Smile Politely

Five riffs on pepperoni pizza pie

A thick slice of Chicago-style deep-dish pizza at Papa Del's in Champaign.
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There is a holiday for pretty much any type of food: National Glazed Ham Day (April 14th), National Vichyssoise Day (that’s November 18th), and even National Frog Legs Day (appropriately reserved for February 29th). So naturally there is a day dedicated to classic pepperoni pizza — and it’s held on September 20th.

To prepare you for the holiday, I sampled slices from five different places in the area: Jupiter’s at The Crossing, Manolo’s, Papa Del’s, Pizzeria Antica, and Filippo’s of Mahomet. These places all have their own riffs on the pie, and I’ll lay out the different options based on the pep (peroni) you need in your step. For consistency, each pizza I ordered was only crust, sauce, cheese, and pepperoni, but I learned that not all pepperoni pizzas are created equally. 

A close-up photo of a square-cut pepperoni pizza from Jupiter's.
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Jupiter’s at the Crossing

Jupiter’s has tavern-cut pizza slices. There is, in fact, a special phrase for pizza cut in squares, and it’s apparently called party-cut or tavern-cut, and the style originated in Midwest taverns post-WWII. At Jupiter’s, the pizza is thin-crust cut in squares. Personally, this is my favorite style of pizza because if I down ten “slices” of a tavern-cut, I’m not likely to feel as guilty as say, than ten slices of the usual triangle-cut. 

The Jupiter’s pepperoni ($17 for medium) had a crispy crust that was delectably salty. If you order delivery like I did, they throw in a cup of Parmesan cheese and crushed red pepper — you know, like ya should. If you’ve read any past articles of mine, you’ll know that I am a big fan of the cheese pull. While this pizza lacked a stretchy cheesy pull, I did really like the crust, and the ratio of pepperoni matched its size. I actually ended up ordering this pizza twice because it’s just so smashable and didn’t have other less desirable qualities like greasiness, rubbery cheese, or bland crust. Grab this pizza for dine-in, carryout, or delivery when you’re craving a classic but not the boring chain version.

Jupiter’s at the Crossing
2511 Village Green Pl
Su-Th 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
F-Sa 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.

A close-up photo of a classic, triangle cut pepperoni pizza from Manolo's in Urbana.
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Manolo’s Pizza

Here comes the classic New York-style: Manolo’s. Located on the Urbana part of campus, this small but mighty joint delivered one heck of a pepperoni pizza ($13.49) and cheesy breadsticks ($4.50). Seriously, don’t skip the breadsticks. Their pepperoni pizza was a traditional cut with a thin, crispy crust with burnt edges galore. I love touches of crispy, blackened edges. The bottoms were crispy but not crunchy with the edge crust storing all the crunch. The sauce was not sweet, probably the least sweet of all the pizzas we had. The pepperoni had a classic pepperoni taste to it and was noticeable. The toppings, particularly the cheese, were a little slippery, and the top a little oily — but it wasn’t a turnoff.

The breadsticks were dusted in parmesan cheese and crunchy on the outside but soft on the inside, a truly delectable breadstick. This was another great local slice with friendly service. When telling a coworker I was having Manolo’s that night, their response was, “Mmm, Manolo’s,” so I take that as a fine endorsement.

Manolo’s Pizza & Empanada’s
1115 W Oregon
M-Th 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
F-Sa 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

A single slice of deep dish pizza at Papa Del's in Champaign with red sauce sits on a white plate.
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Papa Del’s

I’m more of a fan of St. Louis-style pizza over Chicago-style. Deep dish crusts tend to be drier, so I like the cracker crusts. Sue me! Papa Del’s, however, is the prime place in town to get deep dish pizza, and I was in no position to skip it when writing an article entirely about local pizza. If you’re familiar with the joint, you’ll know that the wait time is a bit of a bummer (about an hour for a smaller pizza), but ya know, big crust equals big cooking time. 

Papa Del’s does have the sweeter tomato sauce that I prefer. This was an OG Sicilian deep dish pizza ($19.50); however, that does mean that I ate it with a knife and fork. This pizza had the cheese pull —long, hot, delicious cheese. It also was the pizza that had the most additional seasoning on it, as I could really taste the oregano. I liked it, but I also feel that it could take away from the pepperoni if it’s not as seasoned. This pizza had beefy pepperoni just like the beefy crust, and yes, I did take a pizza crust home to the dog; I am that person.

There is a reason Papa Del’s is a Champaign staple: it has the monopoly on deep dish and a great space. This is the pizza to take your visiting pals for a taste of the local fare and knock back the perfect pizza pairing: a nice, cold beer.

Papa Del’s Pizza Factory
1201 S Neil
Su-Th 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
F-Sa 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

A pizza in a box that is cut into triangles. The pizza is from Pizzeria Antica, covered in cheese and littered with small pepperonis.
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Pizzeria Antica

Pizzeria Antica is located in Downtown Champaign, and a few years back I chatted with the owner for an article. Pizzeria Antica specializes in Neapolitan slices and a cozy atmosphere. Being familiar with the restaurant and their food, I knew this wouldn’t be a regular ol’ pizza. It’s definitely not one you eat with a dipping cup of ranch (but I wholeheartedly stand by such an occasion).

The crust of this pizza ($17) was crispy on the bottom with delicious burnt spots, thanks to their wood burning ovens. Yes, the burnt spots are delicious — and if you disagree, why?! It had a smattering of sweeter sauce (my preference) and globs of mozzarella. The pepperoni on this Pizzeria Antica pie were smaller, but crispy and flavorful. They were a little bit spicy and so good. The whole thing was topped with some oily basil for a true *Italian chef’s kiss* of a pizza. Enjoy a Pizzeria Antica pizza if you’re looking for a little romantic and upscale quality to your pizza or if you’re looking for a true pepperoni-loving meal.

Pizzeria Antica
10 E Chester St
M-Th 4 to 9 p.m.
F+Sa 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

A close-up, angled photo of a square-cut pepperoni pizza.
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Filippo’s of Mahomet

Lastly and not located in Champaign proper like the other places, Filippo’s is a small-town joint in Mahomet, however, they luckily deliver to C-U if you don’t make it down the interstate. I did opt for delivery because I tend to be that lazy at times. I will say that when I called to order and was told it’d be at least two and a half hours; I was a little taken aback, but it was only 5:30 p.m., so Grandma here decided she could wait to eat dinner at a reasonable time and ordered anyway. While the delivery window was long, I gave them the benefit of the doubt as I wouldn’t want to make 25 back and forth trips to Champaign all night as a delivery driver, either.

I went for a 14-inch — you guessed it — pepperoni pizza and some stuffed cheesy sticks ($37); it was a Friday, after all! The Filippo’s sauce was really sweet. Like, this sauce would be straight up polarizing. While I really liked it, it wasn’t my partner’s cup of tea. It had a nice layer of cheese and a bready crust. Of the pizzas so far, this one to me was the most classic. This pizza reminded me of the slices I had growing up in my small town — nothing fancy about it, but I thought it had a nostalgic taste and found it rather crushable. Despite the delivery wait, they had great service. Heads up as they only accept cash or check. Filippo’s is the pizza to grab if you’re craving a really dive-bar classic but sweeter slice and a crust approved by a pizza-crazed dog.

Filipo’s Pizza & Italian Food
200 S Market
T-Th 4 to 11 p.m.
F-Sa 4 p.m. to midnight
Su 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.

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