Blue Island, we crossed one set of those railroad tracks. A number of warehouses and older modest frame homes were interspersed along the road. We passed a huge auto salvage yard and a steel company, among other business, then some more tracks, and some mobile home parks. Despite the somewhat industrial working-class landscape, trees and vegetation increase, and the area feels less and less like a big city. As part of the Calumet Region, the area reminded me of the postindustial landscape Chicago Southeast Side, where heavy industry intermingled with hard-earned homes of factory workers but signs of the natural watershed landscape show themselves from time to time. Single-family homes line the side streets on neatly-maintained lots, some small, but also some noticeably bigger than many neighborhoods in Chicago. South of Blue Island, Dixmoor, home to about 3,600 residents, is located on the eastern side of Western Avenue, while bordering Posen, home to about 6,000 residents, can be found on the western side of the street. Like Southeast Chicago, this area lost manufacturing jobs in the second half of the 20th Century. Also like that area, which witnessed the Trumball Park riots in South Deering in 1953, a racially-charged incident occurred–the Gin Bottle Riot in 1964. Most integration in Dixmoor, however, was reportedly peaceful.
After crossing yet another set of railroad tracks–and after the unusual intersection of Western with Spaulding Avenue–we came to Frank’s Pizza, in Dixmoor, on the left.
The area around Frank’s at the time felt particularly quiet. Even though Interstate 57 isn’t too far away (you can hear the cars zooming by), we got the feeling of a bar out in the country somewhere that was know only to locals. Frank’s does have a sizable parking lot at the south end of the building, which probably means it gets busy, but we were just one of a handful of cars that night. On the north end of the business, they have some picnic tables and a sand volleyball court. A cinder block addition to the building serves as a great hand painted billboard, advertising not only the beer and food found inside, but also the fun to be had: “volleyball, bean bags, bocce ball, horse shoes, darts, pool” (not pictured). As the sun went down, I headed through the side door into this palace to pick up our food.
For the most part, Frank’s is more of a neighborhood tavern–emphasizing the drinks and games–more than it’s a restaurant. A classic Chicago type of place, but with a noticeably more rural feeling, almost like a stop along a lake or river. People likely stop here after work, as their are plenty of workplaces nearby, and the cigarette smoke-filled tavern on this Saturday night was relatively full of locals and regulars just enjoying a drink. Off to one was side was a separate area illuminated significantly brighter than the bar side (which was pretty dark) by an overhead fluorescent light. In the corner was the counter for ordering and picking up food. I did not order anything at the bar, but the counter staff making and serving the pizza was very friendly. I picked up a hint of “who are you?” body language, but that’s a pretty typical response on Pizza Hound trips! They were perfectly nice, though, and they placed our pizza on cardboard just as it came out of the oven, cut it into squares, wrapped it in a paper bag, stapled it (along with a loyalty coupon), and we were on our way.
Frank’s coupon deal specifically rewards customers with a free large sausage pizza, further attesting to the widespread popularity of sausage in the Chicago area. At 30 coupons, Frank’s requires probably the most devotion repeat pizza eaters we encountered in Chicagoland. No doubt that’s not a hard number for local pizza lovers to reach.
This, however, was likely our one shot at enjoying Frank’s, so we went big with the family size pizza, 15 inches (if I remember right). We got sausage and pepperoni on one side, but I wanted something different on the other half. Frank’s does not offer set combination pizzas such as the widely-popular “special”, so to get it we had to order the sausage, green peppers, onions, and mushrooms as separate toppings. This made the pizza a little more expensive than expected.
The pizza was quite heavy, with a hefty crust. Thin crust, but on the definitely thicker side of thin. Toppings were generous. The sausage and pepperoni won the face-off, as the vegetable toppings on the other side did not really stand out taste-wise. The mushrooms appeared to canned, which is not really a plus overall, but it’s definitely not a deal-breaker. The cheese was a nice, thick layer, which with the sauce left a nice thin char along the edge. As usual, Ernie was very interested in this pizza.
He got some crust and he was happy. I was happy, too.
In addition to pizzas, sandwiches are available at Frank’s, including the typical Chicago beef and sausage sandwiches. A wide range of “snacks” are served, too; perfect for munching away while having a beer or two during the Bears, Hawks, Sox, or Cubs game (not completely sure about the baseball loyalties at Frank’s. . .just like Chicago ain’t always about the deep dish, it’s not as cut and dry as North Side=Cubs, South Side=Sox, I’ve found). Frank’s also sells ocean perch and, highlighting the widespread Eastern European heritage in the Chicago area, pierogies.
Ernie and I really enjoyed our experience at Frank’s Pizza. Be sure you check out if you are in the South Suburbs, passing by on Interstate 57, or up for making drive from the North Side. It’s a true old Chicago tavern with a little lake/river flavor, typical to the Calumet Region. Sadly, the owner of Frank’s Pizza, Frank Podbielniak, passed away in 2015. Hopefully, Frank’s Pizza will live on as his legacy.
Frank’s Pizza is located at 14331 S. Western Ave., Dixmoor, IL 60406