Pizza joints are a dime a dozen in a town like this one. Most are geared towards college students looking for cheap late night eats. Some of them pretend to be gourmet-type restaurants with sleek marketing and nice scenery. And yes, a few of them actually turn out a great product, worthy of treating your out-of-town guests to a slice or two. No matter the situation, in Champaign-Urbana you've got your veritable pick of the litter when it comes to dough, sauce, and cheese.
Welcome Amano's, the new Chicago-style pizza place in east Urbana, to the fold. They've been open since August, doing a slow but steady rise in business with only word-of-mouth advertising to assist them. And some pretty damn good pizza, to boot.
I decided to order two pizzas on my visit: one thin (with garlic and spinach) and one stuffed (with Italian sausage). Their thin pizza is not New York-style whatsoever. It's very much akin to what you'd get at a place like Giordano's in Chicago. The dough is made to become sort of cracker-like after it is baked. And because it's all baked on stone, the flavor of the crust is really able to come out. These types of crusts are not my favorite. But they are pretty popular, especially in the Midwest, and many people love them. Amano's does it very well.
The best part of their product is the sauce. These are whole tomatoes, hand-crushed and mixed up each day for what is arguably the freshest tasting sauce in town. It's no Papa Del's, but it's better than most any other you'd taste in the greater C-U area. And it's the highlight of their signature pie: the Chicago-style stuffed crust.
Their cheese is also good, but a little disarming to those who are expecting a mozzarella that resembles something like Pizza Hut or Domino's. This is real mozzarella cheese, hand-grated each day, too. And as a result, some of the traditional pizza flavors that people have come to expect are a little muted by comparison. For me, that's all right.
In the end, this is a good product, especially when you consider the prices. A ten-inch thin crust with one topping will run you just $7.20 plus tax. And a ten-inch stuffed crust with one topping is just $10.75 plus tax. That's insane. Legitimately, you can feed three people on one of these without flinching. Do the math, and you are talking less than $4 per person for some perfectly fine pizza.
Amano's is located in the tornado-torn Southgate Plaza on Philo Road in Urbana. For those of you old enough to remember Hands Across America, this used to be a very busy little development. IGA was the flagship store, and the strip that accompanied it was filled with restaurants, cleaners, haircutters, and the like. Now, it's just a Dollar General and Amano's. Maybe Denny's Cleaners is still open, too? I didn't look that hard.
Because of its location, it might be a little hard for folks to find. And for those of us who have crossed over to the dark side and moved to Champaign, it's a bit of a drive. But if you are willing to make it, you're not likely to find a better pie for the price in all of C-U. There is no denying that they know what they're doing. And in my book, that is where Amano's scores the most points. It's these places that are bound to succeed, so long as they are able to stave off the current economy.