This is the blog and public record of the Chicago Pizza Club. We eat a lot of pizza and share our thoughts on it as well as post any relevant pizza news we come across.

We invite you to post any comments on anywhere you have eaten under our review of that establishment. If you have any questions, please read the FAQs on the sidebar first to see if it has already been answered. Please note that we are at capacity and are not seeking new members. And finally, if you have a place you think we should try, have some other inquiry, or want to send us love/hatemail then please contact us at:


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Fornello's [Meeting #49]

1011 W. Irving Park Rd (GoogleMaps)
(773) 404-2210

CPC invaded Fornello's on 12/18/2007.

Don't listen to what Rachel Ray might tell you about this place. The pizza is mediocre and the service is poor. The high prices reflect that either the proprietors don't know this, or they thought we would not notice. We noticed. We are the Chicago Freaking Pizza Club! Didn't they see our t-shirts?

We ventured out to Fornello's on a very cold night for the last meeting of 2007. Fornello's is an Italian restaurant that offers a variety of pizzas in addition to standard Italian fare. It is situated along Irving Park Road in a good-sized space with big open windows facing the street. Above the front entrance is an enormous banner quoting Rachel Ray's proclamation that they have the best pizza in Chicago. Inside, the restaurant is occupied by white furniture, and features light-colored murals along the walls. The main restaurant was mostly empty, and they seated us in a private nook in the back of the restaurant.

Fornello's offers a few kinds of pizza, and we decided to try their pizza specialty - the thin crust pizzas from their brick oven. We ordered three different gourmet pizzas:

  • Capricciosa: artichokes, black olives, capers, mushrooms, and mozzarella
  • Quattro Stagioni: mozzarella, prosciutto ham, artichokes, mushrooms
  • Quattro Formaggi: mozzarella, asiago, provolone, romano
The standard size of the gourmet pizzas is 10 inches, and they were mostly $12.95 at that size. You can make each pizza 12, 14, or 16 inches for an additional cost.

The ingredients on all the pizzas were fresh, but the capricciosa and the quattro stagioni tasted pretty much the same aside from the capers. The main reason for this is that the "prosciutto ham" was not prosciutto by any stretch of the imagination. Prosciutto is a dried, cured ham that is sliced thin for serving. The ham on our pizza consisted of bland chunks of light pink meat that resembled the packs of styrovac Canadian Bacon sold at big grocery stores next to the string cheese. It was almost unnoticeable amidst the other ingredients. This was such an egregious misrepresentation (and a mistake for a place that tries to present authentic Italian ingredients) that I have to wonder if they just ran out of prosciutto and made a substitution without telling us.

Nevertheless, the four-cheese pizza was well-received. The texture and flavor of the cheese combination was very good, and it would probably lead to a return visit if I lived in the neighborhood.

The crust is not as thin as the Neopolitan-type pizza we thought we might be getting. It was pretty bland, but stayed firm during dinner and with leftovers the next day. The pizzas did not have much sauce, and they did have a generous amount of cheese, but (aside from the four-cheese pizza) there was nothing special about the mozzarella on the pizzas. Overall, nothing aside from the prosciutto was bad, but we were disappointed with the pizza.

Although we are here to judge the pizza, I must note that the service let us down. First, we were not sure how thin these thin crust pizzas were, and so we asked for a recommendation as to the sizes we should get to feed five moderately hungry people. Our server told us to get all three pizzas in their extra large size for an additional cost of $9 per pizza. We followed his suggestion, and we had more than twice as much pizza as we needed. As a result, we ended up with what I believe was the largest per person bill in pizza club history, though we had not even ordered drinks. We did, however, get leftovers.

Also, though after 30 minutes they brought pizza stands out and told us the pizza would be out shortly, it actually took them nearly an hour from the time of our order to bring our pizzas to the table. We were not given an explanation for the delay, though we ordered thin crust pizzas and there was only one other occupied table in the restaurant.

Petey gives Fornello's 5.325/10.

Looks promising inside...

Serve it up...

Four Cheeses will never let you down...

Tardy, but happy to eat!


Where it went down...

Il Fornello on Urbanspoon

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Vito & Nick's Pizzeria [Meeting #48; Meeting #1 Revisited]

Vito & Nick's Pizzeria
8433 S. Pulaski Rd. (Google Maps)
(773) 735-2050

Pizza Club was found in 2003 when my then-roommate and I had a chat about pizza in Chicago. We are both essentially life-long Chicagoans and have enjoyed many a fine pizza, but we understood we had probably missed so many great places along the way as well. He pulled out an article from one of the local papers where someone had submitted a top ten list of pizzerias. We had already tried most of them, but Nick and Vito’s caught our eye because we hadn’t heard of it and because it was on the South Side. We figured that like most things, anything on the South Side was bound to be better than its North Side counterpart and we headed off to battle rush hour traffic. In retrospect, this was one of the best things I’ve ever done because we formed the Chicago Pizza Club on our drive home, stuffed with heavenly pizza and eager to regularly start sampling pizza around the city.

Much has changed since that time. For starters, many of the original crew have come and gone due to graduations and jobs leading them elsewhere. Additionally, this former roommate of mine is now married and has a baby – the smallest pizza club member. Since we have so many new faces, we have decided to break a long standing pizza club rule and start re-visiting pizzerias to allow new members to experience some of our greatest finds.

Enough sentimentality. Let’s get to the pizzas. Sadly, I have lost my piece of paper detailing our meal, but I can remember some of the pizzas. I also remember nothing was left of them.

  • Shrimp and garlic
  • Roast Beef
  • Tomato and basil
The pizzas start arriving within 20 minutes because they’re thin and this place is actually efficient. Additionally, the price was right. The bill for each member was less than $15, including whatever drinks we may have ordered. In general, this place was extremely well received. The crust was thin and firm, but still with that classic cracker-like character. The sauce was well seasoned enough that I could taste it despite it being present in small amounts so as to not overwhelm the crust. The cheese was the most inauspicious part, but the toppings were fabulous. Fresh vegetables and meats are thinly sliced to cook at the same time as the rest of the pizza. One word for this pizzeria’s product is balance.

On this visit, Petey gives Nick and Vito's a 9.

CPC invaded Vito & Nick's on 11/13/08.

The Chicago Pizza Club digs in...

Tomatoe & Basil!

Shrimp & Garlic!!

Francisco has a mouthful...

Italian Beef!

Leave your plastic at home...

A truly sad sight...

What do you mean it's all gone?

People with glasses like pizza too...

A very happy (and full) Chicago Pizza Club

Where it went down...

Vito & Nick's Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Exchequer Restaurant & Pub [Meeting #47]

Exchequer Restaurant & Pub
226 S. Wabash Avenue (Google Maps)
Chicago, IL 60604
(312) 939-5633

CPC invaded Exchequer on 11/01/07.

Searching the plastic tubes of the internet for new pizza locations, I came across Exchequer Restaurant & Pub, located in the heart of the loop. Initially, I was surprised that I had not heard of a downtown pizza location that resident extra large movie expert Roger Ebert identified as one of the four best pies in Chicago. Upon further inspection, I noticed that the portly cowriter of such cinematic masterpieces as Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens endorsed this place in 1984. Additionally, most of the rest of the endorsements came from Brits. Brits don't know shit about pizza. Still, the Chicago Tribune allegedly identified Exchequer as the best deep dish pizza in the loop in 2001. I say allegedly because the link to the article was conveniently broken.

I was intrigued enough to suggest the locale as the next Pizza Club destination. My first thought upon entering was that I can't wait for the smoking ban to go into effect in Chicago. My second thought as we walked to the back of the restaurant and passed walls completely covered in Chicago sports decor, movie posters and various photos of quasi-famous people, was that I was surprised how crowded the place was. My third thought was that I noticed I did not see anyone eating pizza.

I began to have serious doubts about the place when the waiter was shocked that we were there for the pizza. Despite the optimism his reaction instilled, we proceeded. Exchequer offers three different types of pizza, deep dish, thin crust and crispy crust. Of course, the club sampled one of each. We ordered a sausage and garlic deep dish, a spinach and feta thin crust, and a Meat Eaters crispy crust. For good measure, and in honor of the restaurant's Greek roots, we got the Aegean pizza as an appetizer.

The Aegean came first. Served on a crispy crust, it came with
Artichoke, Plum Tomato, Red Onion, and Feta Cheese. It seemed as if they made a cheese pizza and then put the ingredients on. I liked the artichokes. That was about it.

Next up was the sausage and garlic. I tasted the garlic and I definitely saw the sausage, but this pizza was pretty much a pile of rapidly congealing cheese that overwhelmed the crust - a knife and fork was required. I finished my slice and it was fine. But I like cheese. However, I also like sauce and this pie had very little. In its favor, this particular pizza was just as tasty when I ate it cold the following morning.

The spinach on the thin crust was interesting. It tasted like creamed spinach. Seriously, I think the spinach was cooked with cheese before it was put on the pizza. That said, I like creamed spinach and this pie was interesting. The crust held up, but it was nothing special. Not bad, but not great.

The Meat Eaters pie had a lot of meat - Cheese, Sausage, Pepperoni, Ground Beef, Canadian Bacon. Honestly, I don't remember much about it other than it was a lot of meat, some cheese, and as was apparently the style at Exchequer, very little sauce. Meat and cheese is always good. The crust was virtually the same as the thin crust. In fact, I don't think there was a difference between the thin crust and the crispy one.

The pizza at Exchequer was edible, but with all the dining choices in the vicinity, I am confident I will never eat it again.

Petey gives Exchequer a 4/10.

Happy Pizza Clubbers... (and what awesome shirts they have...)

Thin crust & spinache

the Aegean appetizer pizza

The Meat Eaters crispy crust

Where it went down...

Exchequer Pub on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Louisa's Gourmet Pizza and Pasta [Meeting #46]

Louisa's Gourmet Pizza
14025 Cicero Avenue (GoogleMaps)
Crestwood, IL 60445
(708) 371-0950

CPC invaded Louisa's on 10/20/07.

Nothing like fighting Dan Ryan traffic on a Saturday night. As our Suburban Excursion began, we crawled along the expressway feeling like the tires of our cars were stuck in the congealed cheese that topped the pizza at some of our less auspicious prior outings. Our stomachs began to rumble with the hope that the folks at Metromix were right about this pizza recommendation. Thankfully, Louisa's did not disappoint.

Louisa's is located on a busy road dotted with chain stores and gas stations. The restaurant is divided into two rooms, one of which contains a bar. The decor is typical of an Italian family restaurant in the suburbs--low lighting and somewhat dated decor. It was busy when we arrived, but the service was efficient and friendly. Some of our fellow diners were also surprisingly chummy, in particular the dippy old guy who stopped at our table on his way out and suggested we play "Honest Farmer" when it came time to divvy up the check. He leaned over the table with his hands on our shoulders and suggested we play a game of chance that would result in one person picking up the entire tab. We thanked him for his suggestion, but Petey and friends pull their own weight.

Louisa's offers Chicago-style deep dish pizza with an array of fresh ingredients, including some very enjoyable house-made sausage. The pizza itself consists of a buttery cornmeal crust, full-flavored stewed tomato sauce, and a moderate amount of cheese. We found that it was best to eat the pizza right away, as one of the pies got a bit soggy in the middle almost immediately.

We ordered the following pies:

  • spinach and mushroom
  • sausage and onion
  • pepperoni, garlic, and mushroom
Our pizzas came to the table about 35 minutes after we placed the order, which is pretty efficient for three deep dish pizzas on a busy Saturday night. All of the ingredients were fresh and tasty, but the sausage was amazing.

Thankfully, the traffic dissipated over the course of our dinner and post-pizza drinks at the nearby Flossmoor Station Brewery, so we were back in the familiar, concrete confines of Chicago in good time.

Petey gives Louisa's a 7.55/10.

Man, just looking at this makes me want to go back there...

Another delicious pie...

Pizza Clubbers digging in...

What has 3 thumbs and loves pizza?

Where it went down...

Louisa's Pizza & Pasta on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Pete's Pizza [Meeting #45]

Pete's Pizza
3737 N. Western Ave. (Google Maps)
(773) 463-8809

CPC invaded Pete's Pizza on Tuesday 8/21/07.

Pete's has been a feature on the northwest side for a reported 50 years. They are best known for thin crust square cut pizza although they offer a stuffed crust as well. This is the CPC's first review of the spot that features Petey Pizza's shortened moniker and most attending members had yet to try it. Apparently, management has changed in the past few years and may explain some less than favorable recent reviews on the message boards. However, the CPC went to Pete's with open minds and empty stomachs.

Pete's is recently remodeled and has ample seating. Parking wasn't a problem as there is an adjacent lot. The dining room wasn't crowded on a Tuesday night and we had no wait for a group of five. Service was reasonable and the wait for the pizza was roughly what the menu promised at about 45 min for the stuffed. Pete's also offered a full drink menu of liquor, mixed drinks, bottled/tap/pitcher beer and wine.

Pizza sizes on the menu are from a 10" small to an 18" family size and pricing is average.

The specials on the menu for thin crust are a motley crew of:
1) Party: sausage, green pepper and onion
2) Taco: lettuce, tomato, ground beef, cheddar, taco sauce
3) BBQ Chicken
The stuffed is also offered with Party and Spinach/Ricotta toppings.

Our group of five went with the specials.
- Thin crust: Party, Taco
- Stuffed: spinach/ricotta

Overall, the thin crust pizza was average. The sauce, crust and cheese are fairly similar to what you'll find at many other thin crust joints around Chicago. No complaints at the table but no real excitement. Toppings were plentiful enough to avoid grumblings but not exceptional enough to elicit much praise. The taco pizza, which my wife craves in an effort to recreate her Happy Joe's experience, was tasty but somewhat uninspired. Her search for the best taco pizza in Chicago won't end here but I wouldn't advise against ordering it if your pizza lizard brain wanders south of the border from time to time. The spinach/ricotta stuffed pizza was again average. The main knock on the stuffed crust that was it was dry. If your Giordano's box typically has 8 uneaten "breadsticks" at the end of the night I'd recommend sticking with the thin crust at Pete's.

If you're in the neighborhood consider giving it a try but I wouldn't recommend any pilgrimages. Pizza is decent, parking is easy and the remodeled dining room is nice. Order what you like as the specials aren't that special. The service for our dine in experience on a Tuesday was ok but there's enough negative reviews floating around to raise some flags.



Mood lighting...

What a spread!

The classic pizza...

Taco Pizza

Where it went down...

Pete's Pizza on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Trattoria Roma [Meeting #44]

Trattoria Roma
1535 N. Wells St. (GoogleMaps)
(312) 664-7907

CPC invaded Trattoria Roma on 8/06/07.

The Pizza Club had gone dark for nearly a month when an email went out on August 5, 2007 announcing a meeting the very next night at Trattoria Roma. Pizza Clubbers responded well and an official meeting convened on a rainy Monday evening in Old Town.

Trattoria Roma came highly recommended by the website, 10best.com, which listed it among the top 10 pizza restaurants in Chicago. After the Pizza Club meeting was over, I cannot disagree with that assessment – the place definitely did not disappoint.

Trattoria Roma is a small, crowded restaurant that would probably bring back memories of a neighborhood restaurant in Rome if I had ever been to such a place. The one time I was in Rome, I spent most of my limited budget on gelato and museums/ruins, and I visited no residential neighborhoods aside from the one where the youth hostel was located. I digress.

The restaurant had our table waiting and upon being seated, we noticed pizzas on a nearby table and decided we would have to get one pizza per person as each pie is about 9 inches across. We got a Margherita, a Quattro Formaggi (blue, swiss, mascarpone and mozzarella), a Pizza della Casa (sausage, onion and mascarpone), and 2 Quattro Stagione (prosciutto, artichoke, mushroom, olive and egg). We also had a couple of bottles of tasty red wine (all wine is half price on Mondays and Tuesdays).

All pizzas are on a delicious thin crust. As cooky-monster states in the notes, the crust is thicker than traditional gourmet pizzas. Given the flavorful toppings, the extra dough in the crust creates a nice balance.

The Margherita was unlike any margherita pizza that any of the members had ever had. It tasted like a cheese pizza. It was good; it just wasn’t a margherita – too much cheese. As we would soon find out, the pizza chef loves cheese.

We ordered two Quattro Stagiones because we wanted to make sure that people got to try more than one topping. A quattro stagione, Italian for four seasons, typically is divided into quarters with each quarter having a single different topping. Trattoria Roma’s version had five toppings and they were all mixed together. That the egg was raw was a pit of a surprise, but good ingredients, good cheese, and a good crust made a delicious pizza.

I thought the Quattro Formaggi was excellent, but the combination of the chef’s love of quantities of cheese and the fact that two of the four cheeses (blue and mascarpone) are particularly heavy, made the pizza a challenge for some to enjoy. Personally, I share the chef’s apparent belief that there really is no such thing as too much cheese.

The Pizza della Casa was Trattoria Roma at its peak. The dollops of moscarpone balanced the delicious sausage and an outstanding crust ably supported the flavorful combination. I really liked all of the pizzas, but I thought this one was unquestionably the best.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by the high quality of pizza at Trattoria Roma. I am predisposed to assuming the worst about Old Town restaurants, but since this place predates the Disnefication of the neighborhood, I should have held no such bias. Regardless, the service was good, the pizza was excellent (a new addition to my personal list of top pies in the city), and the prices were right (about $10 each). I will return again soon and hopefully get to taste some of the ricotta cheesecake made by the owner's grandmother (in very limited quantities).

Petey gives Trattoria Roma a 7.7/10.

Quattro Stagione

Pizza della Casa

Some stragglers...

A sad sight...

Where it went down...

Trattoria Roma on Urbanspoon

Gino's East [Meeting #43]

Gino's East
162 E. Superior St. (GoogleMaps)
(312) 266-3337

CPC invaded Gino's East on 7/11/07.

We made our way to this Chicago Pizza Establishment on a balmy July day and found a line that stretched out to the street. We chuckled at the suggestion of having to wait and walked towards the hostess to inform her that the Chicago Pizza Club was present and ready to be seated. The line moved pretty quickly and waiting let us get our thoughts together anyways.

Gino's was started in 1966 in its original location downtown. It was started by a group of friend's, none of whom were named Gino's. It moved to a new location in 2000 before moving back to its original location in 2006. Apparently, the stench of failure from the Planet Hollywood that occupied the temporary location was strong enough to drive them back home after some reconstruction on the site. To be fair, the River North location remains open for business and it retains the 40 years of graffiti covered booth and walls that were transplanted with the move. It is too big to have the same feel as the "new" original location and we elected to meet at the "new" original location. This chain of pizzerias is not to be confused with The Original Gino's which was on Rush street before finally closing.

OK, on to the pizza. We ordered the following:

  • Deep dish Supreme which includes sausage, onions, peppers, and mushrooms
  • Thin crust vegetarian with asparagus, mushrooms, onions, squash, zucchini, red and green peppers
Prior the arrival of our pizza, we ordered some bruschetta. It was nothing special, but the sauce was nice and chunky and was a sign of things to come. The pizzas took the standard 45 minute time to cook and arrive. The thin crust pizza was overloaded with ingredients. While a vegetarian may enjoy the pizza, I thought it was way too busy with all the toppings and lacked some salt. Additionally, the bounty of high-water content vegetables soaked the crust and made it soggy. Face it, we were all here to sample the big boy - the Deep Dish Supreme. It did not disappoint. It was similarly overloaded with ingredients, but these toppings were on a pie whose crust was able to support them. The sauce was chunky and fresh and the cheese wasn't out of proportion as we have seen in previous outings (thank you, Exchequer). The sausage, crumbled in this case, was very tasty and the crust was made from cornmeal and it held up under the weight of the ingredients. Really, I've always felt that Gino's is the baseline for a true deep dish pizza. The ingredients are fresh, it's a simple design, and I've never had one that is undercooked - it accomplishes its goal of a meal in a slice quite well.

Petey gives Gino's East a score of 7/10.

Deep Dish!

Francisco sportin' a brand new shirt...

For the vegetarians

Where it went down...

Original Gino's East on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Coalfire [Meeting #42]

1321 West Grand Ave
Tel: (312) 226-2625

CPC invaded Coalfire Wednesday, May 30

Bittersweet pizza memories will be associated with this meeting. We bid adieu (temporarily) to Michelle, Dave, Ryan, and shortly, to official CPC photohrapher Kelly. Luckily, I think finding this new pizzeria more than makes up for their departure.

Coalfire was so internet hot that it ran out of dough a few times right after its opening. LTH and Chicagoist and the papers all stoked the flames early on. It's pretty clear that there is a market for traditional pizza in this town since DOC and Spacca Napoli are always hopping. Coalfire bills itself as a Massachusetts cum Italian style cooked with a coal oven. The oven is no artwork like what you'll find at Spacca Napoli, but it gets pretty damn hot just the same.

We ordered essentially every pizza on the menu. Size-wise, unless you're really hungry most people will have some leftover with each pizza. They're perfect for sharing with one person and still leaving room for an appetizer. Our pizzas started rolling in as they were coming out of the oven; 20 minutes after our order was placed.

Speaking in generalities, the ingredients were all fresh - no cans here except for those involved in the sauce. Bari Foods supposedly contributes to the meat toppings, a positive sign. Ingredient distribution is even on all pies. None of that business where all the toppings are on one quarter of the pizza and the rest is bare. What most people have been talking about, deservedly, is the crust. It's what makes this place a destination. The edges are burnt and sooty, the inside is soft and chewy but never soggy. It's also quite consistent. We ordered 10 pizzas and all were perfectly cooked.

Briefly, the service is quick and economical. Not much rest for a busy staff and they were able to accommodate our request for a 12 person table despite what I'm sure was an inconvenience to them on a busy weeknight. Our order had no mistakes and our water glasses were full.

To our departing CPC members, fare thee well. I'm just glad I still live in Chicago and only 2 blocks away from this place. Don't feel bad guys, I'm sure you'll find great pizza in Ohio and Miami too.

Petey gives Coalfire a score of 7.325/10.

Holy Basil!

The Pizza Club does anchovies...

Coal Fire cooked goodness

Don't let the burnt crust scare you

Coalfire on Urbanspoon