WESTMONT – Preciously I have written about several 20-year dining establishments in Westmont. They comprise the top 3 percent of restaurants nationally based on longevity. What happens when you reach 40 years? You graduate to the top 1 percent of American restaurants and join Papa Passero’s Pizzeria and Family Restaurant in that accomplishment! Congratulations!
Not only are they celebrating their 40th anniversary in business, they have done so with an emphasis on family. Family – how about three generations of the Passero family, beginning with Bill “Papa” Passero, and now Laura Passero Trilla (second generation) manning the helm and daughter Alexis (third generation) in the mix?
What neighborhood family hasn’t had their sports team banquet at Papa Passero’s? I’ve been there for at least 20! Family applies to the staff as well, which functions as a well-oiled machine. And it should, with more than half the staff having been with Papa Passero’s for more than 20 years, several more than 30!
Want a little history with your meal? Papa Passero’s has you covered there also. With nine expansions over the 40-year period, the restaurant began in the family's 1954 tri-level home. The family resided there as well in the early years as they worked to get the restaurant started in 1977. Fast forward 40 years later, and the original house still stands, along with three kitchens, four private banquet rooms, a video gaming room, a kid’s arcade, a sports bar, pickup and carryout section, several seating areas, three outdoor dining areas, a buffet room – and it all works.
Some brick walls are the actual original home exterior walls while others were constructed with brick salvaged from demolitions in Chicago’s Little Italy. Many of the cypress timbers and paneling were bought at auction from the Midwest Country Club in neighboring Oak Brook.
While there is so much sports and movie memorabilia on display, along with a beautiful mural on the north wall, my favorites are the twin Golden Ladies flanking each side of the entry way from sports bar to buffet and banquet area. Salvaged from the Marbro Theater in Chicago, they are nearly 100 years old. Papa’s got history.
And while it sounds large with seating for 400, the additions, levels, nooks and crannies keep the inside feeling intimate. But perhaps the strongest reason to visit Papa Passero’s is that they continue to provide exceptionally priced dining options for everyone.
As Papa Passero’s is also part sports bar, many fried appetizers are available from mushrooms to cheese sticks to calamari. Quesadillas, bruschetta and garlic bread add to the impressive list.
Nachos are also on the appetizer list, and they are a great way to kick off your meal. Available in three sizes, our individual portion provided a daunting task for two. Thin chips are mounded with chili, two kinds of cheese, tomato and green onions with sides of sour cream, salsa and guacamole. While we finished them, we paid the price later with half of our main course boxed to go.
Salads are available in small or large renditions. The chopped salad was filled with bite size pieces of chicken, lettuce, pasta, tomato and bacon and was both a filling and refreshing lunch option.
A top 5 favorite is the antipasto salad, which I split and still took a box home. Tossed in a light Italian vinaigrette, the ice cold lettuce is topped with salami, pepperoni, green and black olives, pickles, pepperoncinis, tomato, red onion and provolone cheese, creating a topping lover’s dream come true.
The sandwich section is enormous. From wraps – I enjoyed the chicken Caesar, to clubs – the turkey, bacon, Swiss with lettuce and tomato was huge, to Chicago staples – a cheesy Italian beef and sausage combo served wet with a side of red sauce (by request) and a combo of half fries and half onion rings was as good as any in town.
Papa Passero’s also plates a fine burger. My Papa double-decker burger with bacon and cheese was a definite two-hander. Stacked high with two patties, extra cheese and three strips of crispy bacon on a feather soft brioche bun, it is served with a stake in the center to keep it upright!
Several pasta dishes are prepared in-house with lasagna my comfort food of choice. Thick layers of cheese and pasta are baked and finished with a chunky, thick red sauce. I choose a good rendition of cream of potato soup as my accompaniment from a rotating list of soup flavors. Garlic bread or a side salad are also options.
Another top 5 menu item is the broasted chicken. Chicken is prepared using deep-frying and pressure-cooking combined to produce a crispy outside and moist product inside. Available standalone or as a combo with a half slab of ribs, we went combo.
The chicken was delicious and as moist and crispy as advertised with our choice of two pieces. Ribs were fall-off-the-bone good with sauce that was both sweet and spicy. A hidden surprise was the broasted potatoes. Idaho potatoes, crinkle cut in house, lightly seasoned and then broasted, were delicious. Dinners come with a side salad, which proves to be so indicative of quality standards. Nothing fancy, but the lettuce, tomato, cucumber and carrot were ice cold and served in a chilled bowl, with salad dressing on the side. Simple perfection!
Pizza is where Papa Passero began, and there is a wide variety of options beginning with crust. Thin (most requested), medium, thick and custom choices like extra thin are all available. With five sizes and all of the usual suspects for toppings, you could probably get through the better part of the year without having the same pizza twice.
But most pizza lovers have their favorite and I went with an extra large thin, sausage, mushroom, spinach and garlic. Pizzas are cut in squares with toppings on the generous side, allowing for several in each bite. Plenty of cheese and just the right blend of spices in the sauce make this pizza a keeper.
Cannoli are made in-house and just one of several dessert options. Filled to order keeping the shell crisp, they are served with a drizzle of chocolate, which can be omitted for the purists. Ice cream sundaes and brownie sundaes also provide a sweet finish. Never one to turn down a dessert menu, I alternate between Oreo ice cream pie and my favorite, the turtle ice cream pie, which arrives with plenty of extra caramel and chocolate.
With the restaurant's location in a blue collar accessible neighborhood, Laura Passero Trilla added a buffet some 20 years ago to compete with shorter lunch hours and drive-thrus. The buffet is now a staple, reasonably priced with a rotating selection of entrees, salads, fruit and desserts and available for lunch Monday through Friday and dinner Monday through Thursday. There’s even a brunch option on Sundays beginning at 10:30 a.m.
This isn’t high-end, white-table-cloth fine dining. Papa Passero’s is comfort food at its finest in a casual atmosphere surrounded by family and friends. Whether you take advantage of their full-service restaurant, catering, carryout, delivery or banquet rooms, there is something for everyone on the menu regardless of age or taste.
Not many restaurants combine history, family, comfort, selection, service and affordability together for a span of 40 years! Plan on a visit as Papa Passero’s kicks off the next decade as they roll on, enroute to 50!
If you go
What: Papa Passero’s Pizzeria and Family Restaurant
Address: 6326 S. Cass Ave., Westmont
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday
Dress code: Casual
Info: 630-963-7660; papapasseros.com
Reservations: Not accepted
Noise factor: Medium buzz
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An earlier version of this story included an incorrect phone number for Papa Passero's. The restaurant's phone number is 630-963-7660.