Mystery Diner in Oglesby: For tasty, no-frills pizza, order Sam’s

Pizza place keeps it simple, counting on quality of its product

It’s a throwback setting that hasn’t changed much since the establishment was founded in the 1970s. Where is Gordon Ramsay when you need him? But hey, the focus has always been on what is the true essential – and that is good pizza.

Welcome to Sam’s Pizza in Oglesby, a place where you come for the pizza and usually take it to go. Dining in is an option, with five tables, each with a napkin dispenser and a set of chairs, but the carryout business appears to be the eatery’s mainstay.

One of the visual throwbacks is the menu, visible on a lighted board and detailing what has been distilled to the most popular components, with such ingredient options as sausage, mushroom, bacon, onion and green pepper. The astonishing perk is that the prices also don’t appear to have changed much since Watergate drew to a close.

None of which is to say a trip to Sam’s lacks entertainment. Sam is something of a one-man show, as he hums and sings to entertain himself while rolling his signature dough, an art form he has mastered thoroughly during his decades at the helm of the pizza-focused restaurant.

Longtime patrons say the owner’s noticeably accented English is mostly an act, and the limited data on file suggests that might indeed be the case. Salvatore “Sam” Leone has been in business in Oglesby since 1975 (source: Dun & Bradstreet business directory). But emphasizing the Italian connection to the birthplace of pizza adds its own special flavor to the experience and appreciation of this beloved food niche.

Be clear when you place your order for how you would like your pizza prepared. When the Mystery Diner too vaguely asked for half cheese and half sausage, out of the oven instead came cheese and sausage mixed together. The pizzas there are cut Chicago-style.

In a nod to reducing waste, the packaging also is simplified, in keeping with the streamlined business model. Sam hands you the pizza not in a box, but on a round piece of cardboard wrapped in a paper bag. It cuts down on the one-time use of cardboard material.

We enjoy the hot pies from Sam’s Pizza. The crust is doughier than some of the Illinois Valley rivals, which means it reheats well in a broiler, and the cheese is of excellent quality.

Best of all, it’s affordable: A cheese and sausage pizza costs $10, and for those who want soda, there’s a vending machine that spits out 55-cent cans, albeit with change only – there’s no bill-feeder.

The restaurant is closed on Mondays. Fans of pizza that is simply delicious can add Sam’s Pizza as a flavorful, affordable choice.

• The Mystery Diner is an employee at Shaw Media. The diner’s identity is not revealed to the restaurant staff before or during the meal. The Mystery Diner visits a different restaurant and then reports on the experience. If the Mystery Diner cannot recommend the establishment, we will not publish a story.


WHAT: Sam’s Pizza

WHERE: 115 S. Columbia Ave., Oglesby

PHONE: 815-883-9413