By Thomas C. Pavlik, Jr.

As with chili, horseshoes and burgers, the topic of Springfield’s best pizza is usually going to be quite spirited. Perhaps that’s why Springfield has seen an influx of new pizza joints over the past few months.  The more the merrier, I say – it’s all good for Springfield.  And the addition of Nancy’s Chicago Pizza is definitely good for Springfield.

Nancy’s is a chain with locations in northern Illinois, Georgia and California.  Springfield is its latest franchise.

Although I suspect there’s no real way to verify, Nancy’s boasts that it’s the original inventor of the stuffed pizza. Frankly, I couldn’t care less who invented it.  But I do care about whether it’s good.

My guests and I arrived very early in the lunch hour on Nancy’s second day of operations. Usually I like to wait for a month or so after an opening before doing a restaurant review in order to let the kinks work out.  But pizza sounded good.

For being in a strip mall, Nancy’s space is nice.  There’s exposed ductwork on the ceiling and some nice stonework along the walls.  If you’re in the mood, there’s a bar.  Despite all the hard surfaces, the acoustics were good.  But again – who cares?  It’s really about the pizza.

By the time we left toward the end of the lunch hour (we lingered for quite some time) we saw a steady stream of take-out customers and other diners who pretty much filled Nancy’s to capacity.  My guests and I recognized quite a few of the diners.

In addition to four types of pizza (stuffed, thin, rustic Italiano and pan), Nancy’s has several pasta options ($8.95 – $14.95), salads, sandwiches and starters.  We noted with interest the Godmother sandwich (breaded chicken tenders, marinara and mozzarella on garlic bread – $7.95), the garbage salad (mixed greens, pepperoni, Canadian bacon, mozzarella, black and green olives, mushrooms, green pepper, red onion, tomato and cucumber – small $6.50 and large $12.75), and the chicken tetrazzini (chicken breast, mushrooms, butter, parmesan sauce and spaghetti, baked with mozzarella – $14.95).

We opted to start with an order of the meatball trio (served with marinara, $7.95) while we waited for a wayward guest to arrive. They were attractively plated, generously sized, well spiced and moist.  It set a positive tone for our visit.  I could have used a bit more marinara sauce but that’s a matter of personal preference.

For our entrees, we decided to go with a stuffed pizza and a thin pizza.  Keep in mind that the stuffed pizza can take over 30 minutes to fully cook.  Plan accordingly or order ahead.

For the stuffed, we ordered the Uncle Tony’s (Italian sausage, pepperoni, green peppers and onion – $26.70 for a large).  For the thin, we decided on sausage, green olives and pepperoni ($19.95 for a large, plus $2.50 for each ingredient).

Our stuffed pizza came out first.  I’m not traditionally a big fan of stuffed pizza – too much bread and cheese.  Nancy’s version made me a believer.  Somehow I found it to be much lighter than its peers.  And, unlike so many others, it was adequately sauced.  Everyone at our table was impressed with the meat-to-cheese-to-crust ratios.  We were also uniform in our praise of the sauce, which contained a spice hint we liked but could not identify.

One of my guests, who eats his deep dish with a fork and knife, commented that the utensils were appropriately sturdy.  Another guest commented that he particularly appreciated that the stuffed pizza had enough structure that he could eat it using his hands.

It being the second day of operations, there was an accident with our thin pizza which necessitated a re-fire from the kitchen. At least three staff came over to apologize and upon ultimately reviewing the bill I noted a discount had been given.  Not necessary but nicely done, Nancy’s. More importantly, however, we all concluded that the forced delay was worth the wait.

I had been picturing more of a Gabatoni’s style thin pizza but what we got was a little more substantial. The crust was certainly high-quality, well-cooked and had a nice “bite.”  My guests were, again, impressed with the ratios of ingredients-to-cheese.  I like a place that doesn’t cover up a mediocre pizza with a mound of cheese. We also enjoyed the tasty sheen of grease from the sausage and pepperoni that permeated each bite.  The table’s conclusion was that Nancy’s thin crust pizza was equal, if not superior, to many of Springfield’s better pizzas. 

Service was, in the main, attentive and accurate – not bad for the second day of operations. Our drinks were very well monitored and we felt well attended-to.  However, my one guest decided to try a cannoli for dessert ($1.85) which failed to appear, despite repeated requests, until we asked for it in a to-go box as we left. Still, given that Nancy’s just opened, these kinds of glitches are to be expected.

Nancy’s entry into the crowded Springfield pizza market is a welcome addition.  I’m not going to give up my love of thin, cracker-style pizza but when I’m in the mood to change things up, I’ll be back.  The only question: Which style of crust to go for?   

Thomas C. Pavlik is an attorney with Delano Law Offices, LLC, in Springfield.