Entering DeSalvo’s feels like a warm hug – everyone’s there. In one corner, a table of high schoolers who have been coming every day after school as tradition. In another, a family whose order the staff has practically memorized. In the open kitchen, groups of people talk amongst each other as they watch the chefs hand make the pizza from scratch. All of these people share a love for community, local businesses and, most importantly, great pizza.

Located at 1945 Central St., DeSalvo's is a New York inspired pizza shop that serves a variety of house-made pizzas, available whole and by the slice, ready-made sandwiches and salads. This February, the family-owned spot is celebrating two years in business. It took a lot of passion and perseverance to get there. 

Chloe Pestano Que

Their Story

When owner Alex DeSalvo met Stacia DeSalvo (formerly Comings) while working together at a pizza place in Colorado 16 years ago, he never imagined she would become not only his wife, but also his eventual business partner at their own pizza restaurant.

Even as a child, Alex was no stranger to excellent food. His father, a photographer, would often work from home, so he was responsible for breakfast, lunch and dinner – a responsibility he took on with passion.

“We always had way more food than we needed just in case people would stop by, and people often did,” he said. “Food was always central in our house.”

But Alex’s interest in cooking started with pure curiosity. “I like crab cakes, right? And I couldn’t understand why crab cakes here were really good, and crab cakes [at another place] were really bad,” he explained. “For me, it started with, okay, why are they different, and what can I do to make it how I want it?”

Beginning as a part-time table cleaner for a hot dog joint in Northbrook at 12 years old, he elevated himself into a professional culinary career in adulthood, working at the pizza place in Colorado where he was acquainted with Stacia, and eventually as the chef de cuisine for high-end restaurants like Boltwood. He said he feels most at home when he’s in charge of the cooking.

“I really like to build things, create things and I really like to feed people,” he said. “I think sometimes to the point of annoyance with some of my friends.”

According to Alex, he and Stacia had always planned a retirement project of starting a bistro together, but they never knew when that would come to fruition. After he left Boltwood in 2016 and the pair was expecting their first child, he switched to a higher paying job to provide for their growing family.

Then the pandemic struck, and Alex lost his job. But in the meantime, John Kim, owner of Backlot Coffee, had some news to share: Symphony’s Cafe, the coffee spot across Backlot who had been in business for 30 years, had shut its doors for the last time – meaning the building was now vacant.

Alex says John was the initial kickstarter of the idea. “He was the first one who was like hey, now that you’re not working for [the insurance company] anymore and Symphony’s closed, what do you want to do?”

They came to the conclusion pizza is something everybody enjoys, and it was a dish he ate frequently growing up. So they got to work. Stacia designed the interior and was “instrumental for the vision of the place,” Alex said. The result? A spacious, modern yet rustic mom-and-pop style joint.

Chloe Pestano Que
Chloe Pestano Que

The pandemic delayed getting supplies, equipment and construction materials, which pushed back the opening to February 2022. But Alex doesn’t regret the timing.

“It was the tail end of the pandemic,” he said. “Everyone was starting to come out – people were ready for it.”

What’s on the Menu?

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“Every pizza is handmade, all the way through – no shortcuts, no rollers – everything is made as authentically as possible,” Alex said. “I like to think we’re worth the wait.”

Alex said The Raccoon is most popular. It features house-made Italian sausage, pepperoni sourced from California, caramelized onions, pickled peppers, all topped off with house-made hot honey. It’s “sweet, spicy, salty and savory.”

Chloe Pestano Que
Chloe Pestano Que

His personal favorite varies by week, but there’s a special place in his heart for their simple pepperoni pizza.

Stacia’s personal favorite is the Margherita pizza, which at DeSalvo’s is different from typical margherita pizzas. Rather than just traditional olive oil, it features a garlic oil base, with fresh tomatoes and dried basil on top. Alex describes it as “bright, flavorful, and delicious,” best served with a side of ranch – made in-house, of course.

To curate the perfect pizza, Alex looked at over 50 recipes of various New York style pizzas and played around with different flours, hydration rates and temperatures.

“There’s a lot of trial and error and making adjustments,” he said. But when he discovered the King Arthur Bread Flour, it “unlocked the secret to [their] dough.”

The combinations of toppings are always tested and approved by Alex, Stacia, the prep cook Gerardo Guzman, the sous-chef Dan Burwell as well as John from Backlot. Currently, their seasonal vegetable is a roasted cauliflower with a red pepper sauce. Alex was stumped on how to elevate it, but Guzman suggested a feta cream on top with a lemon zest. “I was like, oh my god, that’s perfect,” Alex said.

Building Community

On top of just making good pizza, DeSalvo’s has also embedded itself into its community.

“Part of the reason we chose this over fine dining is that you don’t get regulars in the same way,” he said. “Here, we see guests four or five times a week. It’s been really neat to first learn everybody’s name, then learn everybody’s orders.”

The open kitchen is another feature of the restaurant Alex said stands out. “It’s nice to look out in the dining room and see the people we’re serving,” he said. “It reminds us cooks what we’re doing – we’re feeding these people, not just pumping out products.”

Chloe Pestano Que

Looking Ahead

Alex reflected on DeSalvo’s two-year anniversary with nothing but pride. “It’s gone very fast,” he said. “It feels like we’ve been open for 10 years, but I feel very proud of what we’ve done. I’m very grateful for our team.”

When asked about his plans for the future, Alex has some new goals, like being open all seven days of the week as opposed to the current six, and being available for delivery. He has also thought about some new menu additions, such as adding more family-dinner style meals like chicken thighs with seasonal vegetables.

But, ultimately, Alex hopes DeSalvo’s remains as the “local neighborhood pizza spot” for as long as possible.