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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


  1. I really enjoyed the flavorful chewy crust, and all of the toppings were high quality. More sausage is necessary. A lot more. As in next time, I'd request two orders of sausage on one pizza and that would not be close to too much. I'd have liked a little more tang in the sauce. Still, these were some very, very good pizzas. I give Piece a 7.5.

  2. Okay, I just tried to post a comment and the computer whigged out, so this is an abbreviated version of what was intended.

    1. Bacon and Onion: bacon always makes things better. It was evenly distributed in small pieces. Onions were cooked, and added good flavor.

    2. Artichoke: i'm not normally a fan of "white" pizzas but the cheese was very good and so were the artichokes, although there could have been more of them.

    3. Chocolate: amazing, melty, chewy, gooey, buttery goodness.

    4.Sausage: sausage was good, but on my slice, there was only one piece. sausage distribution was uneven, but sauce was flavorful and not overwhelming.

    5. Clams: maybe I'm just not that into clams. Maybe I squeezed the lemon a little too hard. It wasn't "bad," but it didn't grab me.

    Overall, a nice crust with a good give on the chew, sauce was good and used economically, the pies weren't overly sauced, service was pretty good too. 7.75

  3. I was a big fan of the crust last night, which it seems is what Piece is going for. The crusts had a nice flavor and seemed to be both sturdy and chewy. I enjoyed all three different styles of pizza, with the sausage pizza being my favorite of the evening. And I have to say, I think the clam pizza was a close second, but I did think it could've used more clam coverage. Piece was a nice change of pace from the string of Neapolitan pizzerias we've been to lately. I'd happily make a return visit to Piece, and in my book they get a solid 7.5

  4. Piece sure does know how to make an excellent crust. It's chewy. It's not burnt. It's solid. All of the pizzas were good in terms of quality ingredients. One flaw - toppings were unevenly distributed. I had two pieces of the clam pizza because I couldn't taste the clams on the first slice. Maybe I squeezed too much lemon, but all I could taste was tomato sauce (which I must say was delicious...simple, tart, nice texture of small bits of tomato)...no clams. Next up, bacon and onion pizza. I got a good dose of onions, but not much bacon. My sausage slice also had one decent sized hunk of meat in the center but I would've enjoyed more. Lastly but not leastly, the white pizza with artichoke hearts packed the most punch. Garlic!

    Conventional pizza can tend to get greasy and heavy with loads of cheese, but Piece manages to create a pie with proportional sauce and cheese coverage that allows one to go back for more and more without feeling clogged arteries. Also, although cheese is one of my favorite things, I like that they offer the plain pizza for a welcomed change.

    My suggestion is that whether you order the red, plain or white pizza, get at least two toppings, because they're not very generous.

    Piece gets an 8.

  5. I don't really find a crippling weakness in the pizza at Piece that makes me want to dock it heavy points. I think this is easily among my favorite crusts. Whatever complaints we've had about other places, including being too dry, too dense, or lacking even an iota of flavor are not valid with this crust.

    As others have mentioned, and indeed as the owner of the restaurant told us himself, there WAS a lack of toppings on some of our pies. Still, this didn't really ruin the pizza because the cheese, sauce, crust, and whatever sparse topping there was were so good that I wasn't going to moan about missing some sausage chunks.

    Well, ok, maybe I will. The sausage was very good and I wish there was more of it. There.

    If you live in town, you know that this place fills up quickly. The food is great, the beer is even better, and there are many TVs to watch the game. Business is brisk here. Also, on the weekends they have live band karaoke and when I came here for that spectacle Rick Nielsen (of Cheap Trick) came onstage to play "Surrender" for some lucky audience member to sign along with.

    My score is 8.6 and I eat here regularly.

  6. A simple pie requires near perfect execution. "Piece" nearly pulled it off ... which is good enough. The sausage pizza lacked punch. This could have been attributed primarily to the sparse sausage or sauce. The other three were brilliant... particularly the artichoke white pie, with hints of butter and garlic. All in all, good crust. Cheese was deliberately sparse, yet spot on. Excellent beer, although I found the English-style ale to be a bit too bubbly for my taste. I will definitely be back. 7.0/10.

  7. IF you like thin crust pizza this is a good place to go. You will not see the "chicago style" deep dish but you will have a filling thin crust pizza with some interesting choices in toppings and healthy options in terms of sauce and cheese. Like any other place Piece offers a wide spectrum of toppings (ex. clams on pizza). But this place being so busy is somewhere you can trust the clams have not been sitting in the fridge (or can?) for months. That being said I am not a fan of seafood on my pizza. The crust on the each of the pizzas was great. This same crust was on our dessert pizza as well which comes highly recommended. The toppings were good but sparse. Overall I give Piece a 7.5/10.

  8. Piece is one of my favorite thin crust pizzas in Chicago. The crust is flavorful, airy on top, crispy on the bottom, and has good texture. The sauce has a rich tomato flavor, and the toppings are good. They serve the best clam pizza I've had in Chicago, and they get their bacon just right. I love the garlic levels. And while I agree the sausage pizza needed more sausage, I actually liked the artichoke distribution. It is similar to the artichoke pizza at La Madia, with the artichoke leaves broken apart and spread out so the flavor is more subtle. I also like biting into a big artichoke heart, but this variation is a bit more delicate and lets you taste the garlic, Parmesan, and artichoke all together.

    And I have to add that I love their microbrews and live band karaoke on Saturday nights. Ric Nielsen even performs sometimes!


  9. >>"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"<<

    Don't know if it's a cultural faux pas, but New Haven Pizzerati would have ordered clam on white, not red. And, next time: try clam + bacon. Not exactly for the kosher crowd, but ... yum.