At the far south end of Tillsonburg, amongst the tumbleweeds where activity once abounded, lies a treasure hidden within a small hole-in-the-wall shop between the old “Royal Hotel” and the bowling alley. A treasure now buried but to be remembered fondly. A treasure of amazing pizza and people: Bill’s.
I just read The Tillsonburg News page that Bill’s Pizza in Tillsonburg is done. I’m in shock and disappointment. Without question, the best pizza around as far as I’m concerned. So great, in fact, I had intended to write a blog post about it as one of the best things about living in Southwestern Ontario: convenient access to Bill’s pizza. It was one of those “best kept secret” kind of places I would recommend to someone spending time in the area. Not just for the pizza but the staff and the joint also.
The crust was thin and homemade. According to End of an era: Saying goodbye to Bill’s Pizza posted in the Tillsonburg News, Bill’s went through 4 homemade batches a day. The sauce was just the right amount of spice and sweetness with a deep rich, red colour. My usual order was an extra large cheese pizza for my fussy family. Once in a while I got a deluxe or a meat-lovers if the occasion warranted. The bacon was always real pieces of deli bacon, not bacon bits as many contemporary chain pizzas offer, and the deluxe would have fresh vegetables. And the cheese, I can’t forget the cheese. There was always a tonne of cheese. So much, that when it melted there was a shimmery coating of grease that would sit on top. I know that may not sound appealing and your arteries may constrict just thinking about it but that was what made it a taste phenomenon. Before even taking a bite my taste buds would do sommersaults in anticipation of what was coming at them.
Bill’s Pizza quickly became the favourtie of my and my sister’s, out-of-town significant others and we have passed on the tradition to our children as well. This was our go-to pizza growing up in Tillsonburg and a must-have when we are back visiting. There is simply no other pizza like it. It’s what I imagine a New York pizza to be like if I ever the opportunity to try it.
Bill’s has survived many years on their incredible reputation for great pizza and customer service. It even managed to be one of the only businesses (that I’ve patronized) that never succumb to the use of electronic fees transfer. If you wanted to purchase a pizza from Bill’s you had to do it “old-school”. No debit or credit. Cash only. Luckily, the bowling alley next door was equipped with a bank machine or there would have been several nights of disappointment for me. It was part of the charm of Bill’s. It stayed constant and authentic through all the 43 years in business.
It was always a marvel as well, to see Irene or Don every time I would go in to pick up the pizza. I wondered if they ever took a holiday. According to the Tillsonburg news, I guess they didn’t. Obviously they loved what they did. They were always chatty and congenial. Every pizza passed over that counter was delivered with a smile and a thank you. 43 years of dedication and commitment to getting the best pizza out to generations of hungry patrons. With retirement already underway, I wish them the best and happiest wishes for an amazing life from the other side of the counter. And may they sense the biggest smile and sincere thank you from one grateful and satisfied customer.
Whether you live in Southwestern Ontario or are just visiting, a great place to hang out is Port Dover. Many come for fish at the popular Erie Beach Hotel or for a swim at the beach but I like to go for a footlong hot dog at The Arbor. It’s been close to 100 years (since 1919) serving its famous Schneiders footlongs. They are able to serve many people quickly because of their unique serving set-up. Hotdogs and burgers are ordered at one station, fresh-cut fries at another and ice cream cones at yet another. I usually go with my family and parents and we split up so that one group gets the hot dogs and the other, the fries. We get our food fast and we are eating before you know it even though the serving booths are packed with people. It’s great. And of course, we don’t leave until we’ve had our amazing soft serve or hard ice cream cone to round out the meal.
They are also unique in the toppings available for hotdogs (or hamburgers if you’re not a “dog” person). There are hot peppers, cole slaw, pickles, radishes and I think, even pickled beets. I always joke with my mom: “Did you get a hot dog to go with your salad?” I’m a bit boring, only “ketchup” for me.
I almost forgot to mention their Golden Glo. These are special fruit beverages that are only available at The Arbor. Even if you are just in the mood for something to quench your thirst, The Arbor is a place to be sought.
Hands-down, my favourite restaurant is “The Barrel” in Simcoe, Ontario. First and foremost because since I can remember, my favourite food has been spaghetti and it is an Italian restaurant. Secondly, I have been going there since I was a teenager and the service has always been great.
For Valentine’s Day, my husband made reservations for there and it was the best choice he could have made. They had a special Valentine’s menu but I never like to stray from my spaghetti. And so, I ordered my 1/2 order of Spaghetti Bolognese. That’s right, a 1/2 order. I don’t know of too many places that offer that option. I’m not a big eater and I find that I eat more than I’m comfortable at most restaurants. The added bonus with The Barrel, is that even though it’s a “half” order, you still get the soup or salad course. I always opt for the salad because the house “Balsamic” dressing is fantastic.
And I have to say that I have always had amazing service at The Barrel. Whether it is their hiring of great people or incredible training, or both, I have never been disappointed with the impeccable service. They were running a little behind on Valentine’s Day as they had a full complement of patrons. I had no complaints, however, the staff was so courteous and pleasant that I couldn’t possibly be upset. Besides, we’re only human and sometimes you just have to accept that good things come to those who wait.
By the way, they don’t just have spaghetti, they do a mean pizza and many other excellent Italian dishes. I’m often stealing bites off my husband’s or kids’ plates.
Napa Grille & Wine Den – Cambridge, ON
I have a day job in the Tri-City area of Southwestern Ontario and one of my colleagues suggested a lunch at the Napa Grille & Wine Den in Cambridge. I had recently been there and quickly made it be known that I was in because I knew what we were in for. Today’s lunch did not disappoint.
Right now there is an AMAZING lunch menu and everything is under $10. The biggest downer of the whole deal was that I could only go with one dish. And even though I had Spaghetti and Meatballs the last time (about 3 weeks ago), I had to have it again because it was that good. I didn’t think it possible but it was even better this time.
Lunch Menu for Napa Grille & Wine Den, Cambridge ON
It went down nicely with a 5 oz. glass of Masi Valpolacella wine too. And since it was also a “wine bar”, I felt compelled to indulge in some vino. And what goes better with an Italian meal than a glass of red wine? It was a perfect lunch out.
Besides the menu and the wine, this place offers an exquisite dining atmosphere. It’s quiet, a bit rustic and classy. And the service has been impeccable both times I’ve been there.
I haven’t been there for an evening meal but I think it would be a perfect place for a date night dinner out. I can’t wait to take my husband.