Upon entering Pie’s The Limit, customers are greeted with a genuine, welcoming hello. The staff members are courteous and patient. Customers are given the choice of an 11” traditional or gluten-friendly pizza, oven-baked bow tie pasta, or a fresh salad for only $7.99 ($1.50 extra for gluten-friendly crust). They also offer garlic cheese bread ($6.99) and a 7" pizza for kids (12 and under) and seniors (65 and older) for $3.99. The hardest part is deciding what to get!
Once the choice is made, the magic begins. Each pizza, pasta, or salad comes with unlimited toppings, as well as a choice of sauces. Pie's The Limit offer basic sauces like marinara, pesto, and white garlic alfredo, as well as some more unique choices like Sriracha-spiced marinara, buffalo, and BBQ. They also have a bunch of seasonings that can be added to spice up the dish. And they have a huge variety of meats, cheeses, and vegetables to choose from, ranging from the traditional to the somewhat exotic. Pizzas can be topped with as many meats, cheeses, and veggies as the customer wants. Their choices for cheese include fresh and shredded mozzarella, blue cheese, Parmesan, provolone, asiago, ricotta, and cheddar-jack. They also offer Daiya brand dairy-free cheese for an additional $2. Needless to say, they have an endless number of combinations to choose from.
Some customers are intimidated by so many choices; for those people, they offer some house specialty pizzas such as Margherita, BLT, White Garlic, and Chicken Caesar, to name only a few. They have specialty pasta selections like Carbonara and Basil Pesto, and specialty salads such as Chef, Chicken Caesar, and Southwestern Chicken, as well. The restaurant's slogan, "Indecisive Meets Having It All" sums it up perfectly. They truly have an unbelievable selection of ingredients, which, in and of itself, is impressive, especially considering the low price, but their real achievement is the quality. I have eaten there a few times since they opened, and I have been very impressed.
I took my son for dinner recently and we each made our own pizza. He ordered regular mozzarella cheese with pepperoni and sausage. He chose to split the sauces down the middle, one half was marinara, and the other half was a mix of alfredo and pesto. The pizza-maker took great care to evenly spread the sauces and ingredients along the fresh pizza dough, which was hand-made, rolled in bread crumbs, machine-pressed into a nice round form, then placed on a wooden pizza paddle before being custom topped and placed in the brick oven. I don’t eat meat or cheese, and am not a big fan of the Daiya brand vegan cheese, so I chose to have marinara sauce, no cheese, and a whole bunch of vegetables on mine. I asked the employee if she would please change her gloves, and she replied, "of course, no problem," without even a hint of the usual verbal eye roll I get from some places. I loaded my pizza up with spinach, broccoli, mushrooms, caramelized onions, artichoke hearts, banana peppers, roma tomatoes, green peppers, green and black olives, and roasted red peppers. It was a vegan masterpiece, overflowing with fresh vegetables, and it still only cost $7.99. I was in heaven.
With any pizza or pasta purchase, they offer a very nice side salad for only $1.99, which I ordered as well. The salads usually come pre-made with romaine lettuce, shredded cheese and diced tomatoes, but, since I ordered mine without cheese, they made it fresh to order. Per my request they loaded it with freshly sliced roma tomatoes and both kinds of olives. It was a very impressive side salad for the price.
After putting our pizzas into the hot oven, the attendant rang in our order and gave us a number, then told us to have a seat and they would bring our food out to us. Our bill was less than $20, the food was prepared courteously and quickly, and the quality was excellent. The pizzas arrived very quickly and they were steaming hot. The crust had just the right balance of chewy and crispy, with small air pockets throughout the outer edge. Even though I put a ton of veggies on my pizza, they were all nicely cooked and very fresh tasting, which was quite a feat, considering the pizzas were in the oven for less than five minutes. The pizza slices were sturdy and substantial, not limp and greasy, like some places, and each bite was better than the last.
I liked my pizza so much that I decided to return a few days later and try out one of their make-your-own pasta dishes. Upon my request, the attendant filled a large skillet with marinara sauce and pre-cooked bow tie pasta. I loaded it up similar to my pizza, but I added peas, fresh basil, and roasted garlic to the mix. I sat down and was quickly brought an enormous bowl of piping hot pasta. I dug in and savored the blend of flavors and textures: crunchy, fresh broccoli mixed nicely with the roast garlic and fresh basil; sweet peas balanced wonderfully with sharp banana peppers; caramelized onions paired perfectly with artichoke hearts; salty olives were a great counterpoint to the mushrooms and green peppers. Each bite was unique and thoroughly satisfying.
Let's be clear, this wasn't a fine dining experience, but, for the money and time invested in it, the pasta was fantastic. As someone who eats a vegan diet, it was a pleasure to order a plant-based meal from an open kitchen, where I could see exactly what I was getting, and be treated to such a quality, affordable meal. I was unable to come close to finishing my lunch, so I asked for a lid for my thick paper bowl, to take it home for another meal.
As I sat and digested my delicious pasta, I made note of the cozy, open dining room, and the casual atmosphere of the restaurant. There's plenty of seating and good music playing just loudly enough to hear without being overwhelming. They have a nice self-service drink area complete an array of seasonings and hot sauces to top the pizzas after they are cooked, which is a great customization option. I also appreciate that they serve their pizzas on china plates and offer stainless steel utensils for customers dining in-house, which reduces waste and adds a nice touch of class. The place truly embodies what fast-casual dining is meant to be: high quality, affordable food prepared quickly in a comfortable setting. This is a huge step-up from fast-food, without a huge hike in price.
Pie's The Limit is a new restaurant, tucked away in the former Papa Del's location at The Crossing. They have a drive-through window for phone ahead orders, and they just began online delivery through Order Up. They got their start in Springfield, where they have two successful stores, and have decided to brave the competitive waters of Champaign-Urbana. We see a lot of restaurants come and go in this town, which is a shame. I'd like to see this one stick around, so I highly recommend making the trip to southwest Champaign to try a well-executed fast-casual restaurant concept. You will definitely get your money's worth and will be very pleased with the high quality product they serve.
Pie's The Limit is located at 2510 Village Green Place, Champaign, and open Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
All photos by Jim Singer.