I tried getting a pizza, but it seems Ace's has closed. Try Jimmy's if you want Chicago style pizza.
Andria is also known as Secret Agent Mom
Ace’s Chicago Pizza
1134 N. Germantown Pkwy
“Yeah, turn here … wait a minute … no, this isn’t right. It’s the plaza with Schnuck’s, not Kroger. I think it’s the next one …”
And so began another trip to Ace’s Chicago Pizza, an unassuming family-owned joint tucked into the maze of strip malls that line Germantown Parkway. We usually take I-40 to Appling Road (you know, by THE CHURCH) and cut over on Cordova Club Road which takes us directly to the correct mass of pink brick and avoids G’town Speedway entirely, but on this occasion, we’d been kayaking at Shelby Farms and were coming from an unfamiliar direction, hence our parking lot detour. But we soon got our bearings (“Over there, by the Malco! And the vacuum store!”) and made a beeline for the buffet.
We now interrupt this review for a little back story: Ace’s Chicago Pizza was founded in Paris, Tennessee by, you guessed it, Ace. Ace had lived in Chicago and was impressed by the gourmet quality of Windy City pizzas. He brought the deep-dish, sauce-on-top style back to Paris, and added the necessary personal touches like homemade sausage ground specifically to his personal recipe. How do I know all this? Well, I’d like to credit my crack investigative journalism skills, but the truth is, Ace’s sister (and co-proprietor of the Cordova location) and I both got called to jury duty on the same day, and we had a particularly nosy judge conducting the voir dir e process. The timing was incredibly fortuitous, because not a week before, Jeff and I had been complaining about the lack of high-quality pizza in Memphis. As I was sitting in the courtroom, 5 months pregnant and silently begging the judge to let me go home and/or pee, I took thorough mental note of the restaurant. We made our first visit as soon as we figured out if Germantown Road and Germantown Parkway were the same thing.
For years (well, two), a trip to Ace’s meant we hit the speed dial on my cell phone as soon as we crossed East Parkway and pre-ordered a Chicago-style pizza, knowing that the 40-minute cook time would nearly have passed by the time we got to the restaurant. Jeff and I are huge fans of the Chicago pie, having both spent our formative college years at Giordano’s, Carmen’s, and Lou Malnati’s, so it’s hard to describe the looks of bliss and nostalgia as we took our first bites. Real meat! Doughy-yet-flaky crust! Non-canned sauce! We did a sausage/pepperoni split, but we each aggressively infringed on the other’s territory. The pizza could have easily fed three or maybe even four not-that-hungry people, but we took the whole thing down ourselves. And up until a few months ago, every trip to Ace’s followed pretty much the same formula, although sometimes Jeff would finish up with an Italian beef sandwich of Chicago-style hot dog for dessert.
Enter: The Monkey. Once a walking, squawking, occasionally eating child became involved in our dining endeavors, 45-minute pre-planning was no longer an option. It was at this point that we noticed the small yellow sign in Ace’s window: Lunch Buffet 11am-2pm. With minimal expectations as to the quality of heat-lamped pizza, we stumbled in one afternoon and discovered one of the best deals in Memphis eats. And now we rejoin our review, already in progress …
Considering that we’re on at least our third Ace’s Buffet Punch Card, this must have been our fifth mid-day visit over the last few months, which doesn’t seem like that much until you consider that we live 30 minutes away and both work full-time. I used to be a little disappointed in the spartan gray-on-slightly-lighter-gray décor of Ace’s, but now that I have a toddler in tow (and often under-toe), I appreciate that everything in the place can be wiped clean and that there aren’t elaborate decorations for her to pull down. On this visit, the Sunday afternoon crowd was pretty typical – maybe three other couples or families spaced throughout the restaurant. (I’ve only seen it crowded on weekend evenings, either before or after a movie.) We stepped up to the counter, ordered our drinks and got our buffet card punched three times (kids under 3 are technically free, but because Jeff eats about 3 adults’ worth of pizza, I feel more ethical if we pay the extra $2.99 for the children’s portion). And then we grabbed our Styrofoam cups, paper plates and plastic utensils and got to work.
First, The Monkey’s plate: three warm breadsticks, one slice of cheese pizza (regular crust – there’s no deep-dish on the buffet), a package of crackers, a few rigatoni noodles from the salad bar that disguise the fact that I foraged out every black olive I could find in the pasta.
My first plate: two slices of sausage, two breadsticks … and no meatballs, because they were down to the last one and that’s not bound to be the tastiest.
Jeff’s first plate: um, probably at least three slices of pepperoni, a breadstick, and that sad last meatball.
We sat down at our usual table, one removed from the buffet (and out of arm’s reach from the large display of straws, utensils and sweeteners) and dug in. The Monkey was so busy with her breadsticks that she barely had time to bug me for my orange soda. I finished my pizza in record time and kept eyeing the buffet, waiting for more meatballs to appear. I suppose that the meatballs are intended to be eaten on top of the spaghetti that sits in the bin next to them, but I never find buffet pasta to be very appealing and the meatballs more than stand up on their own. I went up for one more piece of pizza and tried to express a quiet mournfulness over the empty meatball area. This would never happen on a weekday, when Mr. and Mrs. Ace are at the helm and the ZWWIP ZWWIP ZWWIP of aerating dough can be heard throughout the lunch hours. (We went to Ace’s so often after Jeff broke his wrist that Mrs. Ace closely followed the progress of his recuperation from cast-hood through physical therapy and still asks how it’s feeling.) But on weekends, they take some well deserved time off and leave a group of sweet but not quite as speedy teenagers in charge. I grabbed another breadstick, per The Monkey’s command, and went back to the table. As soon as he saw another pepperoni pie hit the line, Jeff got up for another round, and came back with more pizza and three piping hot meatballs. Dang it! My stomach’s valuable meatball space had been infringed upon by the not-entirely-necessary third slice of pizza, but I went back up anyway. I returned with two meatballs and yet another breadstick for my carbivore daughter, who was now tagging along with whichever parent was traveling to the buffet.
I had now reached the critical point that occurs during all trips to Ace’s buffet: do I get one more piece of regular pizza or switch over to the dessert pizza? Because it’s important not to be overfull when eating dessert, but you clearly can’t go back to the normal slices once you’ve had the cinnamon-swirl. I decided to exercise something resembling restraint and went right to dessert. The Monkey was now picking through the pasta and surgically removing the olive slices without touching any other food product. I think Jeff was on his third plate, all of which looked pretty much the same. I finished my dessert just as The Monkey remembered how much she loves the bathroom at Ace’s. She’s a nostalgic girl, and once she’s been in a public bathroom, she feels the need to revisit it on every possible occasion. So we tromped off to the women’s room, which is a large, one-user space. I’ve lamented the lack of a changing table on several past trips, but now that we’re in potty training mode, I was grateful for the folding chair that gave me someplace non-threatening to wait while The Monkey took care of business. (For the diaper crowd, the floor is clean enough to throw a portable mat down.)
One of the things I love best about a buffet is that you’re all pre-paid and ready to go when the toddler tolerance level starts to max out, which happened right about the time The Monkey realized that there weren’t any more plates to take to the garbage. So we made a hasty exit, followed by a leisurely walk through the strip mall (it’s very important to turn right toward the bike store and not left toward the ice cream store, although if you have a kid who knows what dollar stores are, you’re screwed either way) and then headed back toward midtown, silently plotting our next quest to Cordova.