Although we are lucky to have an abundant variety of dining choices in C-U, my quest to find a pizza that reminds me of the ones back home (the Kankakee area, a 90-minute drive north) has been ongoing since I moved to Champaign 19 years ago. Prime Time was the closest, in my opinion, but, sadly, they closed shop several years ago.
The kind of pizza I’m talking about is thin-but-not-too-thin, with a slightly chewy crust which enables it to sustain chunky toppings and a gracious layer of cheese. I award bonus points for a sprinkle of Italian seasoning across the top before baking, but it must be cut into squares. This makes it easier for a person to grab one more piece, usually several times over, before calling it a night. It's not too fancy for a post-softball game meal, but tastes best (in my opinion) on a weekend evening with a glass of good red wine.
All of the above describes Filippo’s pretty well, with one notable difference — more on that in a bit. Filippo’s opened shop in 1991 and is located at 2112a Tin Cup Road in Mahomet (easy to access from Prairieview Road off of either I-74 or RTE 150). It seems to have a pretty loyal customer base; when I ordered our pizza on a Sunday night I was told up front that carryout orders require an hour to prepare. They give customers a number to accompany their order which they can tell the cashier at pick-up, making the whole process run pretty smoothly.
The dining area is on the small side but holds around a dozen tables, some of which are big enough to seat larger groups. The decor contains references to Italy here and there, but the overall look is warm and inviting in a familiar, Midwestern way. Although ours was a carryout order, the attentive wait staff, hustling back and forth between the service window, the drink station, and the tables, made me feel like dining in would also be a solid choice.
It is important to note that Filippo’s also serves a variety of Italian-American dishes (pastas, sandwiches, and salads). It does not appear that they carry alcoholic beverages.
Also important to note (per the website): they only take cash or check. I forgot to ask when I picked up our order if that policy has changed; I will say that they didn’t give me any sort of hard time about writing a check, I wasn’t even asked for an I.D.
Back to the pizza: as I was saying earlier, it ticked most of my perfect-pie boxes. Thin but sturdy, slightly chewy crust? Check. Plenty of toppings? Check. Ample cheese? Check. They even do the sprinkle of Italian seasoning, so bonus points for that.
Sausage is my favorite pizza topping, and theirs is done perfectly. I would bet they start with bulk sausage and form it into rustic not-quite-meatballs, which makes a finished product that is both hearty and fresh. Likewise, they green pepper chunks were satisfyingly large and tender, lending even more balance to an otherwise decadent pie.
That main difference I alluded to earlier comes down to the sauce: it’s sweet. Maybe it’s not quite as sweet as, say, barbecue sauce, but it definitely seemed sweeter than most tomato sauces. I would guess many of Filippo’s loyal customers love this, but my preference would be a simple sauce that highlights the flavor of the ripe, crushed tomatoes.
The total for an extra-large pie with four toppings and a medium with one topping was around $35. That provided us with a satisfying dinner and plenty of leftovers, which I consider an excellent value. The pizzas come out of the oven screaming hot, too, which means they should weather the trip back to C-U just fine, should you need to travel that far.
And if there’s any food worth traveling for, certainly it’s good pizza. My quest for a pie just like they make back home continues, but I’m glad to have found a new and delicious option much closer to the community I fell in love with almost 20 years ago.
2112a Tin Cup Rd
W + Th 4 p.m. to midnight
F + Sa 4 p.m. to 1 p.m.
Su 4 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Photos by Rachael McMillan