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Thursday, May 5, 2005 01:01 am

appetite 5-5-05

art2052
Coz’s manager Steve Wand serves up a pie
PHOTO BY NICK STEINKAMP

When Coz’s Pizza and Pub moved from Curran to Springfield nearly five years ago, it brought with it cold beer, sports memorabilia, and, most important, its thin-crust Chicago-style pizza.

It also brought several traditions to the capital city, such as the bowls of salted peanuts at each table for patrons to snack on as soon as they’re seated. There’s a homey picnic-style feeling here. Paper towels are provided on holders nailed to the wall; silverware comes in plastic bags.

“We’re a friendly place. We’re not stuffy,” says manager Steve Wand. “Anybody could come in here and talk to the person next to them and have one of the coldest beers in town.” Wand defends this claim by explaining that the pub’s cooler is set close to 32 degrees. He’s right — the draft beer is served in frosty mugs so cold you need a napkin to wipe the ice off as it melts.

Most of the appetizers are the usual fried fare — cheese fries, fried mushrooms — but there are also a few unique items such as fried pickle spears and Coz’s pub fries, which are thick waffle fries drizzled with homemade chicken-wing sauce, Monterey Jack cheese, and bacon. Another new addition is the garlic cheese crust, which is the pub’s original pizza dough, coated with garlic and butter and topped with mozzarella cheese, then served with marinara sauce.

When I dined at Coz’s recently with my friend Stefany, we started our meal with an order of the chicken wings, which won a people’s-choice award at a local charity cook-off event. The meaty wings were coated with a dark, tangy sauce. The tasty appetizer was served with standard ranch dressing, but I think blue-cheese dressing would have made the wings even better.

The pub’s main attraction is the thin-crust pizza, which may be ordered with a variety of toppings ranging from sausage (prepared especially for Coz’s by Turasky’s each week) to pineapple. We ordered a medium pie topped with four vegetables (tomato, green pepper, mushrooms, and black olives). The crust was crunchy and the toppings plentiful and fresh. I especially liked the large slices of fresh tomato. A double-decker version is made by stacking and braiding togethertwo thin-crust pizzas.

The menu also offers a good selection of salads, chili, and sandwiches, such as Italian sausage, Italian beef, cheeseburgers, and pork tenderloin. My waitress suggested the popular grilled chicken. The large, flavorful seasoned breast was topped with pickle, onions, and lettuce and served on a bun. Unfortunately, the skinny fries that accompanied it were mediocre.

The pub, owned by John Costello, was a popular hangout and pizza joint in Curran for four years. That location closed its doors when a new restaurant was built on the city’s west side and opened in June 2000.

The place seems to be suffering from an identity crisis of sorts, but in a fun, interesting way. The walls are covered with a mishmash of sports memorabilia, framed newspaper articles and Irish knickknacks, sprinkled with stuffed dead animals. (A dusty, unhappy-looking stuffed ferret, which the manager says was donated by a customer, sits on a high shelf near the bar.) Many of the quirky items were purchased by Costello during his travels or donated by customers.

Coz’s offers tables, booths, and the bar area for dining. We sat at an enclosed booth near the fireplace, which was a little confining because of the tall seat backs. You’ll never miss the game at Coz’s, no matter where you’re seated: Televisions are mounted in nearly every corner on the first floor, and patrons on the second floor loft area may watch a massive 9-foot TV screen near the entrance. An outdoor patio area with a few tables and umbrellas was added last year.

The atmosphere is friendly. Most people sitting around the bar seem to know each other. During our visit, we ended up in a conversation about real-estate taxes in Florida with a man at the bar who was watching a ball game with his wife and daughter.

For those who want a taste of Coz’s pizza at home, frozen pies are also sold at area golf-course clubhouses, taverns, and grocery stores.

Coz’s Pizza & Pub is located at 4441 Ash Grove Dr.; 217-726-7700. Hours are 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Fri. and 4-10 p.m. Sat. and Sun.

Taste the fair

The Illinois State Fair may be still a few months away, but you can still dine on corn dogs, funnel cakes, and lemon shake-ups in the open air.

Pat and Mike’s Corner, which is located on Coliseum Lane at the fairgrounds, has opened its doors for the season. The stand will be serving up pork chop sandwiches, grilled ribeyes, and fried walleye, in addition to fair favorites.

It will be open through October for events held in the grandstand and horse shows, as well as the state fair, which opens Aug. 12.

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