Readers, I’m 43 years old. I was raised in a small Illinois town with baby boomer parents in a middle-class home with my older brother. We never wanted for anything, but we weren’t afforded a whole lot of “extra” stuff. Having dinner out, ordering pizza to pick up, or  — God forbid — requesting pizza delivery was grounds for being sent to your room to re-evaluate your life.

Due to these simple household boundaries implemented when I was a child, I’ve become not only obsessed with food, but with all pizza in all the land. Besides the chain that we all know about, I was pleasantly surprised to hear about the hometown take-and-bake pizza options in the C-U area. Maybe my old ass is just behind on the times. I don’t know, but I love that I can frequent my favorite local establishments and enjoy their pizza hot and fresh from my own oven whenever I so choose.

We all know the inside is open again, and nothing makes me happier for our friends in the food industry. However, if you’re not quite ready to make it out amongst the people? Guess what. We are fully blessed to have some of the best takeout. Order yourself a take-and-bake pizza. Local love all day every day, guys.



Photo by Stephanie Wheatley.

Esquire Lounge

Damn, I have missed hanging out at the Esquire. Peanut shells everywhere, friendly staff, and a fun atmosphere are just a few of the perks of visiting this C-U institution. I had recently seen on social media that their pizzas can be ordered as a take-and-bake option. I made a quick phone call to Esquire on a very cold and rainy Sunday afternoon to place my pizza order and pay over the phone (online ordering is also available). I’m not even gonna lie, I didn’t want to leave my house that day. The weather sucked. Lo and behold, there were several spots right in front of Esquire designated just for curbside pick-up where I could park my car and trudge inside.

I decided to go with the white garlic pizza ($9), which I had never tried before, but it sounded pretty good. Clear instructions were written on the box, so I knew exactly what to expect when I got home. Assembled fresh to order with roasted garlic, sausage, and red onion, the menu didn’t indicate that there was no sauce on the pie, but it didn’t matter at all.

Wow, this was delicious. I actually don’t care for onion on pizza, especially red onion if you can believe it. But good Lord, those giant pieces of red onion gave such an amazing sweetness and crunch that offset the salty meat that I was wishing I had more. The crust was pleasingly soft and chewy. I could have used a tad more roasted garlic, but the garlic would hit a little here and there enough to satisfy my palate. Most importantly? Even though I was sitting at home with a chubby beagle begging at my feet, the taste was just like being in Esquire with tons of chatty patrons and a cold beer in my hand. If you‘re one of the lucky ones within delivery range, you can enjoy the Esquire’s top-notch food without even leaving the comfort of your home.

Esquire Lounge Inc.
106 N Walnut
Champaign
Su-M 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Photo by Stephanie Wheatley.

Filippo’s of Mahomet

We’ve all heard of Filippo’s Pizza. It is a lovely, family-owned business with two locations in Mahomet and Monticello. You may think us country folk are pretty blessed to have an amazing pizza and pasta place at our disposal, but little do you know, Filippo’s delivers to Champaign. Not only that, but they will deliver their always coveted, never reproduced pizza as a take-and-bake option. Filippo’s frequent flyers know that a freshly baked pizza delivery is going to take a few minutes. Usually between 90 minutes to two hours — and it is worth it every single time. Once I heard I could bake this delicious pie in my home, I was ready to get after it.

I called around 6 p.m. on a Thursday night to order the lasagna with meatballs (I would burn my house down any night of the week to eat this amazing pan of pasta) and a medium, uncooked pizza with sausage, mushroom, and red onion ($11.75) for delivery. It only took 45 minutes. Genius.

I am very surprised to report that there was almost zero difference between a delivery pizza and a home baked pizza from Filippo’s. I’ll admit, I did have to make a quick phone call to the restaurant to get baking instructions since it was not indicated on the box, but it was a very minor inconvenience. The crust was absolute crispy perfection. The sausage was salty, the chunks were huge, and their sweet pizza sauce made it stand out. That previously stated annoying red onion made the whole pizza, and I’ll fight you if you don’t order it on your next visit. Don’t forget: check or cash only.

Filippo’s of Mahomet
2112 Tin Cup Road
Mahomet
W+Th 4 p.m. to midnight
F+Sa: 4 p.m. to 1 a.m.
Su 4 p.m. to 11 p.m.

Photo by Stephanie Wheatley.

Manolo's Pizza and Empanadas

I’m not going to pretend that I’m the finder of Manolo's kick-ass frozen pizzas. Our Smile Politely editors beat me to the punch on this discovery. That being said, they inspired me to seek out all of these take-and-bake options in our area. When I was a music major a million years ago, this tiny corner of campus was my world. I love that there is a fresh restaurant for more young and upcoming undergrads like my former self to enjoy locally made cuisine.

Before I even get into the food, let’s just bask in the ease of ordering and delivery process at Manolo's. I went to the website, ordered my food, paid via Venmo with a tip, and it was delivered to my doorstep just a few days later. Manolo’s delivery is not something to be ordered on short notice. Plan ahead, kids. Frozen pizza take-and-bake is an exact science.

I wanted to try something non-traditional from Manolo’s. I decided to go with the carbonara pizza ($11) which has chicken, bacon, onion, tomato, mozzarella, and alfredo. I was concerned with the assortment of stuff happening here, but the flavorful and light, crunchy crust with these toppings was legitimately out of this world. I couldn’t stop eating it. My husband is a pizza purist and only wants cheese and meat on his pizza, but we were fighting over who would eat the last slice. The baking instructions were on the back of the pizza, and they were 100% accurate.

Manolo’s Pizza and Empanadas
1115 W. Oregon St
Urbana
Su 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.
M-Th 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
F and Sa 11 a.m. to 12 a.m.

Photo by Stephanie Wheatley.

Old Orchard Lanes and Links

What is it about tiny squares of pizza and heavy balls that just create the most beautiful of memories? I’ve had some of the best times at Old Orchard with my friends, my spouse, and my kids. The food has a whole lot to do with it. Their famous thin crust pizza is just awesome. Once I discovered that I could bring it home, bake it off, and enjoy it hot and fresh? I was all in. My BFF had nothing but amazing things to say about Old Orchard’s gluten free pizza, so I decided to give it a shot.

I ordered a sausage, mushroom, and green pepper pie ($9.99) and paid online via toast tab. I rolled up to the drive through window and was promptly served my uncooked pizza by a friendly and masked employee. Once I got home, though, I was a bit disappointed. There were no instructions on how to cook the gluten free pizza, so I improvised. The flavor was excellent. All the toppings were fresh, and the sauce was great. I just wish I had known how to properly bake the pizza because the crust was too soft and not done well enough for my liking. All that being said, I will always go to Old Orchard to enjoy their pizza; it was just that the at-home experience didn’t quite translate the way I would have liked.

Old Orchard Lanes and Links
901 N Dunlap Ave.
Savoy
M+T 10 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
W-Sa 10 a.m. 1011 p.m.
Su 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Photo by Stephanie Wheatley.

Papa Del’s Pizza Factory

Oh hey, Papa Del’s has frozen pizza you can just, like, go pick up and then put it in your oven and then, eat at your house. No big deal. I’m not freaking out or anything, you are. I checked out Papa Del’s website and stumbled upon the fun fact you can send their frozen pizzas anywhere in the country, as well as pick one up in their carry out case in the restaurant. Pepperoni, cheese, and sausage deep dish are always available, but if you’d like a custom pizza, they will accommodate you with 24 hours’ notice. My hubby ran into the restaurant and picked up two 9-inch frozen pizzas on a Saturday afternoon: one pepperoni and one sausage ($12 each). Instructions were written clearly on the box, and the pizzas came inside a trusty foil pan for even the most incompetent cooks like myself to not screw up.

Photo by Stephanie Wheatley.

I completed my undergrad at U of I in the 90s. I ate so much deep-dish Papa Del's pizza in my college career that I was real skeptical of this whole take-and-bake sorcery they were trying to push on me. My preconceived notions? This is gonna suck and be absolutely nothing like the real thing. Papa Del’s is iconic. It has history; this cannot be recreated. I was planning on throwing a tantrum like my 8-year-old over bad pizza and end up salty as hell. False, false, false.

I was almost kind of in shock over the authenticity that was achieved in the frozen bake at home option. My husband (a fellow Illinois grad) and I just kept looking at each other after every bite wondering how this was all happening. Chewy yet crispy crust. Hot, yummy, and plentiful pepperoni and sausage along with the perfect amount of sauce. Wow. Go now. Run to Papa Del's and get a frozen pizza. You will not be disappointed.

Papa Del’s Pizza Factory
1201 S. Neil St
Champaign
M-Su 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Top image by Stephanie Wheatley.