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Nikki Bolka, a member of The Gazette’s restaurant review team The Four Dishes, ordered this half-pepperoni and mushroom, half-sausage and onion pizza during a recent visit to Tilley’s Pizza House in Beloit. The restaurant, which has been family owned since the 1950s, claims to be the first and oldest pizza restaurant in Beloit.

BELOIT

Tilley’s Pizza House has been family owned since the 1950s, and it claims to be the first and oldest pizza restaurant in Beloit.

I’m jealous. I didn’t get pizza until the mid-1960s ... and that was Chef Boyardee.

It’s no wonder people talk about Tilley’s like it is a sacred institution. Beloit families grow up with their pizza.

Tilley’s is no longer in its original location (now Kline’s Club 88 at 65 Portland Ave.), but it has teamed with another neighborhood favorite, the Ballyhoo Tavern, to share a more contemporary space on Fourth Street that is complete with silly cartoon figures on an outside wall.

As you approach the entrance, you are given a choice: Go left, and you find yourself in Tilley’s dining room. Go right, and you’re in the Ballyhoo. Either way, once you’re inside, you have access to both food and drink and tables aplenty. We chose to sit in the restaurant side.

Numerous comfortable booths lined the windows, providing lots of natural light and an airy feel. There also were plenty of tables available to accommodate larger groups.

Everyone has a standard for the “best pizza ever,” and we have heard many divergent opinions. But Tilley’s serves up a really thin crust that is much like a cracker, so we decided to test it for ourselves.

We quickly discovered Tilley’s is more than just pizza. The place has a fine beer selection and a full menu.

The appetizer portion of the menu has typical bar food choices with a few extras added in. We decided to go with the cheddar broccoli bites ($4.50).

A basket of deep-fried nuggets was delivered with a side of ranch sauce. The nuggets were crispy on the outside with good-size broccoli pieces and gooey melted cheddar cheese on the inside. The ranch sauce helped complete the bites, but it wasn’t really necessary because they were just fine on their own. Next time, we’ll try the mushroom bites, which sounded good, too!

I really wanted the pizza but was intrigued by the pork burnt ends dinner ($12). It was a pleasant surprise. A huge portion of slightly sweet, sauced bites proved tender and tasty. They came with tasty mashed potatoes and a sweet, lightly-sauced coleslaw.

Jennifer chose the Italian beef sandwich ($7.95). It was featured as a special that evening, so she saved $1.

Served on a crusty bun, the sandwich was loaded with shaved Italian beef, green peppers, onions and mushrooms all covered in melted mozzarella. Jennifer was pleased to have a bowl of warm au jus, which was perfect for dipping. Her sandwich also came with fries—the good kind with some of the skins left on.

Helene had heard good things about Tilley’s burgers, so she ordered a basic hamburger ($2.35). Burgers are available in quarter-, third- and half-pound sizes, but Helene’s looked pretty small when it arrived at the table. In fact, its size prevented us from asking for a taste, fearing she might not have enough to eat.

Tilley’s offers plenty of fresh toppings for its burgers, so she opted for onion, lettuce and tomato. There are many cheese options as well as bacon and other choices for an additional charge.

The patty was seared to a nice brown outside with a juicy center, and the bun was similar to a soft buttermilk biscuit. In the end, Helene was completely satisfied with the amount of food she ordered. It must have been all the tasty fries that came with her order that filled her up.

Thankfully, Nikki was craving pizza, and she didn’t get distracted by anything else on the menu except for the requisite cold soda to go along with it—a 20-ounce Dr. Pepper ($2.15).

Since she couldn’t eat a whole pizza herself, she ordered a large half-pepperoni and mushroom, half-sausage and onion ($17.29) so we all could have a little sampling. The earthy house-made sauce had a rich tomato flavor, and the toppings were tasty with just the right amount of shredded mozzarella.

Cut into squares, Tilley’s pizza brought back treasured childhood memories of Pizza Villa in Janesville for Jennifer. Her reminiscence led to a mini debate on the pros and cons of square cuts versus pie cut. By the time we all picked out our favorite squares (some of us prefer the edges as opposed to the centers), what was left looked like a jigsaw puzzle.

The final verdict? Tilley’s makes some darn good pizza.

The Four Dishes—Nikki Bolka, Helene Ramsdell, Jennifer Spangler and Beth Webb—review regional restaurants for The Gazette.

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