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:


Wednesday, December 31, 2008

[Chicago Pizza News] Frasca Putting Pizza on Sale

In honor of the barely known and questionably real National Pizza Week (January 12-16), Frasca will offer their Neapolitan-style pies at the low price of 2 for $14. The deal includes all the toppings one is inclined to try. Pies typically start at $8 - $13 each, though with extra toppings they could be higher.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

[Special Report] Davenport's Pizza Palace

Davenport's Pizza Palace (GoogleMap)
2837 Cahaba Rd
Birmingham, AL 35223

Davenport's Pizza Palace is located in Mountain Brook, Alabama, a well-heeled, old-money suburb of Birmingham. Davenport's is consistently voted as "Birmingham's Best Pizza" by various local surveys. Chicago Pizza Club: Operation Birmingham went undercover and on the case to find out how Davenport's measured up.

The pizza place itself is a quaint pizzeria, offering thin crusts only. You can see people preparing doughs and pizzas right in the front window. There are arcade-style video games to pass the time while you wait for a table, and the wait staff generously agreed to give us six mugs of beer instead of one pitcher. After a half-hour wait, we were seated in a cozy booth. We were not given new mugs for a different kind of beer we ordered after sitting down. But the waitress did not know it was different, so we won't hold that against her.

We quickly decided on three medium pizzas: Rex's Special with onions, sausage, and green peppers; Meat Lover's with ham, sausage, and pepperoni; and Veggie with black olives, green peppers, and Roma tomatoes.

The pizzas were delivered in a timely fashion and all came out at the same time. The circular pizzas are cut into small squares, and I noticed right away that there was excellent topping distribution -- even though the squares were small, each one (for the most part) had each topping represented.

The toppings on each pizza were fair to good. The sausage was nice and one guest of the CPC noticed fennel. The Roma tomatoes were fresh, and really not bad considering that it is the middle of December. The sauce was tasty, but average. There was not too much nor too little sauce, which was appreciated.

Where Davenport's falls short is the crust. The edge of the pizza had a fair chew, but the inner parts of the pizza fell limp, and some slices were even soggy. The toppings became separated from the crust on nearly every slice I had, because the crust could not bear the weight of the toppings.

Davenport's is close to being a good pizza -- considering the decent toppings, even distribution, and tasty, if not spectacular, sauce. But the dough and the crust keep it from meeting its full potential.

- Review submitted by Amanda

[Chicago Pizza News] Stupid Man Robs Suburban Pizzeria

Pizza Cucina is a 4-store pizza chain in the far western suburbs. The westernmost location is in Wasco, an unincorporated town just past St. Charles.

Late Saturday or early Sunday, Mark Jendrzejczyk broke into Wasco Pizza Cucina and stole the cash drawers and broke some computers. When the police came to investigate, management reported that there was a car key sitting in the restaurant and a car sitting in the parking lot that nobody recognized. The key was to a Dodge and the car in the parking lot was a Dodge.

Turned out they went together and belonged to Jendrzejczyk. He was arrested and charged on Sunday afternoon.

Friday, December 26, 2008

[Chicago Pizza News] 2 Inches of Snow Means No Parking and Free Pizza

Since the Blizzard of 1967, about 500 miles of Chicago's streets have been decorated with signs that ban parking if there are more than 2 inches of snow on the ground. For more than 40 years, those signs have left Chicagoans wondering how they are supposed to measure two inches while standing in the freezing cold with no ruler.

Thanks to Pizzeria Via Stato, there is now a reason to cheer for 2 inches of snow accumulation. Starting on January 6, if there is more than 2 inches of snow downtown, every carry-out order comes with a free pizza.

Incidentally, most of the fear of the 2-inch snow parking ban is unnecessary. The City generally doesn't start towing cars from those streets unless there is a good amount more than 2 inches. Also, chances are your car will just be moved, not put in the pound.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

[Chicago Pizza News] Great Kitchens Inc. Moves Into New Romeoville Facility

Great Kitchens Inc., which produces private-label pizzas for, among others, Trader Joe's, Costco, and Wal-Mart, is expanding. The company already operated in a 40,000 square foot facility in Addison that is capable of producing as many as 200,000 pizzas per day. They have now added a 155,000 square foot facility in Romeoville.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

[Chicago Pizza News] Bobby Flay Throws Down Against Lou Malnati

Throwdown! With Bobby Flay is the Food Network show where the network tells chefs and restaurants that they are going to be profiled, but when the time comes to start filming, Bobby Flay shows up and challenges the chef to a food battle in which both people will make the chef's signature dish and then let the customer choose the winner.

New York native Flay showed up at Lou Malnati's to throw down a deep dish pizza challenge this summer. That episode will air tomorrow night, December 21, at 9:00. It will be on again at midnight and again on December 24 at 8:00. The recipe Flay uses in the challenge is here.

Art of Pizza [Meeting #72]

Art of Pizza [Map]
3033 N Ashland Ave
Chicago, IL 60657-3035
(773) 327-5600

CPC invaded Art of Pizza on 12/19/08.

At our last meeting, the members of the Chicago Pizza Club came to the realization that our social lives were no longer so exciting that the unofficial ban on weekend pizza club meetings needed to remain. Rather than being depressed about the realization that our post-college social peaks are behind us, we embraced it and immediately scheduled a Friday night meeting.

And so it was that we ended up at Art of Pizza last night. In 2001, Phil Vettel and a team of about three dozen reporters and editors from the Chicago Tribune tried deep dish and stuffed pizzas from more than 100 different Chicago area restaurants and determined that Art of Pizza has the best deep dish pizza in Chicago. Now, given that #2 was awarded to the Hyde Park location of Pizza Capri, and that both Chicago's and Exchequer were given Honorable Mention (which puts them in the top 13), it is clear that this team would not fit in well with the Chicago Pizza Club. Still, some of us knew Art of Pizza to offer a quality pie, and any place that gets high praise from Phil Vettel and thousands of pizza-eating Chicagoans is more than worthy of a visit from the CPC. And any place that is BYOB and charges no corkage fee is worthy of a visit on a Friday night.

Art of Pizza offers stuffed, pan, and thin crust pies. The nine of us split three large pizzas, one of each variety. Up first was the thin crust pizza which we got with sausage on the whole thing and giardinera on half of it (to accommodate those members with sensitive stomachs and palates). The sausage had some fennel and a noticeable amount of garlic. Texturally, it had some nice chew, but was definitely not rubbery. The giardinera, as is typically the case, was strong. Unfortunately, the giardinera overpowered the sausage, a problem that could have been fixed with either more sausage or less giardinera. The sauce, which was a little sparse on the thin crust, was well-seasoned - I'd call it zesty - and the cheese, which was generously applied, seemed to be a decent quality mozzarella.

The pan pizza arrived next. For that pizza, we went with Art's Meaty Delight, which includes sausage, bacon, ground beef, pepperoni and sliced beef. Like many pan pizzas in Chicago, this is essentially a deep dish pizza that has cheese on top instead of sauce as it comes with a crust that's at least half an inch thick. And what a crust it was. The thick, crisp, light crust at Art of Pizza is full of herbs that are not overwhelming, but are strong enough to stand up the substantial amounts of cheese, tangy sauce and, in this case, five kinds of meat. Speaking of the meats, they were all generously applied on the pizza, and while that made for a good deal of salt, the cheese and sauce were sufficient to balance things out.

Our stuffed pizza was Art's Vegetarian, which comes with mushrooms, onions, green peppers, tomato slices, broccoli and spinach. The bottom crust was almost as thick (maybe as thick) as the crust on the pan pizza, which is unique for a stuffed pizza. Given the amount of toppings that were stuffed inside this pie and the moisture that is inevitable when that many fresh vegetables are involved, that thick crust may have been necessary to prevent the pie from devolving into a wet mess. Necessary or not, the crust, which had the same herbs (and maybe oil?) as the pan pizza, was a welcome inclusion. By virtue of it being on top of the pizza and the fact that vegetables don't have as strong flavors as meat, the stuffed pizza was the one where we were most able to taste the chunky, flavorful sauce.

A couple of final notes worth mentioning. Art of Pizza gives out free liters of pop to anyone who spends over $11 pre-tax, and 2 liters for orders over $22. However, that offer is limited to take out and delivery orders. While we were disappointed by the policy, the wine we brought (BYOB!) more than made up for it. Also, Art of Pizza has a full menu beyond pizza, though I didn't notice anyone eating anything other than pizza and salad. They have lunch and dinner specials every day, but oddly for a pizzeria, not a single special involves pizza.

Petey gives Art of Pizza a 7.60625.

Art of Pizza on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Palermo's [Meeting #71]

Palermo's [GoogleMaps]
4849 W. 95th Street
Oak Lawn, IL

CPC invaded Palermo's on 12/11/08.

Palermo's is our first fan request Chicago Pizza Club Meeting. It was on our list of places to try, but since we received maybe 5 emails over the last few months suggesting we try their thin-crust pizza I moved it up on our priority list. It's been a long standing Italian restaurant in Oak Lawn for over 30 years. In that time, its thin-crust pizza has developed a following around the city as one of the best although a quick tour of less illustrious review sites reveals real "love it or hate it" opinions from other customers.

Palermo's and the nearby Italian restaurants on this stretch of 95th street all have a similar cavernous space divided into many small and cozy nooks. And they all know how to fill them up - they always seem to be operating at near maximum capacity even on a cold Thursday evening. After some drinks and chatting with one of the owners, we placed our order. We were given the options of having the pizza come out at the same time or staggered as they came out of the oven as well as a choice in our deep dish and stuffed crusts between regular, slightly burned, and slightly undercooked. We chose to have the pizzas delivered with regular crusts and asked for them to be brought out as soon as they were done baking.

We ordered:

  • Thin crust with pepperoni and mushrooms
  • Regular with pineapple and half canadian bacon
  • Stuffed with spinach
  • Deep dish with sausage and onions
The most striking thing about a pizza from Palermo's is the sauce. They use abundant amounts on their pizza and they have a very sweet sauce. You can pick up some basil and garlic in it, but it appears that it's otherwise a very smooth (texture-wise) paste-based sauce with a decidedly sweet start and finish. Overall, I think some of us found the sauce to complement the salty pepperoni quite well, but that when the pizza was topped with pineapple and Canadian bacon the whole pie became noticeably sweet. Similarly, the stuffed pizza had its sweetness tempered by what appeared to be generous sprinkles of Parmesan cheese over the sauce. Ultimately, I think our members and readers will judge Palermo's based on its sauce. It's entirely on one end of the sweet/savory scale so be warned if this will be a non-starter for you.

The toppings were perfunctory and abundant. They had a hard time standing out amidst the sauce on the pizza. I will note that it appears that the mushrooms were canned, although I personally didn't notice the canned mushroom brininess right away, and the spinach, while excellent, appeared to be frozen based on the color and way it was chopped. The cheese was the standard pizza mozzarella. I enjoyed it and found that they put on a good amount, except for the stuffed pizza which was tightly stuffed with lots of spinach. By choosing to sell four pizzas, they essentially choose to sell you four different crusts. The regular is that kind of in-between crust that you find in Chicago. I found ours to be soggy and collapsed. The thin crust is nearing the cracker thin crust of bar pizzas in Chicago and had a nice breadcrumb coating on its underside. This crust was certainly crispy and had a good crunch to it. The deep dish pizza crust was surprisingly light and crisp for a denser crust. Finally, the stuffed pizza crust did a good job of holding the heft of its contents and still being noticeable despite the avalanche of spinach. Word to the wise, they bring these pies out piping hot from the oven. Let them sit for a few minutes before digging in, maybe even longer for the stuffed pizza.

Tony and his staff made frequent stops at our table to make sure everyone was kosher. At the end of the meal, they gave us dessert wine and a platter consisting of creme brulee, tiramisu, and Nina's cake, a variation on the Italian cassata. Nina's cake was new for me, a cake with rice pudding as the filling. The pizzas came out in an appropriate time frame despite the heavy rush of diners and large volume of take-out and delivery orders. The bill came out to $14 apiece for all the pizza we could eat.

Petey gives Palermo's a 5.975

Palermo's Italian Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 15, 2008

[Chicago Pizza News] Two Pizza Chains Are Coming to Chicago

Papa Romano's, a pizza chain with 46 restaurants in Michigan and Texas, and Mr. Pita, which has 40 locations in Michigan, Texas, Florida and North Carolina, are both planning massive expansions into Illinois and Indiana.

According to Papa Romano's website, that company is also looking to expand into Colorado, Florida, New York, and North Carolina. Mr. Pita, which does sell pita pizzas, is also looking to expand to Colorado.

The restaurant chains, which are owned by the same Michigan-based company, plan on opening their first Chicago location in the summer of 2009.

[Chicago Pizza News] Anticipated New Neapolitan Pizzeria Opening is Delayed

A couple of months ago, the CPC found out that the original pizzaiola from Spacca Napoli would be opening a new pizzeria in January.

Now it appears that the opening of Franco & Nella has been delayed until at least March.

Friday, December 12, 2008

[Chicago Pizza News] Chicago Style Pizza in Beijing

This is not particularly timely, but it's still news. Here's a video of Tribune reporter Kevin Pang from The Kro's Nest, a pizzeria in Beijing that he found while covering the Olympics last summer. The restaurant sells, among other varieties, a Chicago style pizza.

Oddly, it appears than Pang is only familiar with deep dish pizza and doesn't realize that Chicago is also known for it's stuffed pies. He says, "I don't know why they call it Chicago style...It just appears to be...two layers of crust with meat and cheese stuffed inside." As you can see from the video, the slice also has tomato sauce on top. Looks like a slice of stuffed pizza to me.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

[Meet the Members] Mikel

Screen Name: mawatras

Real Name: Mikel

Came out of the Oven: In Farmington, CT

Favorite toppings: Pineapple

First Pizza Club Meeting: October 29th, 2008 at Piece

Favorite Deep Dish Pizza: Hmmm...I haven't tried too many deep dish pizzas so I'm choosing from only a handful of restaurants. I'm going with Pizzeria Due because I remember being surprisingly satisfied.

Favorite Thin Crust Pizza: Piece - no doubt.

Favorite Pizza outside of Chicago: Naples Pizza, Farmington, CT

Had Pizza in the Motherland? Yes, I've had pizza in Capri and it was delicious. I recall large circles of fresh mozzarella. Yummmmmy!

What Do You Do When Not Eating Pizza? Dream about crepes.

Personal Pizza Statement: I love eating (pizza), I love trying new things (pizzerias), and I love letting my voice be heard. This all happens at CPC and others benefit from our experiences to boot. What's better?

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Pizza By Alex [Meeting #70]

Pizza By Alex [Map]
5044 W Montrose Ave
Chicago, IL 60641
(773) 427-8900‎

CPC invaded Pizza By Alex on 12/01/08.

From deep dish pizza to stuffed pizza to the pizza puff, Chicago has been at the forefront of pizza innovation for over 50 years. But we at the CPC are not regional chauvinists; we can appreciate additions to the pizza world that did not originate here. One such welcome addition came from the California-based movement that began at Chez Panisse in 1980. When Alice Waters started putting then-goofy toppings like goat cheese and artisinal sausages on pizza, she started a movement that was soon copied by multiple California chefs. Ed LaDou was a San Francisco chef who copied Waters's pizza style while the chef at Prego. Wolfgang Puck had one of LaDou's pizzas and hired him to work at the not-yet-opened Spago. The founders of California Pizza Kitchen hired LaDou away in 1985 to create their menu and a new national pizza phenomenon was born.

Today, nontraditional toppings are commonplace throughout the land, but there is room for so much more variety, particularly if pizzerias choose to combine pizza with other ethnic culinary traditions. Pizza By Alex has done its part to fill that gap for the past five years, offering a number of Mexican-influenced options in addition to more traditional toppings. And it was the CPC's quest for chorizo pizza that brought us to Pizza By Alex for this meeting in Portage Park.

Alex Pinega learned the pizza business while working at Caponie's, where he started as a dishwasher in 1992 and quickly worked his way up to general manager in just three years. After developing his pizza-making expertise there, he founded Pizza By Alex as a carry-out pizzeria in 2004. He did well enough there that he expanded to add a sit-down restaurant in the early part of 2006.

Greeting customers who enter the restaurant is a large brick wood-burning oven that not only made pizzas, but provided us with some additional heat on what was the coldest night so far this winter. The thin crust pies, which includes their 8 special pizzas, all cook in the 500+ degree fire in that oven, while the deep dish and stuffed pies cook in a gas oven in the kitchen.

Ordinarily, the Chicago Pizza Club tries each style of pizza offered by every restaurant we visit, but we were so enamored with some of the specialty pies that we went with four thin crust pizzas one deep dish. We were not disappointed.

The crust was cooked well and had noticeable charring on the bottom. The texture was a little crisp and a lot of chew, which I think was a reflection of it being a touch thicker than is typical for wood-burning over/Neapolitan-style crusts. The extra girth was necessary to support the very generous amounts of whole milk mozzarella, fresh vegetables, and wide variety of meats.

Up first was the Pizza By Alex, which features Italian Beef, mushrooms and onions. There was ample meat which was good, but the fresh mushrooms actually had the strongest flavor. There was a very thin layer of tomato sauce on the pizza that some of us thought had little to no flavor, but others thought had a light tanginess to it.

The Pizza di Pastor had steak pastor with grilled onion and pineapple, and came with a choice of red or green sauce. We didn't specify the sauce and the pizza came with a spicy green tomatillo salsa, which was definitely the right call. The sweet pineapple provided a good balance to the spice from the salsa, and with the grilled meat made one of the more popular pizzas at the table.

The Pizza Ranchera featured chorizo, pinto beans, mushrooms, onions and a homemade chipotle sauce. The chorizo was crumbled and there was some disagreement as to how much flavor came from the meat and how much came from the chipotle sauce. Wherever the epicenter of spicy goodness was, this pizza made many Pizza Clubbers very happy. The soft pinto beans did an excellent job tempering the kick from the chipotle while adding a flavor that more than a couple of us thought was surprisingly good.

Carne Enamorada, which means in love with meat, had a whole lot of pig on it: The pizza came with bacon, ham, pepperoni, and chorizo. Italian sausage is an optional replacement for chorizo, but given how important chorizo was to the decision to go to Pizza By Alex, no serious consideration was given to Italian Sausage on this pie. As was the case with the Pizza by Alex, there was very little sauce on this one. An interesting twist to the pizza construction was that the bacon, chorizo and pepperoni were all on top of the pizza, while small pieces of ham were spread out under the cheese.

We also got one deep dish pizza - with roasted red peppers and onions. The crust, which was not thick at all, was firm and had a lot of chewiness to it. It was topped with a good inch of cheese that was filled with the onions and meaty red peppers. The sauce has more seasoning and is a little thicker than the red sauce on the thin pizza. There was a lot more sauce on the deep dish pie, but compared to other deep dish pizzas, there was very little. The deep dish pizza was well-received, but most of us were so focused on trying the different thin crust pies with the unique toppings that most people did not get to it until the latter part of the meal.

One more important detail worth noting about Pizza by Alex that is not advertised on their website: it's BYOB. And for your convenience, there's a liquor store around the corner, albeit one with a limited wine selection.

Petey Pizza gives Pizza by Alex a 6.972.

Pizza By Alex on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 13, 2008

[Chicago Pizza News] Obama's Favorite Pizza Goes To Washington, Or Does It?

Hyde Park is home to many well-known pizzerias: the original Edwardo's, the oldest still-operational Giordano's, the original Medici, an outpost of Pizza Capri, and Caffe Florian. Hyde Park residents Barack and Michelle Obama bypass all of those places to satisfy their pizza cravings in favor of the pies from Italian Fiesta Pizzeria, which is in the strip mall at the corner of 47th and Lake Park.

And now, the Ritz-Carlton in Washington DC is hosting a Presidential Inauguration expo on November 20, and they have invited the owners of Italian Fiesta Pizzeria to come to DC to make pizza for the occasion.

However, it turns out that Italian Fiesta may be going to DC under false pretenses. While Michelle Obama is on record as saying how much she likes it (and the South Shore native did grow up near the oldest location), there is no evidence that Barack Obama has ever been inside the place. More importantly, Obama is on record as telling the owner of a Chicago-style pizzeria in St. Louis called Pi that that place serves up the best pizza he's ever had. Perhaps next summer the CPC will venture to St. Louis for a Cubs/Cardinals game and do some research on our President-Elect's pizza tastes.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Connie's Pizza [Meeting #69; Meeting #16 Revisited]

Connie's Pizza [Map]
2373 S Archer Avenue
Chicago, IL
(312) CONNIES (266-6437)

CPC invaded Connie's Pizza on 11/10/08.

Most people think that U.S. Cellular Field (Comiskey Park) sits in Bridgeport; but they are mostly wrong. The original Comiskey Park (and the overwhelming majority of the current structure) actually sits in Armour Square, a long, skinny community area tucked between Bridgeport and Douglas. Armour Square gets its name from Armour Square Park, which was named after Chicago meat titan and philanthropist Philip Armour and designed by the Olmsted Brothers and Daniel H. Burnham and Co.

The Chicago Pizza Club was in Armour Square to satisfy a quest to find chorizo pizza, which allegedly exists at Fratellini Pizza & Pasta Inc. A person I spoke with at Fratellini, which has the wrong phone number listed on its website, assured me that they were open on Mondays (as their website indicates), but we arrived to a closed restaurant that has no sign indicating its hours of operation. I tried calling to find out what was going on, but the outgoing voice mail message offers nothing, not even the name of the restaurant. Odd.

Undeterred, the CPC immediately regrouped and headed to Connie's Pizza, which has been operating in the area for 50 years. In the 1950s, Raymond DeGrazia and his wife, Connie, opened a pizzeria in Bridgeport at 638 W. 26th Street. After tinkering with their pizza recipe by replacing provolone with mozzarella, Connie's pizzas quickly grew in popularity. In 1963, Jim Stolfe bought the restaurant and it has remained in the Stolfe family ever since (his son Marc now runs the company).

Forty-five years later, Connie's has established itself as one of Chicago's best-known pizzerias. In addition to the 6 Connie's restaurants and two Pazzini locations, Connie's pizza can be had at both baseball stadiums, Brookfield Zoo, and O'Hare Airport. And thanks to their fleet of ubiquitous pizza delivery trucks and frozen pizza business, Connie's can be had virtually anywhere in the City.

A couple of fun Connie's facts before getting to the pizza: Connie's allegedly paid the mob well over $100,000 in "street taxes." When Chicago passed its since-repealed foie gras ban, Connie's joined with dozens of other protesting restaurants by offering a foie gras pizza on the day the law went into effect.

The Chicago Pizza Club did not partake in foie gras pizza on this visit, but only because it was not on the menu. We did, however, have a couple of very unique pizzas. Connie's is currently running a special featuring three unique toppings that are served on a thin crust made with Old Style Beer. We opted for the chili cheese dog pizza, which includes chili con carne, slices of Vienna Beef hot dogs, mustard, shaved onion, sport peppers and both mozzarella and cheddar cheeses. Perhaps it's because this pizza was served first, but it was inhaled by the CPC. Some of the slices were missing hot dog pieces, but other than that there were no complaints about that pie, and there were a couple of raves. The crust was a little firmer and thicker than traditional Chicago thin crusts, and it held up well to the generous portion of toppings piled on. I didn't taste much flavor from the beer, though though it did add a yellowish tint to the crust.

We were so enamored with the special toppings offered on the Old Style crust, that we opted for a second one - the Italian Beef pizza, but on the regular thin crust. Toppings on that pie included Italian Beef, hot giardinera, sweet peppers, sauce, and mozzarella and provolone cheese. The well-seasoned meat was not wet like most Italian Beef, but that was probably a good think as traditional Italian Beef would turn any crust into a soggy mess.

Up next was Connie's most famous pizza - a middleweight crust with sausage. This is the pizza that is sold at both baseball stadiums, the United Center, O'Hare Airport, Brookfield Zoo and every other non-pizzeria location I've seen Connie's. The crust is about half an inch thick and is more like bread than the kind of crust typically found on deep dish pizza. The pizza comes with a generous supply of sausage, which was had a pretty strong fennel flavor, but a texture that a couple of us noted screamed mass production.

On our deep dish pizza, we went for pepperoni. The deep dish crust is identical in texture to the middleweight, only it is about twice as thick. The pepperoni seemed to me to be a little thicker slices than is common, but other than that was indistinguishable from most pepperonis out there. The sauce on the deep dish and the middleweight was thick, but not chunky. It was neither noticeably tangy nor sweet, but rather a solid basic pizza sauce.

The final pizza we ordered was a very unique stuffed crust. Typically a stuffed pizza consists of a normal bottom crust about 1/4 inch thick and a paper thin top crust that is often indistinguishable from the thick layer of cheese it covers and unnoticeable due to the sauce that sits on top of it. Connie's top crust is just as thick as the bottom crust. They offer the stuffed pizza two different ways - with sauce on top as is done everywhere else, or what they call the "original 26th street style" with the sauce on the side. We opted for the latter, and we got it stuffed with ham, bacon, and cheddar cheese (in addition to, not instead of mozzarella).

The service we received was fantastic. Perhaps it's because Stelios blew our cover by announcing to the host when we got there that we are the Chicago Pizza Club and would be blogging about the meal, but the staff was incredibly attentive. There were twelve of us present and, unprompted, Connie's asked us if we wanted our pizzas cut into more than the normal 8 pieces so everyone could try each of them. I think that's the first time that has happened in the history of the CPC and it was much appreciated.

Petey Pizza gives Connie's a 5.37.

Hope we ordered enough...

The Sausage Pizza, as seen at many a sporting event and music festival...

The Stuffed Pizza with Ham, Bacon and Cheddar...

Italian Beef Pizza on an Old Style crust...

Deep Dish with Pepperoni...

The Chili Cheese Dog Pizza...

Italian Beef up close and personal...

The Chicago Pizza Club hard at work...

Where it went down...

Fred enjoys some leftovers...

Connie's Pizza on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 07, 2008

[Special Report] Santarpio's Pizza

Santarpio's Pizza (GoogleMap)
111 Chelsea Street
East Boston, MA

While on a recent trip to Boston for a wedding, my food-loving friends and 2 members of CPC decided to make a trip to Santarpio's Pizza in East Boston near the airport. Prior to my trip to Boston, I had never given thought to their pizza culture. If I had, I likely would have suspected that the overwhelming number of Irish descendants in this city would make for poor fare. This was not the case: East Boston has historically been an enclave of Italian immigrants. In recent years it has become populated by Central American immigrants, but there are still many signs of the prior Italian majority. Santarpio's opened in 1933 and has regularly been listed as one of Boston's best pizzerias by local publications. Today, it still remains a family business and in its original building. Frank Santarpio would be proud.

This is obviously a small restaurant with a local and outsider following alike. We had no wait when we arrived, but when we left an hour later there was a line 15 people deep outside the restaurant. As you can see below, the menu is not comprehensive. They serve two items: pizza and skewered meat. We opted for both. The servers seem way too busy to chit-chat and they expect you to order as soon as you take your seat. We ordered one special pie with hot peppers, garlic, pepperoni and italian cheese and a combination of Italian sausage and lamb skewers served with peppers.

The skewers were variable. The lamb was slightly overcooked and the sausage was just right. There was nothing particularly unique about each one with regards to seasoning, but the peppers were outstanding. They were mildly hot and acidic and were an excellent counterpoint to the skewers. One note about the skewers; I'm not sure how well tended they are while they sit over the fire. As I hinted before, I think this might cause a lot of variability in how "done" your meats are when they arrive at your table.

The pizza was very good, much to my surprise. As I mentioned before, I wasn't expecting much. The crust was probably the best part of the pizza. It was thin and the edges held up very well. The center had lots of loose cheese and toppings and mine actually kind of fell apart. The edges that were not weighed down with ingredients were like very good bakery-fresh bread: light but with good chew and perfectly baked. The pepperoni was outshined by the garlic and hot peppers, but the real star was the sauce and crust anyways. The cheese was, I think, a mixture of two cheeses that I could not distinguish. The sauce was slightly spicy with good acidity to it and in abundant quantities. For the chunky sauce fans, sorry, this place was more of a paste. And lastly, I should mention the oven. It is a brick oven, but sadly I did not venture into the kitchen to photograph it.

I think that when I next go to Boston, I would be interested in checking out other pizza places that are reputed to be excellent. They may or not be as good as advertised. But I would be even more happy to grab a table at Santarpio's where I know the pizza is good, plus I can also get a lamb skewer with those delicious spherical peppers.

The Menu with a nice picture of Frank...

Umm... THAT'S not pizza...but check out those peppers!

Ok, that's more like it...

El Presidente goes in for the kill...

Kate and El Presidente look dazed in the afterglow...

Thursday, November 06, 2008

[Chicago Pizza News] Two New Pizzerias and an Additional Location for Another

Last week, Chicago Magazine's on-line "Dish" reported that Trattoria Trullo, formerly of Evanston and now in Lincoln Square (4767 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-506-0093), is adding a mini pizzeria on December 10 in the front of the restaurant. The owner says they will be offering pizza as it's made in his hometown of Puglia, Italy, which he says is thinner and crisper than Neapolitan pies.

The same article also reveals that My Pie has officially given up on finding a new Lincoln Park location, but will be opening a new location right by the Metra stop in Northbrook.

This week's Dish reports that the wood-burning Neapolitan pizza craze has grown again with the opening of Antica Pizzeria in Andersonville (5663 N. Clark St.; 773-944-1492). Mario Rapisarda, the Sicilian-born chef/owner, is a veteran of Spiaggia.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Piece Brewery & Pizzeria [Meeting #68; Meeting #19 Revisited]

Piece Brewery & Pizzeria [Map]
1927 W. North Ave.
Chicago, IL

CPC invaded Piece Brewery & Pizzeria on 10/28/08.

Bill Jacobs knows his breads. After the New Haven native and his brother sold their eponymous Jacobs Brothers Bagels, he started up a pizzeria based on the pies of his youth. And since the doors opened to Piece Brewery & Pizzeria, the place has been an unqualified success. Even now, the Wicker Park eatery does so well that they don't take reservations for groups of less than 10 and they take no reservations after 7 on Friday or 6 on Saturday.

Traditionally, New Haven pizza is cooked in a coal oven, has an oblong shape, and features a thick crust. Well, thick for a thin crust pizza; not nearly as thick as deep dish. Piece gets two out of three of those - there is no coal oven there. However, the rotating shelves in the gas oven get hot enough that there is actually some char on the crust, leaving a crisp and very chewy crust that is ready to hold up whatever toppings you choose to put on it. As I said, the man knows bread.

But before getting to the toppings, one must first choose what style of pizza they want. Piece serves up three distinct categories. Red is the most familiar - like most pizzas, it has tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. A white pizza also has mozzarella, but adds olive oil and garlic and eliminates the sauce. The plain pizza has tomato sauce, Parmesan and garlic and does not have mozzarella. Of course, the Chicago Pizza Club had to try them all.

Up first were a pair of red pies, one with sausage and one with bacon and onions. The sauce, which was plentiful, had a light sweetness and was full of small chunks of tomato. The juicy sausage had a strong garlic flavor; I didn't notice much fennel at all. The only criticism anyone had of the sausage pizza was that there was not enough sausage, a sentiment expressed by a few Pizza Clubbers in attendance. Quantity of toppings was definitely not a problem with the bacon and onion pizza. There were a lot of thinly sliced onions that appeared like they might overwhelm that pie. But the bacon had no problem standing up to the onions, and the thick, flavorful crust and generous helping of tomato sauce balanced it all out to make one very well-received pizza.

On our white pizza (mozzarella, olive oil and garlic), we opted for artichoke hearts. As was the case with the sausage, there was a noticeable lack of toppings on this pizza (at least by Chicago standards - East Coast pizzerias tend to focus more on the crust than the toppings). What wasn't lacking was the garlic - there was a whole lot of it on this pizza. Fortunately, the CPC has a good number of garlic fans, so there were no complaints at all about the garlic levels.

Finally, on our plain pizza (sauce, Parmesan and garlic), we honored Piece's Connecticut roots and ordered a pizza with clams. The white clam pie was invented at Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana in New Haven a little over 80 years ago. We opted to get the clams on a red pizza instead of a white one - not sure if that is a major cultural faux pas or not. I do know that judging by the pace the various pizzas disappeared, the clam pie was the least favorite of the four pizzas. That said, when the CPC went to La Madia a few weeks ago, the clam pizza there was also the consensus least favorite. Perhaps we just not a clam-loving bunch. And that's not to say we did not enjoy it - the CPC left nothing behind for starving children in Africa on this visit.

After polishing off four pizzas, we ordered pizza for dessert. Chocolate pizza! Allegedly inspired by Rachael Ray and Piece co-owner Rick Nielsen, the chocolate pizza consists of Piece's regular pizza crust topped with a homemade chocolate hazelnut sauce (think Nutella, only better) and a small amount of mascarpone cheese. Hot, chewy pizza crust covered in that sauce made for one very popular dessert.

No review of Piece Brewery & Pizzeria would be complete without mention of Piece's beer. Brewer Jonathan Cutler has been with Piece since the beginning and has piled up an impressive number of awards over the last few years, including the 2005 World Beer Cup Champion Small Brewery and Brewmaster Award.

Petey Pizza gives Piece a 7.81.

The Sausage Pizza...

White Pizza with Artichokes...


AJ digs in...

I guess they brew beer or something too...

The Mighty Oven...

The Chocolate Pizza!

Where it went down...

Piece on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 23, 2008

[Chicago Pizza Interview] Leo Spizzirri

Giordano's, probably the best known purveyor of stuffed pizza in the world, has been using largely the same recipe since it was started by the Boglio brothers in the mid-1970s. The man currently responsible for making sure Giordano's stays on top of its game is Leo Spizzirri, Executive Chef. I sat down with him recently at his office, which is Giordano's biggest location, on the corner of Rush and Superior. He filled me in on Giordano's, pizza history, and the World Pizza Champions.

The son of Italian immigrants, Leo grew up in the Chicago area. He learned how to make pizza in teglia (an Italian precursor of stuffed pizza) from his family and he learned how good stuffed pizza is thanks to the Nancy's that was across the street from his house.

Largely self-trained as a chef, Spizzirri has studied pizza-making under some Italian masters, including classes at Scuola Italiana Pizzaioli (Google-translated version is here), where he studied under Grazzaino Bertuzzo.

A little over a year ago, he came to Giordano's as Executive Chef. He filled me in on some of what makes Giordano's pizza so good. The crust features high gluten flower and is allowed to rise for 3-5 days (4 being ideal) before it is made into pizza. The cheese, toppings and sauce are all fresh. Giordano's gets its whole milk mozzarella in large chunks and shreds it themselves, ensuring the cheese has the proper moisture when cooked. The toppings are all fresh, as are the tomatoes that are used to make the sauce.

A number of Giordano's restaurants are franchisees, but none of those are in the City of Chicago. And even the franchises are subject to oversight from Spizzirri, who cites consistency of product as one of the most important functions of his job.

Spizzirri has done so well at Giordano's that Tony Gemignani, one of the founders of the World Pizza Champions, invited him to join the team. That team is the winningest team at the annual World Pizza Championships in Salsomaggiore Terme in Parma, Italy. As Leo put it, they are the Yankees of the World Pizza Championships. This April, thanks to lobbying by Spizzirri and his teammates, stuffed pizza will be allowed in the pizza in teglia category. Many at the competition are unhappy at this development since it's not a traditional pizza style, and Spizzirri has no expectations of winning the category. But once they get a taste of his Chicago pies, who knows what will happen?

I did learn one shocking piece of information about Leo Spizzirri. Despite his upbringing and his job, Leo's favorite place to grab pizza is Chi-Town Pizza, a New York-style pizzeria that I thought was primarily there to serve partiers leaving Division Street bars. Actually, that may its primary purpose, but Spizzirri swears they have great pizza. Of course, the pizza he eats most often is Giordano's, which he says he eats three times a day for "quality control."

Pizza D.O.C. [Meeting #67; Meeting #11 Revisited]

Pizza D.O.C. [GoogleMaps]
2251 W Lawrence
Chicago, IL

CPC invaded Pizza D.O.C. on 10/15/08.

Pizza D.O.C. is now the grizzled veteran of Chicago's Neapolitan-style pizzerias. There are other Italian restaurants scattered throughout the city that also make pizza, but among those who are best known for their pizza, D.O.C. is the longest running. We originally came here 3 years ago and gave it largely mixed reviews. While we appreciated the quality of ingredients, there were complaints about soggy crusts and low quantity of toppings. Now, after having recently reviewed Coalfire, La Madia, and Spacca Napoli we return to our original Chicago Neapolitan destination.

We ordered 6 pizzas

  • Margherita
  • Quattro Formaggi (bleu, mozzarella, swiss, parmesan)
  • Boscaiola (sausage)
  • Fiorentina (salami and roasted peppers)
  • Gustosa (egg, asparagus, ham, and parmesan cheese)
  • Asparagi e Caprino (asparagus and goat cheese)
The pizzas came out as the were ready and they started coming out 20 minutes after we ordered them. The oven is a less stylish version of the beautiful oven at Spacca Napoli, but it does the job and fits multiple pizzas during busy dinner and lunch rushes. A good rule of thumb with this style of pizza is to wait a few minutes when the pizza arrives before eating it. This accomplishes two things: one, it gives the pizza a chance to cool and not burn the hell out of your mouth and two, it allows the ingredients a chance to cool from liquid mess to melted solids and the crust stiffens a bit as well. Unfortunately, I was hungry and burned my mouth.

In general, I think we were fairly pleased with our pizza. The crust was not hard and dried out although they were a little too liberal with the dry flour they put on the plates to keep the pizza from sticking. I kept tasting it throughout the evening. The pizza was sliced for us, which seems like a mundane thing until you go to a restaurant that doesn't do it and you end up operating on your pizza with a dull blade. The sauce, when present, was again barely noticeable. The asparagus was great I think it works better when it's chopped up as opposed to the more aesthetically pleasing but less practical whole spears used at La Madia. And the prior complaints I logged about lack of toppings seems to now be satisfied; the sausage pizza in particular had a great sausage that completely covered the cheese canvas.

Maybe this place has improved somewhat from our last visit or, more likely, our tastes have opened up a bit. In any case, another successful meeting at a very good neighborhood pizzeria. While some consider this a destination pizzeria, with so many other options in town I don't think that's true. Certainly a good pizza, but no longer the only game in town.

Petey gives Pizza D.O.C. a 6.5

The Pizza Oven...

Waiting for some deliciousness...

The Fiorentina Pizza...

The Gustosa Pizza...

The Asparagus and Goat Cheese...

What a spread...

Where it went down...

Pizza D.O.C. on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

[Chicago Pizza History] Marc Kelly Smith's "Deep Dish Chicago"

Marc Kelly Smith invented the poetry slam in Chicago in the 1980s.

In 2005, he married his craft to another one of Chicago's gifts to the world when he debuted his poem, "Deep Dish Pizza" at a press conference for Stirring Things Up in Chicago, a citywide culinary and arts festival.

Here it is:

Chicago: the deep dish city of deep dish people
Everybody’s juices bubblin’ & sizzlin’ & spittin’ inside.

And a crust that can be thick, when it needs to be thick
When it gets poked and fingered and belittled
And cast off as just another second-city helping,
a flatlander’s windy cheese.

But we know better, we who live this city and love its people,
know that it’s SECOND TO NONE when it comes to a slice
Of authenticity, genuine no BS … “Skip the pretense, pal.”
“Hey, you ain’t puttin’ that pomposity into my pizza pie, amigo!”

Second to none when it comes
To feeding a vision of “yes” to no small dreams
Of can do. Go for it. Make it happen.

And then, stand back and watch the worlds beyond our crust
Try to lay claim to the juices we cooked up,
That we brought to life, that we passed on as a gift of nutrition,
For those who hungered for a spirit like ours.

So here’s duh scoop: This deep dish of “do it” comes from us,
From our city and our people …
“Hey Lou, tell the poet, ‘Enough talk, let’s eat!’”
When I emailed Smith to ask for a copy of the poem he told me a couple of great stories:
The Speak’Easy Ensemble provided back-up vocals to my front performance as they emerged from the back of the audience accenting and echoing sections of the poem, and causing a little stir amongst the dignitaries, politicians, and reporters not use to slam anarchy and in-audience poetic presentations. On the last lines, however, some of those same stone-faced politicians were teary eyed with civic pride and sentimentality … and when a Lou Malnati’s pizza was delivered at the cue line “Let’s eat!” a little roar of pleasure went up and we devoured the deep dish reality.

Following the ceremony and throughout the summer copies of the poem were delivered to about one hundred thousand people inside Lou Malnati pizza boxes. Not one person ever told me that they noticed the poem included with their pizza delivery, not even my son, Carl, who ordered pizzas from Malnati’s on a regular basis. Positive proof that pizza ranks higher than poems when Chicago’s appetites are considered.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

[Chicago Pizza News] New Neapolitan Pizzeria is Coming to Chicago

Fans of the original Spacca Napoli can rejoice. According to Chicago Magazine, Spacca Napoli's first pizzaiola is opening a new, 110-seat Neapolitan menu in Lincoln Park in January.

Nella Grassano and her husband Frank are joining forces with Scott Harris, owner of Mia Francesca, to open Nella Pizzeria Napoletana at 2423 N. Clark in the former home of Fiesta Mexicana.

This place is so serious about their pies that they are bringing in real live Italians to build the oven.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

[Chicago Pizza News] Jersey Boys to Give Away Free Pizza

On Tuesday, October 14 from noon to one, as part of the one-year anniversary of Jersey Boys in Chicago, Broadway in Chicago and TheatreDreams will be giving away 4,000 slices of Home Run Inn Pizza at four different downtown locations:

* Bank of America Theatre (18 W. Monroe St.)
* Couch Place – James M. Nederlander Way (State St. between Lake and Randolph)
* Pioneer Court (401 N Michigan Ave)
* Illinois Center Plaza (111 E. Wacker)

Since Home Run Inn slices are usually squares, it's unclear whether people will actually be getting slices, but that's the word the press release is using.

Folks who attend the Tuesday evening performance of Jersey Boys will also be treated to Home Run Inn Pizza, Eli's Cheesecake and Coke. That performance is not currently sold out and can be purchased here.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

La Madia [Meeting #66]

La Madia
59 W. Grand Avenue
Chicago, IL 60610

CPC invaded La Madia on 9/23/08.

Oh God. Not again. Another place that insists on making traditional Neapolitan-influenced pizza? Like many other notable new pizzerias in town, La Madia presents itself as a slight update to the Neapolitan method of pizza-making. Where it detours from Spacca Napoli and Coalfire is in its swanky decor and River North location (former site of the excellent Jazz Showcase) and its aim to be a hip restaurant where you can expect excellent wine during and after your meal when lounging and looking cool. It manages to do all of these things in a fairly relaxed atmosphere to the credit of its staff. They look better than you, but don't make you feel too bad about it. Self-consciously, I did end up wearing a collared shirt to try and fit in.

Chef Johnathan Fox opened up his new restaurant after working for the Maggiano's chain in an executive position and it quickly gained good press and word of mouth. Like all good pizza chefs, he roamed the world tasting and analyzing, experimenting and perfecting his craft. The staples of any good pizza are the focus here: freshness, quality ingredients, and homemade sauces and dough along with some creative combinations. Digging deeper than the Neo-Nea pizza overlay reveals a full restaurant that has already impressed us once before with its Monthly (now bimonthly due to demand) Chef's Table a few months ago. But this is Chicago Pizza Club, damn it, and while I like scallops as much as the next guy, now we're ready to talk about some pie! As you might expect, there is no stuffed or pan pizza here. Chef Fox makes up for it by unwittingly disguising a pan pizza as a calzone. However, this great treat was not on the dinner menu. We requested one anyways, but were informed this was not a possibility. Not wanting to leave his customers less than fully satisfied, Fox produced a free pepperoni pizza for us and personally brought it to our table. The restaurant was busy, but certainly not at full capacity. We were somewhat surprised that our pizza took 28 minutes to come out considering how little cooking time they require. This is slower than many thin crust pizzas around town by 10 minutes, but ended up being a minor point in the end even if half of our members were gnawing on their napkins.

We ordered 6 pizzas and received a bonus one from the chef:

  • Triple Pepperoni, Tomato Sauce & Mozzarella Cheese, finished with White Truffle Oil
  • House-Made Fennel Sausage, Tomato Sauce with Mozzarella Cheese
  • Roasted Asparagus, Sweet Onions, Pecorino Toscano & Oregano
  • White Clams with Sweet Chili Peppers, Fresh Herbs
  • Seasonal Wild Mushrooms, Pecorino
  • Taleggio and Vin Santo Roasted Grapes
  • Mozzarella di Bufala Campana, Tomato Sauce & Torn Basil
There's a lot to talk about here because these weren't all pizzas that have the same sauce, crust, and cheese with the only variation coming in the form of toppings. I don't think the crust ever changes, but some pies have sauce and some have none, mozzarella is not the only cheese used, and this isn't a simple topping change from mushrooms to onions. The multiple toppings on each pizza are designed to complement each other.

The crust is artfully cooked and there's not much to say. There is the background of appropriately charred bitterness in the flavor profile and the combination of chewiness and crispness is really well-balanced and was reproduced throughout all our pizza. The sauce is similarly well-balanced, fresh, and colorful when present. I think many of us would love to have this sauce present in greater quantity on the pizzas, but I wonder if the crust could support more. As a broad overview of toppings, I'll say that all of them were top-notch and that the pairings were in harmony. I will comment on the excellent sausage made at La Madia. If the over-powering fennel flavor in many sausages turns you off, this may be where you should turn. Although there is fennel in his sausage, and a good amount of garlic, it doesn't hijack the great natural flavor of the pork, which is the real highlight. The pork manages to be both meaty and fatty without giving that uncomfortable feeling of chewing on a piece of gristle. I can only assume this is from purchasing better quality meat to use in making sausage. Whatever you may think of pepperoni, it's undeniable that in the great majority of pizzerias you would be hard-pressed to distinguish between their pepperoni, likely because they use the same product. This one is very salty (in a great way) and has enough spice to never let your tongue relax. You have to like pepperoni to order this pizza here because it has LOTS of pepperoni and it will dominate your palate. I'll leave discussion of the rest of the toppings to members' comments.

All in all, I wish we had more members at this meeting so we could have ordered every single pizza because it was just that good. We were all very satisfied and left feeling uncomfortable with our waistbands, a surefire sign of satisfied clientele. Don't wince when you see La Madia is a take on Neapolitan pizza - just sit down and prepare to enjoy it.

Petey Pizza gives La Madia a 9.03.

The Chicago Pizza Club enjoying the ambience...

Hard at work in the kitchen...

Oh... Sausage!

Wild Mushrooms...

Mozzarella di Bufala Campana, Tomato Sauce & Torn Basil...

Taleggio and Vin Santo Roasted Grapes...

Kelly shows off the White Clams with Sweet Chili Peppers, Fresh Herbs Pizza...

Roasted Asparagus, Sweet Onions, Pecorino Toscano & Oregano...

Missy has something in her teeth...

How much Pepperoni? Triple Pepperoni!

Where it went down...

La Madia on Urbanspoon