Before Mike Klaersch owned The Pizza Man, he was a regular at the Lenexa pizzeria.
“I’m from Chicago,” Klaersch says, “and they had Chicago-style pizza.”
Klaersch isn’t talking about the deep-dish, cake-like pies made famous by Pizzeria Uno and Gino’s East — he means thin-crust pies topped with chunks of fresh Italian sausage and cut into neat squares. The Pizza Man’s original owner, Bob Kranz, got his “Pizza Man” nickname because he would go to customers’ houses and make authentic Chicago pies in their kitchens.
Kranz opened The Pizza Man in 1988 in a small shopping center at 10212 Pflumm Road in Lenexa. At first, the business stayed true to its name and only served pizza, but over the years Kranz added hot dogs and hot Italian beef sandwiches to the menu. In 2005, he sold The Pizza Man to Klaersch.
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“So I’m the second pizza dude,” Klaersch says.
Klaersch estimates that about 80 percent of his customers are Chicago transplants looking for a taste of home. For that reason, Klaersch strives to make his food as authentic as anything you’d find in the Windy City.
The Chicago dog ($3.30) starts with a snappy Vienna Beef frank wedged into a poppyseed bun. There’s a reason they say Chicago dogs are “dragged through the garden” — this one is loaded with onions, sport peppers, tomatoes, bright green relish, mustard and a crisp pickle spear. A fine dusting of celery salt is the finishing touch.
When I went to The Pizza Man with my brother last week, we split a Chicago dog and an Italian beef sandwich and ended up fighting for the last bite of both. We couldn’t get enough of the beef sandwich ($6.50), an oblong specialty bun from Chicago’s Gonnella Baking Co. stuffed with spicy, thinly sliced strips of roast beef, also from Vienna Beef.
The sandwich was served with a side of “gravy” that more closely resembled the au jus served with a French dip sandwich than the stuff served with fried chicken and mashed potatoes. But my favorite part was the giardiniera, a spicy relish of pickled vegetables that left my tongue tingling long after the last bite.
You can’t really go to a place called The Pizza Man and not order a pizza, so we also ordered a small (9-inch) Deluxe pizza. The pizza’s cracker-thin crust was topped edge-to-edge with melted mozzarella, pepperoni, Italian sausage, mushrooms, onions and green peppers. I tried to grab the squares with the most fennel-flecked Italian sausage.
The Pizza Man’s menu also features Polish sausages from Chicago, a meatball grinder, and a popular new pizza called The Tony that’s modeled after an Italian beef sandwich. It’s a thin crust brushed with oil from the hot giardiniera and topped with Italian beef and cheese. Gravy comes on the side of the pizza, which costs $10 for a 9-inch small, $16 for a 12-inch medium, $19 for a 14-inch large or $22 for a 16-inch extra large.
Aside from the food, the best part about The Pizza Man is the comfortable atmosphere that makes you feel like you’ve time-traveled to the early ‘90s. The crimson and blue walls are decorated with vintage Chicago Bulls posters, Cubs memorabilia and Magic Eye posters that will make you go cross-eyed if you’re not careful.
The Pizza Man also has several arcade games you can play while you wait for your order. I’ve never been too good at Golden Tee or Big Buck Hunter, so I tried my hands at the Terminator 2 pinball machine. My score was respectable until the Deluxe pizza arrived at the booth and made me lose focus.
“Hasta La Vista, Baby,” Arnold Schwarzenegger said as the shiny silver ball rolled past the flippers. “I’ll be back.”
After the meal, my brother and I agreed that we would be back, too.
Enterprise reporter Sarah Gish writes about Johnson County restaurants every first and third week of the month. Contact her via email at email@example.com or tweet @sarah_gish.
The Pizza Man
Location: 10212 Pflumm Road in Lenexa
Hours: 11 a.m.-7 p.m. daily
Credit cards: Yes
Parking: Free lot
Don’t miss: The Italian beef sandwich ($6.50), the Chicago dog ($3.30) and, of course, the pizza. A customer favorite is the Kitchen Sink, topped with fresh Italian sausage, ground beef, pepperoni, onions, Canadian bacon, mushrooms, green peppers, pineapple and black and green olives. The Kitchen Sink pizza costs $10 for a 9-inch small, $16 for a 12-inch medium, $19 for a 14-inch large or $22 for a 16-inch extra large.
Vegetarian: Order the veggie pizza, topped with mushrooms, black and green olives, onions and green peppers ($7.50 for a 9-inch small, $15 for a 12-inch medium, $17.50 for a 14-inch large or $19 for a 16-inch extra large).
More info: On Facebook