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:


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Nella Pizza Napoletana [Meeting #90]

Nella Pizzeria Napoletana
2423 N. Clark Street (GoogleMaps)
Chicago, IL

CPC invaded Nella Pizzeria Napoletana on 12/17/09.

Nella Grassano has become a Chicago foodie superstar. After gaining much notice with her time as Spacca Napoli's original pizzaiola, she left with plans to open her own restaurant. A product of both current trends and the success at Spacca Napoli left Grassano looking at much more crowded field when she made her return to the scene. However, she has one characteristic that a lot of the newer places making Neapolitan or Neapolitan-inspired pizza lack; she's actually Italian. Not only that, but she comes from a pizza-making Italian family. She's been making pizzas since she was a child. Not only that, but she has an Italian accent when speaking English. Chicago waited with bated breath until she opened at the end of November.

With the closing of nearby My Pie, there was a pizza void in Lincoln Park for a restaurant that could seat over 100 people. As always, the oven draws your eyes and is beautifully decorated. CPC member and Slice contributor MCH has written an excellent piece on the craftsmanship of the oven. It has been open for a few weeks now and, from what we could tell, is running smoothly. They take reservations for groups of ten people or more and they have a semi-private back room by the oven that can accommodate two large groups. While you wait, enjoy their complimentary fried dough available near the entrance. We were seated quickly and gazed upon the menu. After a few drinks - they have a variety of wines and a lackluster beer list with the usual Italian offerings - we ordered the following pizzas:

  • Bufalina - tomato sauce, buffalo mozzarella, olive oil, and basil
  • Diavola - tomato sauce, mozzarella, olive oil, basil, spicy salami, red chili flakes
  • Funghi e Salsiccia - tomato sauce, mozzarella, mushrooms, sausage, olive oil, and basil
  • Mare e Monti - tomato sauce, mozzarella, porcini mushrooms, baby shrimp, parsley, and olive oil
  • Napoli - tomato sauce, anchovies, olive oil, mozzarella, and olive oil
  • Vesuvio, a layered stuffed pizza - ricotta, tomato sauce, mozarella, mushrooms, arugula, prosciutto, parmesan, basil, and olive oil
  • The special, which was the Sorrentino (white pie with arugula, olive oil, cherry tomatoes, basil, and buffalo mozzarella) with sweet salami added
As you would expect, the pizza comes out rather quickly and uncut. They provide you with pizza cutters so you can cut it as you wish. I wish they had just been cut for us, but it was nice to appreciate it before it was cut and also to have the option to cut it as we wished. Perhaps they gave it to us because we were in such a large group.

I'll comment on my favorite pizza, the Diavola. It features an incredibly tasty salami that would be a great meal with just some bread. It is generously distributed across the pizza with chunks of fresh mozzarella cheese. The crust has a buttery/oil flavor and just a hint of salt. This noticeable role of a fat in the crust is what made it so great. It was perfectly cooked and didn't overwhelm any of the toppings. It was crisp on the outside, soft and airy on the inside with balanced texture. This pizza is surprisingly spicy and as a fan of spicy food, I loved this departure from the usual flavors of Neapolitan pizza. Her sauce is just tomatoes with a small amount of salt. The San Marzano tomatoes don't really need much else to be an excellent acidic counterpoint to the cheese, bread, and meats on her pizza.

The Vesuvio is her foray into "stuffed" pizza. Probably my least favorite pizza, it had some solid components that didn't come together. It's a mix between a calzone and pot pie. Essentially, the stuffing becomes a soupy mixture that is difficult to eat. I can overlook that, but it was also my least favorite topping combination. The ricotta and mozzarella became very clumpy. Also, ours was very asymmetrical. This is not typically a big deal, particularly in this style of pizza, but it did cause the crust to cook unevenly at different parts. We did not get the expected puffy pizza which would be popped at our table. Rather, we got a semi-deflated pizza topped with a drizzle of olive oil. I do wish I had tried the calzones, because at La Madia I prefer the lunchtime calzones to their excellent pizza. I suspect Grassano's calzones are likely on the same level of quality as her pizza.

The Bufalina deserves some mention because it is essentially her margherita with buffalo mozzarella substituted for regular mozzarella. The more prominent flavor of the buffalo cheese worked well with the other simple ingredients and crust. This was probably my second favorite pizza of the night because she lets the melted cheese and sauce, which were all over the pie, be the showcase.

The service was attentive and non-intrusive during our 90 minutes at the restaurants. We ordered a variety of desserts including the canoli, pana cotta, tartufo, and profiteroles. I only tried two of them, but they were outstanding and a great cap to the evening. I think most people with a healthy appetite can eat one entire pizza by themselves. On a night with a restaurant at capacity, our food was at our table within 10 minutes of ordering. Anticipating a favorable response to the first location, a second restaurant is already in the works for Taylor Street.

Nella Pizzeria Napoletano is an excellent restaurant with some great pizzas outshining a few other offerings. They do have a liquor license and feature a nice selection of wines and a passable beer list. I felt that the Vesuvio is a mis-step on an otherwise solid menu. However, the best pizzas here were almost flawless and I plan to come back to try more pizza as well as some of their pasta and appetizers.

Nella Pizzeria Napoletana on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Antica Pizzeria [Meeting #89]

Antica Pizzeria
5663 N Clark St [GoogleMaps]
Chicago, IL
(773) 944-1492‎

CPC invaded Antica Pizzeria on 12/9/09.

The Andersonville neighborhood on Chicago's Northside is no stranger to good restaurants. In October 2008, native Sicilian Mario Rapisarda opened Antica Pizzeria and it competes with the best Andersonville has to offer, including the much-lauded Great Lake a few blocks away.

Our group of ten was comfortably seated in the small dining room. While the furnishings are non-descript, the wood-burning ovens give a warm honey glow which was especially welcome on a snowy winter night. We could actually see our pizzas cooking in the ovens.

We ordered nine pies:

  • Fattarosa (Italian ham, hard-boiled eggs, English peas, mushrooms, and fresh mozzarella)
  • Homemade Fennel Sausage
  • Pistachio and Prosciutto
  • Margherita (fresh mozzarella, basil, tomato sauce)
  • Asparagus and Mushroom
  • Funghi (white pizza, fresh mozzarell and mushrooms)
  • Parma (fresh mozzarella, shaved parmesan cheese, cherry tomatoes, fresh arugula, prosciutto de Parma)
  • Padania (caramelized onions, tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella)
  • Daily Special, which was the Pizza Maldonado, featuring fennel sausage, marinara sauce, mushrooms and salami.
The first three came out about ten minutes after ordering, and the remaining pies came shortly thereafter two or three at a time. The pizzas are Neapolitan style, about 12-inches in diameter. The crusts generally had some charring along the outer edges, but not as much as you might find at other places. The crust was thin, but still had a noticeably chewy texture that became much softer toward the middle.

Although all the pizzas were good, a few were standouts: the Caramelized Onion, the Fattarosa, and the Pistachio and Prosciutto. The Caramelized Onion pizza had caramelized onions, whole roasted garlic, and pancetta. The onions were likely sauteed in a vinegar which really brought out the flavor of the onions, but also added an interesting dimension to the pizza overall. I was afraid that the bold use of garlic might be overwhelming, especially on such a thin crust pizza, but it was very well-balanced.

The Fattarosa was the first time many of us had seen English peas or eggs on a pizza. The yolk of the hard-boiled egg tasted wonderful when combined with the spicy and sweet marinara sauce, and added an almost creamy texture. The peas make the whole dish seem a bit more virtuous.

Also noteworthy was the Pistachio and Prosciutto. Again, this was the first time many had seen pistachios on a pizza. The pistachios were halved and roasted. The sweetness of the pistachios provided a nice contrast to the salty prosciutto. They also provided an occasional crunch, which is a rare feeling when eating pizza.

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention the house-made fennel sausage. This sausage was a crumbly sort of sausage -- not sausage balls. It seems like you get more sausage this way, as there is sausage in every bite. It has a strong fennel flavor, but because it's crumbled it doesn't overwhelm your palate like chunks of it might.

Overall, Antica Pizzeria is well worth a trip to Andersonville. You can expect a high-quality pizza, with fresh and unique ingredients. It has been BYO thus far and there are no plans for a liquor license currently. And no, we did not forget the link to their website. Antica is living up to its name by not having one thus far.

The CPC gives Antica Pizzeria a score of 8.4.

Antica Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 30, 2009

Jason Reitman Goes the Extra Mile (4,000 of Them) to Get Giordano's

Jason Reitman, director of films including Juno, Thank You for Smoking, and the new Clooney vehicle, Up in the Air, loves Giordano's. He also loves to collect airline miles.

One time, to preserve his elite status in an unnamed frequent flyer program, the Los Angeles-based auteur needed to pick up 2,500 miles. He could have gone anywhere and the man chose to fly 2,000 miles to Chicago, pick up a Giordano's pizza, and then turn around and fly another 2,000 miles back home. That's an extra 1,500 miles of travel for some pizza.

The best part - the dude's not even from Chicago. The article doesn't say where the Canadian developed his love of stuffed pizza, but I'm going to go ahead and guess it came from his father Ivan Reitman, who surely got plenty of exposure to the pies through Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Marcello's [Meeting #88]

645 North Ave [GoogleMaps]
Chicago, IL 60610
(312) 645-2550

CPC invaded Marcello's on 11/23/09.

Marcello’s has been serving their signature thin & crispy pizza in Chicago since 1947. There are 2 locations in the city; one in Lincoln Park and the other in Logan Square. Two years ago they opened a third restaurant in the northern suburb Northbrook. For this meeting the Chicago Pizza Club converged upon the Lincoln Park/ Old Town location at 645 W. North Ave. The restaurant anchors the west side of a strip mall that bears a large sign advertising Father & Son plaza (before changing their name to Marcello’s the pizzerias were known as Father & Son). The North Ave location has a large dining room, banquet hall, bar and an attached bakery. In addition to the pizza, Marcello’s has a full menu with entrees ranging from Italian food to BBQ ribs.

All of their pizzas are available on three different types of crust; thin & crispy, N.Y. and whole wheat. In addition to the crusts listed, gluten free is an option available in limited sizes. The thin & crispy “tavern style” crust is what Marcello’s is known for and was chosen for all the pizzas ordered for the review. Four 14” pies proved to be just enough for the crew of eight. As a special treat, 2 desert pizzas were ordered in addition to the four main ones. The six pizzas were:

  • Four Cheese & Plum Tomato — plum tomatoes, mozzarella, parmesan, romano and fontinella cheese with fresh basil & olive oil sauce
  • Thai Chicken — ground chicken breast, spicy peanut sauce, mozzarella cheese, green onions & shredded carrots
  • Sausage and Garlic — sausage, garlic
  • Margarita — whole mozzarella, plum tomatoes and roasted garlic with fresh basil & olive oil sauce
  • Very Berry Dessert Pizza – blueberries, cranberries, blackberries, custard
  • Hot Toffee Apple Pizza – apples, cream cheese

With an unusual, but delicious peanut sauce base the Thai Chicken pizza seemed to be a surprise hit for the group. The plum tomatoes were a real stand-out on both the Margarita and the Four Cheese pizzas although the addition of the pesto base on the Four Cheese seemed to put it a notch ahead. Sausage and garlic worked fine as toppings on the fourth pie but when put up against the other three it seemed to lack any particular outstanding quality. The apple desert pizza had a wonderful buttery crust layered with cinnamon, apples and a streusel topping. A berry desert pizza was also ordered and although good, a strong tart flavor from the cranberries took away from the otherwise sweet pie.

Of the four dinner pizzas ordered all of them managed to come out with same high level of consistency. Marcello’s has an obvious interest in quality as was evident by the special pizza pan used for serving so that crusts don’t get soggy. With a solid tavern-style pizza and some surprisingly delicious and innovative topping combinations, Marcello’s might well be the best pizza in Old Town.

The CPC gives Marcello's an average score of 6.8 / 10.0.

Marcello's Father & Son on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Pizza Art Cafe [Meeting #87]

Pizza Art Cafe
4658 N. Rockwell St. [GoogleMaps]
Chicago, IL 60625
(773) 539-0645

CPC invaded Pizza Art Cafe on 10/28/09.

Pizza Art Cafe is tucked into a quiet block of Rockwell Street in Ravenswood, just north of the Brown Line el tracks. The first thing you see when you walk inside is the wood-burning oven to the left. The air is thick with a pleasant garlic aroma, and the dim overhead lighting and candle-lit tables create a warm atmosphere. Some sections of the wall are brick, some wood panels, some drywall, and there are a few curious pieces of three-dimensional art featuring things like high heels, jewelry, and what looked like dried meat. The service is friendly, but can be a bit slow.

In addition to 24 gourmet pizza offerings, the menu includes a variety of Italian and other Mediterranean dishes. There are also a few Bosnian dishes such as cevapcici to reflect the owner's Bosnian roots. One key feature of the menu to note before making plans to eat here is the invitation to BYOB.

The pizza is of the Neapolitan variety, with each thin pie quickly cooked and (usually) lightly charred in the wood-burning oven. The pizzas are each about 12" across, and they range in price from $8 to $13 depending on the toppings. We tried the following six pizzas, which seemed sufficient to sate the eight pizza clubbers in attendance:

  • Margherita - tomato sauce, mozzarella, fresh basil
  • Funghi - tomato sauce, mozzarella, sliced mushrooms, parsley, garlic
  • Siciliana - tomato sauce, mozzarella, sliced assorted roasted peppers, house-cured smoked beef, mushrooms
  • Diavola - tomato sauce, mozzarella, salame, hot green peppers
  • Pizza Lasagna - tomato sauce, mozzarella, ricotta cheese, ham
  • Pizza Art - shrimp topped with homemade cheese sauce and parsley
We found the crust to be very inconsistent from pizza to pizza. Some were crisp and a little too burnt, and some were thick and chewy. The sauce tasted fresh and simple. Pizza Art can be heavy-handed with the cheese, which is a good or bad thing depending on your preferences. The toppings really stand out because they are fresh, they include high-quality cuts of meat such as ham and salame, and they offer lesser found seafood options such as smoked salmon. The Margherita really captured the essence of what Pizza Art Cafe is striving for, though some members found the cheese too plentiful. The Funghi was interesting because the mushrooms and garlic were almost raw, which was nice to try with respect to the mushrooms but a little overwhelming with respect to the garlic. The meat toppings were well-received for the most part, though the signature house-cured smoked beef was quite dry and too smoky for some. The Pizza Art, the restaurant's namesake, was probably the least popular pizza because some folks just don't like shrimp on their pizza, and because others found the cheesy/yogurty sauce off-putting.

Overall, Pizza Art Cafe offers some inventive Italian cooking in a cozy, date-friendly space. But some of us could have done with a little less invention and a little more consistency.

The CPC gives Pizza Art Cafe an average score of 5.6.

Pizza Art Cafe on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Frasca Pizzeria & Wine Bar [Meeting #86]

Frasca Pizzeria & Wine Bar [Google Maps]
3358 N. Paulina St.
Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 248-5222

CPC invaded Frasca Pizzeria & Wine Bar on 10/07/09.

Frasca Pizzeria and Wine Bar is a self-described "contemporary Italian" restaurant, located in Roscoe Village just a block off the Paulina Brown Line stop. It is brought to us by the same people who gave us Dunlays and Smoke Daddy, but both the menu and the ambiance of the restaurant differ greatly from both. Although the word "pizzeria" is in the name of this establishment, the menu contains a variety of Italian-inspired dinner items beyond pizza, along with brunch on Saturday and Sunday. Frasca takes great pride in its wines, with a long list offering by the bottle, glass or flight; it is also worth taking note that on Tuesdays they offer 1/2-price bottles.

For the Chicago Pizza Club Meeting #86, we chose to go to Frasca on a Wednesday, to take advantage of their 2-for-1 pizza deal.

The following are the pizza combinations we tried -- all were from the menu except for the sausage & goat cheese:

  • prosciutto - olive oil, mozzarella, arugula, prosciutto
  • capone - tomato sauce, wood roasted onions, fennel sausage, fresh mozzarella
  • caponata - tomato sauce, eggplant, goat cheese, mozzarella, red peppers, mushrooms, artichokes
  • rustica - diced prosciutto, oven dried tomatoes, mozzarella, basil pesto
  • shrimp + bacon - bechamel sauce with mozzarella, wood fired onions, evoo
  • margherita - tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, sliced tomatoes basil
  • soprano - hot capicola, sausage, pepperoni, sopressata, mozzarella and red peppers
  • pepperoni - tomato sauce, oregano, mozzarella
  • quattro formaggi - mozzarella, gorgonzola,ricotta, provolone
  • sausage and goat cheese

Having never patronized Frasca's 2-for-1 night, it was a surprise for me to see the restaurant as busy as it was, and I am glad that we made reservations for our large group. But while it was busy, our pizzas started coming out in a timely manner, about 20 minutes after we'd sat down. And the temperature was perfect on all the pies -- I didn't have a cold slice the entire night, and no one scorched the roof of their mouth.

As is often the case, my favorite pizzas were the ones with sausage. The sausage itself had an abundance of flavor without being overly fatty, and I especially loved it paired with the sweet wood-roasted onions of the Capone. What really stood out for me, though, were those pizzas whose ingredients I otherwise usually dislike on pizza. Until having it at Frasca, I had never had an arugula pizza I liked. It's just personal preference, but I think salad greens should stay in salad, and away from pizza. However, Frasca did an excellent job with the combination of prosciutto and arugula. There was just the right amount of prosciutto to not be overwhelmed by the arugula, and the arugula was sauteed, which I think took a lot of the harshness out of its flavor, and helped it to complement the other ingredients. The other unexpected delight of the night for me was the Rustica, most notably its pesto. Other pizzerias could learn a lot from the use of pesto at Frasca. It was fresh, bursting with flavor -- (you can really taste the sharpness of the basil and get a good crunch from the nuts) -- and it was distributed in delicious dollops, without making the pizza a greasy mess.

As mentioned in the reviews (see comments), the pizzas' biggest let-down was the crust. In Chicago we are spoiled with our wood-fired thin crusts, and have come to expect some high quality dough when we see an oven like the one at Frasca. Most people didn't like how chewy it was, but what most disappointed me was the inconsistency of the crust from pizza to pizza. Some of the pizzas had the nice dough bubbles that delight me, but some were over-cooked. The pepperoni especially had been in the oven for too long. I like a little bit of burn on the crust, but at a certain point you are just eating burned pizza and that's not really a good thing.

Overall, Frasca offers decent pizza, especially when it's 1/2-price. Besides the crust, I enjoyed all of their ingredients, notably how fresh they were and how well thought-out were the combinations.

Frasca Pizzeria and Wine Bar on Urbanspoon

Friday, September 25, 2009

Ian's Pizza [Meeting #85]

Ian's Pizza [GoogleMaps]
3463 N. Clark Avenue
Chicago, IL

CPC invaded Ian's Pizza on 9/24/09.

Ian's Pizza is a sensation sweeping the nation. Well, Madison and now Chicago. But they do have plans to expand to Milwaukee in the near future and possibly Colorado and additional stores in Wisconsin and Illinois. If they made a game of Risk using only the continental USA, I think it's obvious that the key is controlling Wisconsin and Illinois.

Ian's pizza was founded by the eponymous Ian, who was inspired by famous Massachusetts pizzeria Antonio's. After deciding on Madison as having the right atmosphere for a pizzeria that emphasized quality ingredient, no-frills service with low overhead, and reasonable prices he opened his first restaurant at 319 N Frances St in 2001 on Halloween. Ian's makes their own sauce, dough, and does not use or canned vegetables except for their pineapples and tomato paste. They use no frozen products; they don't keep freezers in their restaurants. They do contract out their sausage and pepperoni to small facilities and get them delivered fresh as needed. Cindy Gross, their Head Chef for all locations, estimates that over 90% of their products as made in-house.

We pre-ordered their special S'Mores pizza (which should be done 24 hours ahead of time) and sat down to try the following pizzas:

  • Mac and Cheese Special (Asiago, Pecorino, Gruyere)
  • Pesto and Portabello
  • Sausage
  • Cordon Bleu
  • Philly Cheese Steak
  • S'mores
Ian's typically sells their pizza by the slice, although you can order either a 12" or 20" pie as well. The Chicago location is small, having maybe 8 tables that can be rearranged as needed to accommodate your group. The dining area is small and comfortable, but nothing extraordinary. They are currently BYOB and they sell Gale Gand's root beer, which I tried and thought was great. We ordered either full pizzas of the above-mentioned toppings or went half and half. The s'mores pizza must be ordered ahead of time by calling in.

The crust at Ian's was well-cooked. Despite coming right out of the oven loaded with toppings, it only seemed to buckle under the weight of the mac and cheese pizza. They make their own dough using high-gluten flour and I thought it had a great flavor that didn't try to compete with the flavor toppings. I've had too many salty crusts lately and thankfully Ian's didn't replicate what I consider to be a terrible pizza sin. The toppings, in general, were pretty good. I'm not a fan of the weird and zany toppings and I firmly believe chicken should be fried and eaten with hot sauce and not put on my pizza. Ian's is challenging my axiom with really good combinations such as the ones listed above. You clearly get the flavor of the toppings, but I never found myself wishing I were eating a cheese steak sandwich as opposed to the pizza like I usually do when I eat pizza with these unconventional toppings. Their staple is the mac and cheese pizza, but we were lucky and their pizza special was a mac and cheese with additional cheeses that were appreciated. The sausage was cut into slices like you might see on the East Coast, but thankfully was of Midwestern quality. It was moist, had good pepper content, and contains a big hit of fennel. Some thought the S'mores pizza crust was soggy, a finding I disagree with. My piece held up well and the melted chocolate and marshmallows were still nice and warm and started blending in with crust to make a really great combination. Finally, as with all pizza, it's a good idea to let it cool for a few minutes when it comes out so you don't end up with a soupy meal.

Ian's Pizza - breaking the laws of pizza and making it tasty. Ian's had a brisk business while we were there, which is fortunate for them. Unfortunately for me, I rarely ever venture into Lakeview for any reason. If I did, I would eat at Ian's again and I recommend it to anyone that enjoys esoteric toppings, but I personally felt that the traditional toppings were their best offerings though other members in the club differ. The majority favored the mac and cheese pizza that has made Ian's famous.

Ian's Pizza By the Slice on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Pizzeria Due [Meeting #84]

Pizzeria Due (part of Uno Chicago Grill) [GoogleMaps]
619 N. Wabash Ave.
Chicago, IL 60611

CPC invaded Pizzeria Due on 7/28/09.

Review submitted by Marla Collins' Husband

Given that Pizzeria Uno is the place that put Chicago on the global pizza map, the Chicago Pizza Club had to try it out in order to maintain our street cred. The obvious problem to meeting there is the same one that has rendered the original Uno's a destination dominated by tourists: the waits are ridiculous.

Twelve years after Pizzeria Uno opened in 1955, the owners opened a second location to satisfy their growing legion of fans. Uno's was actually originally called The Pizzeria, but when the second place opened a block away, they renamed the original Pizzeria Uno and the new place, Pizzeria Due. Much of the staff at Due's, including pizza legend Rudy Malnati, came from Uno's, and the two have been linked ever since. Still, because Uno's has the name, it is significantly more popular. Due's is also very popular, but tends to have shorter wait times than Uno's, so that's where the CPC went to examine the origins of deep dish pizza.

It is worth noting that Due's does take reservations Mondays through Thursdays, but they refuse to say how many. I was told that it varies depending how busy they are. I asked how they know how busy they're going to be weeks in advance of a particular night and was told that it's based on how many reservations they have. That response, of course, led me back to the question of how many reservations they accept, which the person I spoke with again refused to divulge. My hunch is that they only take a reservation or two per night from the public and that the rest come through hotel concierges with whom the restaurant has a relationship.

Anyhow, thanks to the generosity of Adam, the newest CPC member, who got there at 5:30 to place our order, the rest of us didn't have to wait too long after our 6:30 meeting time to be seated. We were at our table at 6:45 and were eating pizza less than 10 minutes later. How is it possible to get a pizza that takes 45 minutes to cook after just 10 minutes at the table? Easy: They require you to place your order when you put your name down to get a table. They then cook your pizzas most of the way, take them out of the oven, and then put them back in when you sit down.

They serve nothing but deep dish at Pizzeria Due and the 12 CPCers who showed up split three large pies. It is worth noting that the menu at Due's (and Uno's for that matter) is different from the menu on the Uno's website. Uno's Chicago Grill, which has over 200 locations spread across 31 states and DC, Puerto Rico, South Korea and the United Arab Emirates, has a very different menu from the original two pizzerias. At Uno's and Due's, pizza eaters can either build their pies or choose from six "Specialty Pizzas."

Because we are special people, we got three specialty pizzas. Up first was the Numero Uno, which has a whole lot of sausage along with pepperoni, mushrooms, onions and green pepper, along with extra mozzarella cheese and a chunky, tangy sweet sauce. I really liked this pizza and it seemed to go over well with the group. The sausage had really good amount of fat and chewiness, though no noticeable fennel. The pepperoni was a step above your typical Hormel-quality pepperoni that ruins pizzas all over the country. The crust, which was the same on all three pies, is really thick and really had an almost nutty taste to it. It looked like and kind of tasted like a wheat or whole grain crust, though the restaurant would surely advertise it if that was the case. It's been over a year since I had Uno's, but I remember the crust being a yellowish color there and having a corn mealish taste to it. I didn't love the crust, but I thought it was good enough. And the thickness allowed it to stand up to the varied and plentiful toppings on all three pies.

The second pizza was the BBQ Chicken pizza. Personally, I have never had a chicken pizza that I liked and I'm always surprised when restaurants sell it. But I know that barbecue chicken pizza put California Pizza Kitchen on the map, so clearly there are plenty who disagree with me. The pizza featured a blend of cheeses (mozzarella, Romano, and cheddar) and an inconsistent application of a citrus barbecue sauce. One CPC member liked the chicken pizza enough to eat two whole slices, but the rest of our reactions ranged from tolerating to revulsion.

The third pizza was the Spinoccoli, which features spinach and broccoli along with a the same three cheese from the chicken pizza and garlic and tomato sauce. I also really enjoyed this pizza, though I would have preferred a less grain-flavored crust with it. The menu lists the broccoli as fresh, but does not use the same adjective to describe the spinach. I'm not sure whether the spinach was fresh or not, but it definitely seemed like it was previously frozen and that is inexcusable. Despite the weak spinach, I enjoyed the Spinoccoli almost as much as the Numero Uno.

At the end of the day, Pizzeria Uno and Pizzeria Due are worth checking out at least once, but there are multiple pizzerias within a mile or two (Lou Malnati's, Giordano's, Pizano's, a lot of thin crust places) that are both better and do not require as long of a wait.

Petey Pizza gives Due's a 6.84.

Pizzeria Due on Urbanspoon

Sunday, July 12, 2009

[Special Event] Bacci Pizza Fest Vol. 7

On Saturday, Bacci Pizzeria, the 13-year-old, 19-restaurant jumbo slice purveyor, held its 7th Annual Pizza Fest, an eating competition where the contestants wolf down as many Bacci cheese slices as they can in 20 minutes. A couple of CPC members headed down to Taylor Street to view the competition.

While the event was not sanctioned by the International Federation of Competitive Eating, the cash prizes were actually more generous that some of that organization's events. The winner of the Pizza Fest was due $1,500, while the second and third place finishers would claim $750 and $250 respectively.

In order to qualify for the competition, all one had to do was go to a Bacci Pizzeria, buy two jumbo slices and get one free, and then eat all three slices in less than 20 minutes. Approximately 30 people made the cut and showed up for the competition.

With obnoxiously loud dance music being played in the background, the contestants all began the competition with a vengeance, stuffing as much in their mouths as fast as they could. It seemed that there were as many strategies as there were eaters; some folded, some stacked, some ripped their pizzas into bite sized chunks, and one guy even dipped his slices into a large cup of what looked like Kool-Aid, but may have been water colored by tomato sauce. An EMT stood by to make sure none of the overly exuberant eaters hurt themselves.

After just a few minutes of competition, it was clear that a majority of people had no change as they slowed considerably before getting through their first slice. But to my eyes, about 10 people were keeping up with one another for at least the first half of the competition. As the eating continued, the chewing slowed but people continued to give their all.

At the end, there was a clear winner - a guy named Peter, the man who dipped his slices in liquid, had polished off 5 1/2 slices, blowing away the competition. Surprisingly, he was not one of the particularly large contestants. However, there were three very big men who had each eaten exactly four slices, so a one-minute eat-off was called. Those three struggled mightily but at the end of the minute, the final two winners were set, each having gotten through less than half of a slice.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Union Pizzeria [Meeting #83]

Union Pizzeria [Google Maps]
1245 Chicago Avenue
Evanston, Illinois 60202
(847) 475-2400

CPC invaded Union Pizzeria on 7/9/09.

Review submitted by AJ

Haute pizza is the new “it” food and any self-respecting town with aspirations of legitimacy requires a vendor. For years, Evanstonians have been underserved in this critical respect and have been subjected to a variety of pizzamongers (with the exception of Lou Malnati’s), primarily catering to the college crowd. However, Executive Chef Vince DiBattista of Campagnola, Evanston’s rustically-elegant Italian comfort food spot, has overseen the “coming out” of its swanky-urbanite kid sister, Union Pizzeria. Originally dubbed Wild Geese, Union Pizzeria opened to much fanfare and praise in February 2008 and has been serving up Italian-style, oak-fired, thin-crust pizza ever since. On this mild summer’s evening, Chicago Pizza Club took the Purple Line north and took a look/see and taste for ourselves to determine if the “it” food had finally arrived in Evanston.

Upon entrance, CPC noticed the trendy ultra-lounge vibe, exemplified by its loft ceiling, artsy exposed brick walls, micro-lighting fixtures, large 25-seat bar and 25 tables. Welcoming patrons is a comfy lounge featuring low sofa sectionals and glass tables. The bar boasts a large selection of German and Belgian microbrews and 20-plus beers by the bottle, plus a diverse wine list of 50 bottles under $50. Inconspicuously tucked behind the bar is a lovingly-made, dome-shaped brick oven, which reminds one and all that kid sister may have some cool, but she knows her roots.

The brick oven deserves a mention as Union Pizzeria noted that it is the only true dome brick oven in the Chicagoland area. The oven burns oak, cooks at about 700 degrees and can hold 10 pizzas at a time. It also features a unique ventilation system that prevented the space from smelling of campfire … a definite plus for those looking for a date spot or a starting point for an evening out.

The service was very good. Water glasses were always full, drink orders always ready to be taken and the pizza delivered together without much wait. On peak evenings, CPC would suggest a few drinks at the bar to offset the 45-minute wait for a table.

We ordered all of the pizzas offered, but for the “mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce.”

In no particular order, the pizzas sampled:

  • Pepperoni & Sausage - mozzarella & Sicilian oregano
  • Sausage - sweet pepper, onion & Sicilian oregano
  • Wild Mushroom - béchamel, fontina & sage
  • Artichoke - Sweet peppers, Gaeta olives, fresh mozzarella & garlic
  • Prosciutto & Arugula - béchamel & Parmesan
  • Margherita - tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella & torn basil
  • Lamb Sausage - Pinn-Oak lamb, eggplant, Gaeta & rosemary
  • Asparagus - goat cheese, cherry tomatoes & scallions
  • Quattro Formaggi - mozz., fontina, Parmesan & provolone
  • Shrimp - Nueskes bacon, béchamel, basil & cilantro
The complete menu can be found here: www.unionevanston.com/menu.html

In general, the sauce and cheese ratio was even. I never felt myself wanting more of one or the other, which is an admirable quality. Union Pizzeria uses locally-grown and organic products whenever available and we had no doubt. The toppings were all top-notch quality, with each piece obviously handled, whether it was flora or fauna, with the utmost care.

Moreover, the crust was well-executed, but lacked distinct flavor. Given the brick oven, the lack of burn on the crust was surprising. There was definitely some engineering involved in the baking process and we commend the chef and crew on that consistency. However, the inordinately high number of crusts left uneaten on CPC plates was the most telling criticism. This is not something that CPC does with any regularity.

In order to avoid pizza review ad nauseum, I will mention three pies that were particularly noteworthy:
  1. Lamb Sausage - The general consensus was that the lamb sausage pizza was the best of the evening. Upon delivery, I was presented with the glorious waft of wonderfully fragrant herbs. At first bite, the sausage tasted pleasantly rich, a good balance of fat and protein, which had excellent interplay with the cheese and sauce. I could have used a bit more kick in the sausage, perhaps even a merguez, but as is, it was safe, appropriate and pleasant.
  2. Proscuitto and Arugula – Skip the salad. Added post-bake, the arugula was refreshing and poignantly accented by strategically- placed parmesan shavings (near the center, noticeable on first bite). The prosciutto melted in my mouth and provided a nice hint of protein to the pie. For those not wanting the fatiness of sausage or the brashness of pepperoni, prosciutto is the definitely the way to go.
  3. Shrimp – The dark horse and this reviewer’s favorite of the evening. The béchamel, cheese, shrimp and bacon fat make a sublime quartet. The interplay between the shrimp juices and fats created a transparent seafood roux that I will not soon forget. This pizza only got better as it cooled, allowing the roux to settle over time.
If great pizza were not enough, Union Pizzeria doubles as a music venue, featuring live music most every night of the week. The venue is completely separate from the restaurant/bar space and is located in the rear section of the building. One can only hear the music by getting close to the venue doors. Cover charge for the evening’s Talking Heads cover band = $15. One CPC member noted the lack of a bike rack, which would have been useful.

The pizza was very good, the execution excellent, the attention to detail very admirable and the overall experience memorable. Union Pizzeria has done a wonderful job of combining old-world tradition with modern sophistication. Evanston … welcome to the “it” club.

CPC gives Union Pizzeria a score of 6.8

Union Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Friday, June 12, 2009

La Gondola [Meeting #82]

La Gondola Italian Restaurant [Google Maps]
2914 N Ashland Ave
Chicago, IL 60657

CPC invaded La Gondola on 6/11/09.

Review submitted by Mikel

Nestled among various retail stores and restaurants within a Lincoln Park strip mall, lies La Gondola. Since 1984, Chicago style pizza and Italian comfort food has been feeding hungry patrons in this small, dimly lit space. Andrew McGuire, owner/chef, bought La Gondola from its founding father in 2005, and continues to serve the same recipes made up of fresh ingredients from scratch every day of the week. Having received several accolades for outstanding Italian food and "fab pizza", including their presence in the Zagat guide since 1991, they have quite a following. Reservations are recommended due to a table shortage - they only have six!

We were a hungry crew of six last night, so we ordered three large thin crust pizzas. They do also offer an extra thin crust, but we didn't opt for this variety. Also, because of the overwhelming popularity of their signature Italian family style dishes and our ravenous appetites, we ordered a bowl of Rigatoni Boscaiola (pasta, fresh mushrooms, Italian sausage, sage) and shared it as an appetizer. This was an atypical Chicago Pizza Club move, as we only came to survey the pizza, but what the heck. It was very well received from everyone. Now, on to what really matters...the pizza. Although they list a number of specialty pizzas, we chose the following combinations:

  • White Pizza (Fresh Ricotta, Mozzarella and Olive Oil)
  • Italian Sausage and Spinach
  • Pepperoni and Garlic

The pizza arrived in a timely manner, and it was hot. The toppings were fresh and flavorful, there was ample top quality cheese, and the sauce complemented everything quite nicely. The crust served its purpose and supported all the above. As the pizza sat, the crust did soften a bit but this wasn't detrimental. La Gondola calls their pizza Chicago style, which is in fact the case. Although it is thin crust, it is definitely on the crispy side as oppossed to a chewy more bready thin crust you would find on the east coast. The sausage and spinach pizza was one of my favorites and seemed to please most of us. The white pizza was also delicious and on the milder side of the scale. Do you want to know what wasn't mild? The pepperoni and garlic pizza! It was over the top with abundant garlic flavor and enough pepperoni for you pepperoni lovers.

Not to go unmentioned, our server, "D", was very attentive and personable. We had leftovers to box, which "his people" took care of for us. D also shares our love for pizza and minored in English, so we may be seeing more of him soon enough!

CPC gives La Gondola a score of 7.3

La Gondola on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Chicago Pizza Club FAQ

Somehow, our small website has started to get more and more traffic that isn't composed of just our friends. I'm really happy if we can be a Chicago pizza resource for the public. There are a lot of pizzerias out there and we've got so many to try!

We do get a fair amount of email these days and so I thought I'd write this Frequently Answered Questions post to eliminate some of the emails that have easily answered and repetitive questions. If your question is answered here, please don't let that stop you from emailing us to let us know what you like and don't like about the web page or what we do. Suggestions are highly valued.

1. What is the best pizza in Chicago?

  • Easily the most emailed question. I don't have an answer for this, nor will I ever. Don't ask this. It depends on the style, the toppings, how much cash I have, how far away from my current location I am willing to go, how long I will wait for a pizza, the phases of the moon, the current White Sox winning streak, the price of gas, and the number of Illinois governors under suspicion of corruption. It's hard enough for me to narrow it down to ten places. I do promise to sometime soon create a list of 10-20 places that we consider the best in town. The list will not be in any order or anything, but it will consist of places that will leave you happy and satisfied.
2. Does "X" pizzeria deliver to me in "X" state?
  • Sadly, this is a frequently asked question. How should I know if Uno's will ship you pizza in Idaho? I don't mean to be rude here, but seriously, don't you think contacting the particular pizzeria to ask them this question makes much more sense?
3. Have you tried "X" pizzeria?
  • Without exception, if you don't see it on the blog then we haven't eaten there as a group. That doesn't mean some members haven't tried it on their own. Usually this question is a lead-in to suggesting a place for us to try, however. I LOVE suggestions. I can't know what a small place in your neighborhood is making. But if you say it's very good, rest assured I will put it on my Magic List of places to try. Please note that it may take us a while to get to it.
4. I'm coming into Chicago for vacation/business/to visit relatives and want to know where to eat.
  • A clever form of question #1. Same answer. The creation of our list will help answer this question.
5. Do you know the nutritional value of these pizzerias?
  • I did get one question about this, but since people care more and more about what they shove in their mouths I figured I'd include it here. The short and long answer are that we have no idea what the caloric distribution is for any pizza nor do we know the amount of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats contained inside any pizza.
6. Can I join?
  • We have had some members join now after emailing us. We're looking for people that are dedicated to eating pizza with us on a regular basis and are able to put those thoughts into legible comments. Email us for further information. We have slowed down our intake of new members for now, but email me anyway and when we're ready for new members I will send out an email. If you're not into coming out with us 2-3x/month, then don't bother.
7. I work for a pizzeria or a food company and would like for you to try our pizza. Will you do it?
  • Yes we will, but we will be completely transparent in our review. We will let people know whatever we might have gotten for free and we will judge it the same as any other pizza. Furthermore, if it's a negative review we will not can it or edit it in any way. So don't ask unless you have a good product.
8. Would you be interested in X event?
  • We've gotten a few interesting event invites. It's hard to say what any of the members would be interested in doing, but we're a pretty fun-loving crowd. So send away. I'm sure at least someone will be interested in participating in your event.
9. Can we do a link exchange?
  • Probably, provided your blog has some relevance to food, pizza, or Chicago.
10. How do you grade your pizzas? Why did my favorite pizzeria only get a 6.5 from you guys?
  • Here is a link, also featured on our sidebar, about how we grade pizza. Please rid yourself of the notion that a 6 is D-grade pizza. Our pizza scale is different from that. I would say anything above a 6 is a good pizza, anything above an 8 is great pizza, and anything that might get above a 9 is exceptional. Of course, with the grade being an average of our members' scores, it can be very hard for a place to get above an 8.
Am I missing any? Leave it in the comments please and I'll answer it.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

John's Pizzeria Ristorante & Lounge [Meeting #81]

John's Pizzeria Ristorante & Lounge [GoogleMaps]
2104 N. Western Ave.
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 384-1755

CPC invaded John's on 5/27/09.

Review submitted by Chand.

John (who according to the manager didn't give his last name out) immigrated from Sicily bringing with him his family's secret recipes. This formed the basis of the pizzeria he established in the West Bucktown area in 1957. His sons Tony & Larry continue the tradition since John's passing, operating the sole establishment for 15 years now.

You can spot John's driving down Western by the large green and white sign. Walk inside and welcome back to 1957. The interior is truly lounge-style, replete with vinyl seating and table coverings and nostalgic posters of Italy. Low, worn tulip lights add to the time-warp atmosphere. To your left there's a diner-counter and on the right a small dining area. The main dining room is in the next room along with a small bar in back. They also provide cute puzzle paper place mats that even so-called adults are drawn too.

The menu is extensive with classic appetizers such as onion rings and an assortment of garlic bread. There is just about every type of pasta, "tasty" sandwich and random stuff you can imagine (click on the website link to peruse their full menu).

This is my first time at John's, and since I had come across a 2007 Timeout list ranking it top 5 thin crust bar pies in Chicago, we chose the following:

  • Roman Pizza (Sausage, Onion, Garlic, Basil & Tomato)
  • Meat-zza Pizza (Bacon, Sausage, Hamburger & Pepperoni)
  • Taco Pizza (Lettuce, Tomato, Hamburger, Onion, Taco Seasoning & Jalepenos on the side)
  • Veggie Pizza (Mushroom, Onion, Bell pepper & Black Olive)
  • Margherita Pizza (Tomato, Basil & Mozzarella)
John's mostly uses fresh ingredients, including sausage delivered daily. The thin crusts came out with a fair amount of carmelization and generous toppings. Greasiness was above average, however according to reviews on yelp and other sites, this is what's expected when you're ordering from Johns. While the outside crust was crispy, it definitely got soggier as you worked your way toward the center. The cheese was chewy, but not overly so. Perhaps I waited too long for my slices, but I felt they were lukewarm too. Most people enjoyed the Meat-zza, which meshed together well without losing the distinct flavors. The taco pizza had stronger taco seasonings, which prevented it from the usual devolution into a salad pizza. The Roman was a pleasant variation of a frequent CPC combo of sausage, onion and garlic, with added basil and tomato to mellow it out. My impressions of the Veggie and Margherita were positive, but neither particularly stood out, however I heard a few people say they liked the Margherita. A football 14"x22" pizza is also trumpeted, but we elected not to try that. One note about the service: even though we had a large 15 person group, it still was rather lackadaisical. Nobody greeting you at the door, among other things like having to track down the waitress to get the check. That being said, perhaps what makes up for that was the bill being a recession-friendly $7 per person. People were enjoying themselves, and the locals consistently give it high marks on review websites. Overall, John's is a decent place if you're wandering down Western Avenue, looking for solid value.

Chicago Pizza Club gives John's Pizzeria a 6.6

John's Pizzeria Ristorante and Lounge on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

[Chicago Pizza News] GQ's Alan Richman Says Great Lake Offers Country's Best Pizza

Submitted by Marla Collins' Husband.

When I reviewed Andersonville's Great Lake for Slice, I was blown away by the quality of the ingredients and the crust. A combination of the restaurant's size (small) and the Pizza Club's reviewing process (we are rotating review-writing much more than in the past), we haven't held a meeting at Great Lake yet, though I know at least a couple of other members have been.

Well, it's now going to be even more difficult to get a table at Great Lake, which already demanded notoriously long waits. GQ's food critic, Alan Richman, just came out with a very thorough review of his top 25 pizzas in the United States. In conducting his research, Richman went to 109 pizzerias and sampled 386 pizzas.

Chicagoans should be skeptical of Richman's opinions on food after he wrote this asinine drivel about Chicago hot dogs last September, but the pizza article differs from the hot dog one considerably in that he clearly put a lot of thought into his work this time. Of course, like so many critics from outside of Chicago, Richman entirely dismisses deep dish and stuffed pizza, but that's so common among East Coast critics that it's not even worth getting worked up over. Still, when I read Richman's rankings of his top ten pizza cities and see that Chicago is fourth behind New York, San Francisco and Detroit, I have to question the man's sanity.

Monday, May 18, 2009

[Chicago Pizza News] Gino's East is Expanding to South Bend

Indiana is going to get its second Gino's East when Holladay Properties opens its second franchise in the state. Holladay already has a Gino's in Highland.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Traverso's [Meeting #80]

Traverso's [GoogleMaps]
15601 S Harlem Ave
Orland Park, IL 60660

CPC invaded Traverso's on 5/13/09.

Review submitted by Jen

The Traverso brothers, John and George, have been Chicago suburb restaurant owners since 1962 when they purchased a tavern in Roseland. Within the next few years they opened two pizza restaurants in Mount Greenwood, the second in response to overwhelming demand for their pizza. With the opening of the restaurants, they also employed their mother, Mama T, a veteran to the food industry and holder of Traverso's “famous homemade recipes” from Italy (where she grew up). AND, only a few years after that, they opened their first Travero's in Orland park, eventually closing the Mount Greenwood restaurants in order to focus their attention on it. It seems to have paid off. They had to expand it to meet demand and in 1993 George's sons Mike and Paul carried on the family tradition and opened a location in Naperville.

We had a small group, so ordered only 2 of the pizzas, both large and thin crust. It was plenty for four people and leftovers. We ordered:

  • Bacon and Mushroom
  • Sausage, Onion and Green Pepper
There was an option for double crust, but since it appeared to be an afterthought -- (it was itemized along with the extra cheese charge) -- we opted to just do both as single, thin crusts. Both pizzas came out about 20 minutes after ordering, piping (mouth singeing) hot -- but a good temperature after a few minutes. Overall, I think the pizzas went over really well. The first thing we all noticed was the crust, which was very thin, but held up well under the toppings. The sauce was thick and plentiful, and tasted heavily of oregano and thyme. The sausage was made at the restaurant, with good quality meat; it had a great texture and none of the chewy weirdness you sometimes encounter with lower grades. The cheese was standard, and a few of us thought that it might have been the source of saltiness in the slices, (although I think it was mostly the bacon that was responsible for that). The toppings were in good proportions; almost every bite had all ingredients and the right amount of cheese.

One thing that should be mentioned is that we went on a Wednesday night, which has karaoke starting at 8pm. This has to be the best karaoke night I've ever been to -- all of the performers were obviously regulars, (we were told that they would show up even during a tornado watch, and it turns out that there was one that night), and they sang wonderfully. They were an older crowd and sang mostly standards while some couples danced and others mingled at the bar. Also of note, the service was impeccable, truly outstanding.

As a group, we seemed to have similar opinions about the pizza. We liked the crispiness of the thin crust and the quality of the meat but thought that the cheese and mushrooms were mediocre and would have liked the pizza to be less salty.

Overall, I think Traverso's is a gem in the southwest suburbs, and it is certainly worth going to for the pizza, (and the overall experience), if you are in the area and have a car.

Chicago Pizza Club gives Traverso's a 6.2

Traverso's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Friday, May 08, 2009

[Pizza Club News] ZOMG! We're Famous!

I was contacted a while back by one of the guys that was doing the Outside The Loop radio show on Loyola's WLUW (88.7) about being a part of his show one day. We could never figure out a time and I think we both sort of forgot about it. Recently, I was contacted by Mike Stephens (now the solo host) and we finally got together and had a conversation over some pizza at Coalfire, which we also reviewed shortly after it opened. Briefly, I think I like it much more now than I did at the time of our original review. As for the interview, Jennifer and I ended up participating. I don't think we say anything too insightful (or embarassing), but for people that don't know we exist it should be a nice introduction. It was fun and I want to thank Mike for trying to make us not sound like fools.

I hadn't heard of their show until they contacted me last year, but I listened to it to see what they talk it. It's pretty much a Chicago-centric audio blog. There is a lot of interesting stuff they talk about (Chicago Baconfest 2009, for one) and it's one of my two podcasts I download onto my iPhone. The other one is about video games (I have to keep my street cred). The show airs live Fridays at 6pm and you can listen to it on the radio or online. If you miss it, they offer the option to either stream or download the shows after the fact from their website. Check it out - they are also featuring some tips from the Parking Meter Geek on this show and he is a personal hero of mine.

If you listen to it, let me know how nasal and retarded I sound.

[Chicago Pizza News] What Happens When You Hand-Toss Pizza Dough?

In case you've ever wondered, there's apparently a lot going on when your pizza dough is flying through the air under the control of a well-trained pizza chef. Some Australian physicists studied the matter and it seems our down-under friends what to apply what they've learned towards ultrasonic motors. Sound complicated? Read for yourself here.

Monday, May 04, 2009

[Meet the Members] Neil

Screen Name: Neil

Real Name: Neil

Came out of the Oven: Springfield, IL

Favorite toppings: Sausage and garlic are usually on my baseline pizza. Once I've gotten to know a place a bit I'll branch out with artichoke, meatballs and tomatoes to try to find the perfect combination. There are a few pizzerias I've been to that had roasted duck which I found unbelievably delicious.

First Pizza Club Meeting: March 25, 2008 at Armand's.

Favorite Deep Dish Pizza: Art of Pizza for a stuffed pie and Gino's North for a pan pizza. Can't get the memory out of my head of picking up a 10" stuffed from Art of Pizza and thinking there had to be a brick in the box.

Favorite Thin Crust Pizza: I never thought I'd like chicken on a pie, but I dream of the chicken, artichoke and garlic pizza with red sauce from Piece. Simply outstanding!

Favorite Pizza outside of Chicago: Gallina's Pizza in Springfield, IL. There are 3 Gallina's Pizza restaurants in the Springfield area, the one on Dirksen Pkwy is the only one in my book. Vito makes the best New York style pizza I've ever had.

Had Pizza in the Motherland? Italy, yes. Naples, no. Had some wonderful pizza in Rome that was wrapped in butcher paper so you could eat it on the run. The closest I got to a Naples pizza was in Venice at Aqua Pazza, a spot run by a former resident of Naples and cooked in a traditional wood fired oven.

What Do You Do When Not Eating Pizza? Work in Information Technology for a non-profit and ride my bicycle.

Personal Pizza Statement: A perfect pizza isn't about the crust or toppings, it's about bring them together in perfect harmony.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

[Second Helping] Pizzeria Bianco

I was recently in Phoenix for a conference. When I was told I was invited to present something, my first thought was that I would finally get a chance to try the famed Pizzeria Bianco. Marla Collins' Husband did an excellent job reviewing it for our website after his trip last year, so I don't think there is any need for me to repeat information on the background of the restaurant. This merely serves as a second opinion on the place. Also, I forgot my camera during this trip, but I ordered one of the same pizzas he did so you can salivate over his pictures.

My friend and I ordered 2 pizzas:

  • The Wiseguy, which is a white pizza with mozzarella, sausage, and roasted onions
  • The Margherita, which was tomato sauce, mozzarella, and basil
Pizzeria Bianco cooks their pizzas with white oak and pecan wood. The oak surprised me a bit, because it is usually a strong flavor. However, given that our pizzas were cooked in less than 2 minutes, I suppose it doesn't have time to be overwhelmed by the strong oak flavor. I was unable to really get a hint of the pecan wood in my meal but the oak smell escaped the oven (we sat next to it) and I was able to smell/taste it a bit in my pizza. I think he probably uses these hardwoods more for their heat qualities than for any flavor they impart due to the short time the pizzas are exposed to it. That, however, is just a guess.

My wait was shorter than MCH's because I came after spring training. I showed up at 4:30 pm and was seated at 6:30 pm. If I had shown up 10 minutes earlier I would have been seated when they opened at 5:00 pm. I still don't know why I had to wait so long to sit down. I was out of the restaurant in less than 20 minutes after sitting down. The pizzas are small, they cook very quickly, and they get your bill right away. I guess people must enjoy finally getting a seat at this bustling restaurant and they want to make it last.

So, on to the pizza. Everything on the pizza was top-grade. The sausage was cut lengthwise in an oblique cut. I was surprised to find that the casing was still on the sausage, but I ended up really liking this. The snap it gave the pizza was a great textural addition. Flavor-wise, this was outstanding sausage. It was just well-balanced and had a very mild flavor, playing nicely with the other ingredients. It is different from most pizza sausage in that it doesn't have a strong flavor; it is subtle and uses the condiments to bring out the flavor in the free-range pork. Usually the cheese gets ignored in pizzas, but this was fresh mozzarella. It had that chewy texture of good cheese and had a fresh dairy flavor. The onions were also well cooked because they were sweet, but not yet a mushy pile. The crust had nice chew and was baked perfectly so the outside was crisp. I didn't notice a strong smoke flavor on my pies as I previously mentioned, but because I was next to the oven I did get a hint of it from the smell. I also was happy to see that the center was crisp and not soggy. My biggest complaint is that I really wanted tomato sauce on this pie. In fact, 3 out of the 6 pizzas that they recommend are white pies. I think a little acid on this pie would have brought out the flavors more.

The margherita was my favorite. There was nothing revolutionary here, just good ingredients. The sauce was very basic, but the flavor in the small tomato pieces was sweet with a hint of acid and I was very, very happy with it. One of the ways in which Bianco distinguishes himself is with small touches like adding sweet onions instead of regular onions and by adding his basil after the margherita has cooked. A lot of people do that, but their basil isn't as flavorful or fragrant as this one.

Best pizza ever? No, not at all. Not even close. I have no doubt it is the best pizza in Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Nevada, Utah, and maybe somewhere else in the Southwest. I think what he has essentially done is take his very good pizza and put in a pizza dessert where its already good qualities are amplified by terrible competition. It is an excellent example of this style with great attention to small details. I admire his craftsmanship. I could have gone every night I was in Phoenix, but the thought of waiting even 45 minutes for this pizza deterred me. If I am in Phoenix again, I won't go back and wait for it. I can't even begin to imagine waiting 5.5 hours for it like some people do. This is not my favorite style of pizza, but I do enjoy it in some of the restaurants here in town. But when given a choice between this and a good tavern-style thin, a deep dish or even a good stuffed pizza, I vote Chicago.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Gino's North [Meeting #79]

Gino's North [GoogleMaps]
1111 W. Granville Ave.
Chicago, IL 60660

CPC invaded Gino's North on 4/28/09.

Review submitted by Amanda

Gino's North is an Edgewater institution that does not look like much from the outside. The establishment has existed since the 1930s or 40s, but was a bar known as the "Snowdrop" back in those days. For years the bar existed as an Edgewater dive popular with locals. It's not clear when pizza became a feature, but around 30 years ago a woman named Peggy started working there and become known for her crust, lovingly featured on the restaurant's website as "Peggy's Famous Homemade Crust." The previous owners renamed the restaurant "Gino's North," and it is allegedly unconnected to the more famous "Gino's East." About three years ago the current owners bought the restaurant and invested in the interior, which features several half-moon booths and a long art deco style bar with a statue in the middle. Gino's North is not ideal for large groups, as CPC discovered when our gang of fourteen trickled in and waited for tables.

Because the restaurant is not set up in a way to accomodate large groups, we split into three tables and each table got to choose the toppings. Gino's North features deep dish and thin crust pies, each with Peggy's dough. My table ordered one deep dish with sausage, and one thin crust with pepperoni, artichoke, and sun-dried tomatoes. (I got a lot of ribbing for that last combination, but I was only trying to be creative). Our pizzas took over a half hour, perhaps even forty minutes before they came out. The Bulls/Celtics game provided some distraction, and we were concerned when a table that had ordered before us got there pizzas first. However, our pizzas arrived not long after that.

The deep dish arrived first. The deep dish is not like a traditional Chicago deep dish pizza. In my (albeit limited) experience, a real deep dish pizza has a thicker crust. This deep dish is almost like a pan pizza, but a very deep pan. Peggy deserves her local renown for the crust. Although the lighting was dark, we could tell the crust had a golden yellow hue indicative of corn flour, and perhaps olive oil. The crust was solid, with a nice crisp on the outer edges. Also noteworthy was the sauce, which was not very sweet, and nicely spiced. The distribution of sausage of evenly balanced, but not overpowering.

The thin crust was experimental in toppings. Artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, and pepperonies, admittedly, do not go together intuitively. However, I liked it. They are all strong flavors, and there was something about the pepperoni that was really delightful -- it was almost like a salami. Like the deep dish, the thin crust had great flavor, and although I would have liked to see a little bit more of char to the edge, there was still a good crunch around the edges.

Overall, it's definitely worth a trip to Edgewater to try the pizza at Gino's North. If you see Peggy, a petite blonde in the back who looks like she knows what she's doing, tell her the CPC says, "Hey."

Overall, Gino's North is a solid neighborhood pizza place worth a visit if you're in the area, aren't with a big group, and aren't a stickler f0r extra-friendly service. If you meet those criteria, you're sure to enjoy it. 

Chicago Pizza Club gives Gino's North a 6.6.

Gino's North Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Thursday, April 16, 2009

I Monelli Trattoria Pizzeria [Meeting #78]

I Monelli Trattoria Pizzeria [GoogleMaps]
5019 N. Western Ave.
Chicago, IL 60625

CPC invaded I Monelli Trattoria Pizzeria on 4/16/09.

Review submitted by Andrew

With another tax day safely behind us (and with hopefully all members in good standing with the IRS) the Chicago Pizza Club decided to hit up the North Side to try out I Monelli Trattoria Pizzeria. This neighborhood pizzeria is located in Chicago's Lincoln Square neighborhood not too far from the Western Ave. Brown line stop.

Opened in April of 2008 by Marco Schiavoni (owner of the Pizza Metro restaurants in the East Village area) and chef Giovanni Carzedda (formerly of Pizza D.O.C. and Il Covo)—along with food importer Massimiliano Agostini—I Monelli (which roughly translates to "Those Rascals") serves up contemporary Roman-style pizza along with such other Italian fare as antipasti, salads, pasta, and paninis. But, as always, we came for the pizza... but oh, did I mention that the restaurant is BYOB? Fortunately some members of the CPC remembered to raid their liquor supplies before heading down.

The Roman-style pizza at I Monelli features a thick (thicker than a normal pie, but not as thick as a pan or a Sicillian-style pizza) hand-tossed crust, topped with olive oil before being cooked in a 400 degree pizza oven. Pizzas are square cut and topped with a sauce made from imported Italian tomatoes. There are are nine different topping combinations to choose from on the menu, and of course you can always build your own pie with the standard toppings.

The rectangular pies at I Monelli come in three sizes; 5", 9" (a half sheet) and 18" (a full sheet). On our trip the Chicago Pizza Club ordered five of their specialty pizzas and one custom pie:

  • Potate é Rosmarino (Potato & Rosemary)
  • Capricciosa (Artichoke, Ham & Black Olives)
  • Margherita (Fresh Tomato & Basil)
  • Rucola (Cherry Tomatoes and Arugula on White Pizza Dough)
  • Romana (Ham, Onions & Oregano)
  • Sausage, Garlic & Sauteed Mushrooms
All pizzas were ordered in the "half" size, which the waitress told us normally feeds about two people. The Pizza Club had 12 members tonight (with one late comer) and probably could've stood to order one more pie to share amongst us. Tthe pizzas came out promptly, I forget exactly how long, but I don't believe we waited more than 15 minutes after ordering.

The pizzas all shared the same signature crust along with a minimal amount of sauce with the Romana and Capricciosa pizzas having a little bit more. When the sauce did stand out though it made quite a difference. Toppings for the most part were all pretty generous (especially with the arugula), I felt that the Romana could've used more oregano since it was hardly noticeable on the pizza at all and since it was listed as one if the toppings it seemed like it should've stood out more.

Among the favorites were the Sausage, Mushroom and Garlic pizza, the Potato & Rosemary and the Margherita which had a bit more cheese than the others pizzas and was topped with very fresh basil. The mozzerella on the Margherita also stood out from the other pizzas tonight.

All in all, a solid outing. All of the pizzas were consistent. Unlike some other restaurants that the Chicago Pizza Club has been to lately, I Monelli knows what they do well and sticks to that style of pizza.

Chicago Pizza Club gives I Monelli a 5.62

I Monelli Trattoria Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

[Chicago Pizza News] Chicago Pizza Club Joins The Bite Against ALS

The Les Turner ALS Foundation has joined with some local restaurants to raise money for the foundation via restaurant purchases. During the month of May, diners at these restaurants can order a "Culinary Crusade Special" and a portion of the cost of this dish goes to the foundation. The Les Turner ALS Foundation supports medical research, clinical and support services for ALS patients, and dessemination of ALS information. If you are unfamiliar with ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), then here are a few links about the disease and the baseball player whose name is also attached to it.

Participating restaurants include:
- Adobo Grill ( Wicker Park in Chicago )
- Bluegrass ( Highland Park )
- Graziano’s Brick Oven Pizza ( Niles )
- Ina’s (West Loop in Chicago )
- Tuscany (Oak Brook)
- Tuscany (Wheeling)
- Unrefined Café ( Valparaiso , Ind. )
- Vinci (Chicago)
- Wishbone (West Loop in Chicago )
- Wishbone (Lakeview in Chicago )

CPC has not yet been to Graziano's Brick Oven Pizza, but it has been added to our long list of places to visit. They feature a wood-burning oven and have been given a score of over 20 by Zagat. They are known for having a variety of toppings and an extensive menu and have been in their current location for over a decade. I don't have information on which menu item is the special at Graziano's, but a little birdie tells me it will most likely be wine.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

[Chicago Pizza News] Obama Officially Prefers St. Louis Pizzeria

Submitted by Marla Collins' Husband.

I previously wrote that the alleged Barack Obama love for Italian Fiesta Pizzeria was purely speculative and that only Obama known to actually like it is Michelle.

It turns out that the earlier story that Obama fell in love with a pizza he had in St. Louis during the campaign is definitely true. The White House has invited the owner and chef of Pi to come to Washington on Friday and cook some pizzas for President Obama and his staff.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

[Chicago Pizza News] Giordano's Scion Takes Interesting Path to Destiny as Restauranteur

The Chicago Tribune recently ran an article about Basil Apostolou, 27, one of the two sons of Giordano's kingpin John Apostolou, then man who bought the restaurant chain from Boglio brothers who founded the company in 1974. Basil and his younger brother George are both on their way to taking over the family business, with each of them already owning a Giordano's location (Basil's is downtown in Prudential Plaza).

It turns out that Basil is a bit of a free spirit who spends a lot of time traipsing around the world. His most recent trip, which apparently inspired the article, involved a week-long trip to a "shamanic workshop" in the Amazon rainforest. He tried a bunch of new foods along the way but, according to Basil, nothing he would consider bringing into the restaurant.

John Apostolou refused to comment for the article.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Annual State of the Chicago Pizza Club Meeting / Frozen Pizza Extravaganza [Meeting #77]

Frozen pizzas invaded the CPC on 4/4/09.

Review submitted by El Presidente.

This meeting had a dual purpose. It was primarily a meeting to discuss the future of the Chicago Pizza Club and how to improve it for you, our devoted readers. But it also gave us a reason to trash Dan's house and cook 10 frozen pizzas. These were all bought at Dominick's except for the Lou Malnati's pizza which I picked up from one of their pizzerias (Malnati's is not available in supermarkets). The total cost for these pizzas came out to $71. We cooked all of the pizzas as close to their indicated temperatures as we could, but a few were off by 25 degrees due to time and oven space constraints.

Here is the lineup:

Let's begin with the deep-dish pizzas. Going into the evening, I thought that these pizzas would be easier to replicate at home than thin crust pizzas. Deep dish pizzas cook for longer periods of time and the crust isn't necessarily as prominent as in a thin crust. The ice crystals that gather on a thin crust would lead me to believe those crusts will be soggy and that a deep dish can better accommodate the extra moisture. The Lou Malnati's had a ton of cheese. In fact, that was pretty much all I could taste. The dough was kind of chewy, perhaps due to slight undercooking on our part. The sauce, which was essentially tomato chunks, was just boring. To be fair to Lou, I should note that the instructions recommend thawing the Lou's for a few hours prior to cooking, but we just baked it right out of the freezer.

I thought the Gino's East pizza was terrible. It was just bland, which is NOT the case at the restaurant. The sauce was comparatively good and was a good counterpoint to the cornmeal crust. The Reggio's was a cheese pizza and this was a good thing. I found it to be so salty that any meat would have made it inedible for me. Lou Malnati's, Gino's East, and Reggio's are local Chicago restaurants that offer frozen versions of their products. I have only been to Lou's and Gino's and their frozen pizzas pale in comparison to the offerings at the restaurants, and I think it's an easy assumption that the same holds true for Reggio's. I thought they were all disappointing. The cook times for these three were 40 minutes, 35 minutes, and 30 minutes respectively.

Perhaps my favorite pizza of the night was a new product from Newman's Own (12 minutes). They have recently entered the frozen pizza business and they seem to know what they're doing. The crust was crisp, the cheese and sauce had a strong garlic component and a good distribution of toppings, including some really sorry-looking pepperoni. Say what you will about what most places offer at their restaurant, but this pepperoni (and all the other ones we had tonight) was chewy, too salty, and should not be put on any pizza. Palermo's pizza (20 minutes) is put out by the Milwaukee chain of the same name. This six cheese pizza had a great flavor - I thought it was the best topping of the night. I'm used to seeing 4 cheese pizzas, but these guys are clearly going for the glory with 6 cheeses. I felt the crust was too thick and spongy, but this was still one of the better pizzas. The DiGiorno pizza (12 minutes) had excellent toppings as well. The mushrooms tasted better than a lot of mushrooms you get at good pizzerias. I really thought the creme fraiche was unnecessary and just added a layer of flavorless glob underneath the great mushrooms. This was in the flatbread style and the crust was appropriately thin and crisp.

The biggest disappointment of the night for me was the Home Run Inn pizza (20 minutes). I am a big fan of their restaurant product and had fond memories of a few frozen pizzas in my childhood. Those memories are dashed thanks to a sauce that is so artificial I could taste the metal can it came in, cheap, rubbery meats, and a bland crust. Tombstone (17 minutes) needs no introduction. We've all had it, either at kitchenless bars, dorm rooms, or on lonely Saturday nights. This Wisconsin product had a great set of commercials a few decades ago and is probably the best-known frozen pizza. The deluxe had the worst meat of the night. It was just gross. The only positive I can say is that the crust was crisp and didn't let the toppings spill all over me. I was able to salvage it with lots of Tabasco sauce, but that's because all I could taste was the hot sauce. I'll at least commend them for being consistent. This pizza hasn't changed.

Even before this meeting, I already knew that I would hate California Pizza Kitchen (11 minutes). I hate it from every angle: I hate their stupid toppings, I hate their attempts at making pizza healthy, I hate California, and I hate people who tell me it's the greatest pizza they have ever had. This white pizza had chunks of spinach that were visually unappetizing because they were clumped and soggy. It was also very salty, but not in a good way. I think Phred may have ended up with the last bite of my piece. Freschetta (19 minutes) was in a tough spot. The 6-cheese pizza from before set the bar high and this 4-cheese Freschetta pizza was no comparison. It had a lot of sauce, but this was actually terrible since it made it hard for me to get the cheese combination flavors. The crust was light and fluffy with some decent chew, but it was drowned in the sea of terrible sauce.

The lesson here? When possible, go to the restaurant to eat pizza or at least get delivery - the frozen product does not compare. There were a few that put more attention into the quality of ingredients and this was evident. I would be happy to have those as a late night snack, but they're still nowhere near as good as any decent restaurant.