Oh, how I love great Italian food. When a person thinks of great Italian food, though, the tiny town of North Salem probably doesn't jump to mind. One visit to Perillo's Pizzeria in the northwestern corner of Hendricks County, Indiana, however, will change the way you think.
I visit North Salem -- a town of about 500 people -- pretty regularly for lunch or dinner, and while at Perillo's Pizzeria enjoying a tremendous calzone, I've learned a few things about Perillo's from my experience and talking with the owners that I'd like to share with you.
Perillo's opened on Dec. 8, 2011. Damiano Perillo owns the restaurant with his mother-in-law and brother-in-law, and they all work there. Damiano's wife helps during busy times, too.
As soon as Damiano starts talking, it's clear that he's not from North Salem. His accent gives away his ancestry: Sicily, Italy. Damiano graduated from culinary school in Palermo, the capital of Sicily. He came to the United States in 1999, and his wife is from the North Salem area, which brought him to Hendricks County.
He has incorporated some of his mother recipes from Sicily into his menu.
In addition to his love of family, Damiano has a passion for cooking and passion for his community, so when another establishment closed a few years ago and left North Salem without a restaurant, he decided to open Perillo's.
"I didn't really care about making money," he said. "I just wanted to sell a slice or two of pizza and have somewhere for people to eat here."
Damiano's in-laws own a vacant lot across the street from Perillo's, and the family is kicking around the idea of opening a mom-and-pop grocery store there at some point in the future.
It's not a big draw during the winter months, but when the weather is nice, Perillo's offers outdoor seating on a quaint brick patio.
I eat there on a regular basis with coworkers when we're out at nearby McCloud Nature Park, and we like to eat outdoors. With North Salem being such a quiet town, the outdoor dining experience remains very peaceful and relaxing.
Damiano said they receive high demand for their outdoor seating on nice days.
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Damiano insists on using fresh, high-quality ingredients to prepare his dishes. The family even owns its own farm and grows its own vegetables for use at Perillo's.
For ingredients that he and his family don't grow themselves, Damiano makes every effort to support Indiana farmers through his food purchases.
Everything is sliced, chopped and otherwise prepared fresh every morning. The sauce is handmade every morning. They cook all meals to order, not in advance and left under a heat lamp or microwaved. That quality promise results in a bit of a wait for your meal, but that wait is worth it to Damiano, who detests fast food.
"When you get a hamburger for 99 cents," he said, "What kind of meat are you eating? I know exactly what ingredients are in my dishes."
A Doctor's Office?
The building that houses Perillo's Pizzeria used to be the office of Dr. Oscar H. Wiseheart, who practiced medicine there for more than 60 years, beginning in 1898. Damiano told me that when he and his family renovated the building in 2011, they found old medicine bottles and other historical pieces from Dr. Wiseheart's practice.
Damiano said the building was also used as a feed store and a saloon in the past. It was an apartment when the family bought the building.
Damiano, his wife and his in-laws did all of the work to refurbish the building in 2011. His brother-in-law laid the patio for outdoor dining, they built the kitchen and a bathroom, they did all the painting, and they even redid the floors.
No credit cards
Your credit cards are no good at Perillo's, and Damiano said, "As long as I'm alive, Perillo's will never accept credit cards."
Why? The fees.
"Why pay thousands of dollars every year in credit card fees when I can give that money to my employees, instead?" says Damiano.
No worries for those who don't normally carry cash. There's a branch of North Salem State Bank a block north of Perillo's with 24-hour access to an ATM. Checks are also accepted at Perillo's.
I usually order a sausage roll calzone when I'm at Perillo's, and I was pleased to see on the menu that it was very reasonable at $7.99. It's made with sausage, green pepper and onion -- right up my alley.
I watch as Damiano tosses the dough in the air several times, assembles all of the ingredients and places the calzone in the oven.
The calzone is massive, and it is an entire Italian sausage wrapped in pizza sauce, bell pepper, onion, and a truckload of cheese. The whole thing is encased in dough and baked to a golden brown before getting topped with melted butter and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.
I've had a lot of calzones in my life, but this one, without question, is my absolute favorite.
Not a calzone lover? No problem as they have two different kinds of pizza -- New York style and Sicilian deep dish, which is unique to Perillo's. They also offer pastas, subs and much more.
Perillo's doesn't take reservations, but they do offer carryout so that hungry patrons can call in an order and pick it up.
Customers can place their orders by calling (765) 676-4171.
I asked Damiano if there's anything in particular he would like readers to know, and without hesitation, he said that he loves his customers.
"I thank God every day for every customer who walks through our door," he said. "To all of my customers, thank you!"
He enjoys talking with customers and has learned that some of his regular patrons travel up to 75 miles each way to eat there. People's devotion to his establishment warms his heart.
What's not to love about Perillo's Pizzeria in North Salem? Make a point to visit this Hendricks County hidden gem and experience fresh authentic Italian cuisine, friendly staff and a relaxed atmosphere with a family focus.
- 5 S. Broadway St., North Salem, Ind.
- (765) 676-4171
- Perillo's Pizzeria on Facebook
- Closed on Tuesdays
- Open for lunch on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
- Open for dinner on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 4 to 8 p.m.
- Open on Fridays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
- Open on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
- Cash and checks only; no credit cards accepted