If this hasn’t become obvious by now, the Mystery Diner is a fan of pizza. Oddly enough for somebody from the Chicago area, the Mystery Diner prefers thin-crust pizza. This need was satisfied many times over during a recent visit to Gario’s Pizza Villa in Montgomery.
For at least four decades, Gario’s has been serving up a wide variety of pizzas, sandwiches, salads and other favorites. The small-town feel of the eatery is only emphasized by its family-friendly nature, with long cafeteria-style tables and games for kids to play while waiting for their meals. The center of Gario’s features a large iron fireplace to help keep the restaurant warm during the winter months, but it wasn’t on when the Mystery Diner visited, as the temperature outdoors was in the 50s.
When most people think of Gario's, besides the pizza, they think of the wooden booths that line one of the walls. They're covered in years of graffiti, and it almost becomes a fun game to try and recognize the signatures and messages from patrons years ago. In fact, inside one of the booths is the real name of the Mystery Diner. Over the years, the booths and tables have become comfortably worn in, despite the gauges and scratches from years of pens and other utensils.
On the night in question, the Mystery Diner and a companion met up at Gario’s to enjoy dinner together, about 10 years after their last visit. An appetizer of mozzarella sticks and marinara sauce was ordered and promptly delivered, with both the sauce and sticks piping hot. The Mystery Diner’s companion noted that the sticks were perfectly cooked: crunchy breading on the outside, with warm, melty cheese on the inside. The Mystery Diner, who usually isn’t a fan of marinara sauce, enjoyed Gario’s offering – not too spicy, not too chunky.
As with the appetizer of mozzarella sticks, the main course for the Mystery Diner and companion came out in a reasonable amount of time, with both orders piping hot and ready to enjoy.
The Mystery Diner’s companion ordered an Italian beef sandwich for a main course, which came with a side of chips – standard with all sandwiches. Au jus was ordered as an extra, with the kind employee providing an extra cup when asked – at no additional charge. The sandwich was stuffed with meat that was seasoned well, leaving a bit of heat in the mouth, according to the Mystery Diner’s companion. The sandwich was enjoyable, especially after the Mystery Diner’s companion, not a fan of extras like peppers or cheese, saturated the sandwich with au jus.
The Mystery Diner ordered a thin-crust sausage and cheese pizza, and decided to get the original Gario’s crust on the recommendation of the waitress. Her suggestion paid off, as the Mystery Diner strongly enjoyed the pizza. It was hot, with melty cheese and mildly spicy sausage that was very filling and delicious. Gario’s original crust was also a highlight; crunchy, but not burnt, especially in the center of the pizza, where past experience has shown the Mystery Diner that thin-crust pizza dough can become soggy. Not here, though.
The Mystery Diner ate about half of the pizza at that visit, and decided to take the rest home to see if it stood up to the power of a refrigerator, which it absolutely did.
Gario’s Pizza Villa is a gem of a restaurant that some may forget exists, but is worth checking out for a pleasant family evening, or a meal between friends.
• The Mystery Diner is a newsroom employee at the Record Newspapers. The diner’s identity is not revealed to restaurant staff before or during the meal. The Mystery Diner visits a restaurant and then reports on the experience. The Mystery Diner is not intended to be a restaurant critic but does highlight the parts of a dining experience that he/she can recommend.
If you go
What: Gario's Pizza Villa
Where: 813 Montgomery Road, Montgomery
Hours: 4 to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, noon to 11 p.m. Saturday, noon to 9 p.m. Sunday
Information: 630-898-5300 or gariospizzavilla.com