Freddy's Pizza in Cicero has an unassuming exterior that certainly doesn't scream fine Italian dining. The sign looks like it hasn't changed in decades, and typical black metal furniture fills the patio packed with patrons.
But through the doors is a scene most commonly found on the streets of Rome.
Cured meats hang from the ceiling, while loaves of fresh baked bread and rows of Italian goods line shelves. Instead of a menu, there are simply large platters of whatever was cooked that day. Trays of ravioli, salads, gelato and other dishes adorn counters as employees and customers jostle for position and food. Food is weighed and priced by the ounce – the old "say when."
My fellow diner and I were in heaven. We are both Italian food lovers, having separately spent time in the country. But what to order?
We watched our fellow customers. They chatted with the friendly and helpful staff and each other in a way that only locals could – pointing and getting samples of things they were unfamiliar with or undecided on. Eventually, we opted for a little of a lot of things.
First, we shared a Caprese salad with a side of salami. The mozzarella was clearly fresh, with a mild tang and wonderfully spongy texture. The tomatoes were perfectly ripe with a bit of crunch to them, and the olive oil it was bathed in was exquisite. The salami had just enough saltiness to add a lot of flavor.
Next was a ricotta gnocchi in a tomato cream sauce. The potato pasta was unbelievably soft, and the sourness of the ricotta was the absolute star of the dish. The mild sauce kept the emphasis on the gnocchi and creamy cheese. And the sauce had us sopping up the leftovers with chewy fresh bread.
We couldn't resist grabbing a piece of pizza: a slice with olive, artichoke and prosciutto. The toppings were all high quality, and the crust both chewy and crispy. The fresh cheese, lightly seasoned tomato sauce, salty pork, olive and artichoke just worked.
The last piece of dinner was a fried rice ball called an arancini, a personal favorite. The outer layer of light breading was perfectly crisp, and the inside was filled with a combination of rice, tomato, spinach and melty cheese that speaks to your soul. Fried rice balls are one of the great guilty pleasures in life, and these were some of the better ones I've had this side of the Atlantic.
Speaking of guilty pleasures, my friend and I couldn't resist a last one. Not only does Freddy's serve homemade gelato, but it serves gelato sandwiches. On bread.
A scoop and a half of gelato on a special sweet bread is lightly toasted, cut into quarters and sprinkled with powdered sugar and chocolate sauce. How it works, I'm not sure. The different layers of sweetness each add a little something: creamy sweetness from the gelato, savory sweetness from the bread, and the dark sugary sweetness of the chocolate all play together in a way that needs to be tried to be believed.
For patrons dining in, there are tables inside and on the patio at Freddy’s Pizza, Gelateria and Italian Grocery.
Another big plus about Freddy's? That feast of fine Italian eating came without breaking any piggy banks.
The Mystery Diner is a newsroom employee at Suburban Life Media. The diner's identity is not revealed to the restaurant staff before or during the meal. Only positive dining experiences will result in published reviews.
WHERE: 1600 S. 61st Ave., Cicero
HOURS: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday
DRESS CODE: Casual
INFO: www.freddyspizza.com, 708-863-9289