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Friday, January 23, 2009

Cleos [Meeting #74]

1935 W. Chicago Ave. (Map)
(312) 243-5600

CPC invaded Cleos on 1/22/09.

Cleo's is a great Ukrainian Village bar with a nice selection of beer. A Bucktown location also opened a couple of years ago and it does a fine job of duplicating the original. Overall, both locations offer an above-average food menu, and their regular specials on drinks and food beat most deals in West Town.

And they serve pizza. On Thursday nights, they offer a deal on $4.99 12" pizzas. But don't go there just for the pizza. Go there, and if you get hungry while you are already there, and you're kind of in the mood for pizza, then maybe order a pizza. I followed this blueprint several times in the past, and always enjoyed both food and drink.

But you know what happens when the CPC busts into a joint with twelve members and eleven 12" pizza options on sale? We order them all. And then Cleo's pizza gets very redundant. The crust is dry and flavorless. The sauce is barely there, and when you do bite into it all you get is an unseasoned paste that sticks to your tongue. The cheese is bland and a bit rubbery once it starts to cool. Because these three foundational elements of the pizza are so banal, the relative success of each pie hinges on the tastiness of the toppings. In this respect, the only selection that utterly failed was the Shrimp and Pesto pizza, with the gummy, flavorless bits of shrimp. By contrast the Flamin' Chorizo was quite nice with its crumbled chorizo given a good kick by the sliced jalapenos. The milder the toppings, the less exciting the pizza.

This may sound like a harsh review of the pizza, but Cleo's is not a pizzeria. It is a great bar that wants to satisfy its hungry customers, and they have a good range of other menu items. They also have a free buffet at 11:00 p.m. on Saturday nights and a brunch on Sunday that features an excellent bloody mary bar. All this can be enjoyed in their dark, colorful space with a variety of seating that includes bar stools, high-top and regular tables, and some booths in the back. The candles and xmas lights gently reveal the vibrant murals and other colourful decor. When the weather is warm, there is also ample seating in the large beer garden at the Chicago Avenue location.

I should also add that Cleo's does not take reservations, but their managers were really friendly and accommodating when I called to ask about getting a table for our large group. The server and bouncer were a little less helpful about actually making that table available when we arrived as scheduled, but we eventually got enough tables and chairs together. Be warned that there is often only one server responsible for the entire restaurant, so the service can be spotty, but they are friendly and helpful whenever they do get to you.

Overall, I'll be back at Cleo's soon to order an Alpha King on tap and a grilled cheese with herbed shallot aioli.

Petey gives Cleo's 3.4/10.

Cleo's on Urbanspoon


  1. This pizza sucked. I tried every one but the veggie and they ranged from tolerable (Bacon and Blue Cheese) to inedible (Shrimp Pesto) to just plain sad (the flavorless mush they passed off as fresh tomato on the Margherita). The crust was dry and flavorless, the cheese was inordinately chewy and flavorless, the sauce was overwhelmed and largely flavorless, and the toppings were just bad, with the exception of the mushrooms and jalapenos (both fresh).

    If given the choice between Cleo's and Domino's, I would get Domino's every single time. I give Cleo's a 2 and that's being generous.

  2. What a gigantic amount of pizza. I'm not sure how they cook their pizza, but it is almost certainly in a gas oven - which may or not be a specific pizza oven.

    I think what might at first impact strike you as reasonable pizza devolves into less than adequate pizza when you eat more than slice or two. Highlights for me were the chorizo pizza. Chorizo is so good it boosts anything, but the jalapenos were great with it. I also liked the bacon and bleu cheese pizza. The strong flavors were overpowering, but in this setting that was a good thing. Also, the buffalo chicken pizza was apparently poorly coated in sauce this time. I have had it before, and despite my general tendency to hate chicken on pizza I think it's probably their best pizza when prepared properly.

    The bad? Well, it was all just boring. The crust seemed prepackaged and was that horribly limp and soft and a chore to eat. The sauce on pizzas that had sauce was essentially tomato paste. Seriously. No extra salt, pepper, or anything. I could taste the can. I wasn't even aware I was eating a goat cheese pizza because the goat cheese was so insipid that it tasted like a ricotta. All in all, it was largely a chore to eat here although I was never disgusted. It was just not very good and largely boring.

    My score is a 4. Despite the thrashing I just gave it, the truth is I frequent this bar at both its locations. While I am there, I usually have some food to go with my beer. Sometimes it's wings, sometimes nachos, but it's also sometimes pizza. I discussed this with Kate-D and I agree with her that when you're just having one pizza over beer, Cleo's is good enough. And with our rating system, that equals a 4.

  3. Cleo's is great place for kitschy atmosphere and booze, but I'm glad I had a big lunch. I concur with MCH's sentiments and yet El Prez's interpretation of the rankings does make sense. However, there might be a conflict within the rating system:

    If a 2.0 "pizza" is the only option around, then does that elevate it to 4.0?

    So 3.0?? :)

  4. This is a rare occassion where the pizza was hurt by its quantity. The more I had the less I liked it, and it didn't start off too high on my scales to begin with. To be fair, Cleo's is just a bar serving pub food and in no way markets itself as a pizza place. And I think a single pizza, split between friends over a couple of beers would be the ideal situation to sample Cleo's pizza. Even then, you're going to get far from an ideal pizza.

    It's hard to comment on individual pizzas since it was rather dark and oftentimes I wasn't exactly certain what I was eating. I will say that the shrimp and pesto pizza was absolutely awful, especially the gamey, rubbery 'shrimp' that they used to top it. The crusts were nothing special, but in no way detracted from the experience. The cheese and sauce were pretty bland though, bordering on the unnoticable... mainly because, oftentimes, the sauce was nowhere to be found.

    So, to put this in Spinal Tap terms, this pizza was far from being a "Shark Sandwich," but was closer on the scale to being a "Shit Sandwich."

    To me, the pizza at Cleo's is the epitome of a 4.0 rating.

  5. Cleo's has a bit of pizza to offer, but it is definitely not their specialty. Since we ordered nearly every option, it was impossible to sample all of them or else we would have eaten 12 (or 13?) slices. No thanks! My first slice was topped with green peppers and onions. I appreciated the large number of fresh peppers however the pizza was extremely bland. There wasn't any tomato sauce to be found. Next, I jumped at the opportunity to try the flamin chorizo. While it did knock my socks off from the heat of the jalapenos, the other ingredients went unnoticed. In an effort to bring my tastebuds back to neutral, I tried the sausage pizza. The meat was crumbled in tiny pieces, but I tasted it and I found this slice to be decent. Lastly, margarita hit my plate. The cheese was extremely rubbery and tasted like plastic... perhaps it was because this pizza had cooled significantly by the time I tried it. The basil did taste good though and I did like the last few bits of the crispy crust.

    In summary, not a single component stood out as great, or really as even consistently good. The crust was there and served one of its purposes... to support the sauce and toppings. It didn't have any other redeeming qualities. I won't really comment on the tomato sauce because I didn't taste enough of it. The cheese was thick and lacked great taste. This leaves the toppings which were mediocre at best.

    When you go to Cleo's for a beer, I would recommend ordering food, but steer clear of the pizza. Go for the grilled cheese with tomoato and onion.

    Cleo's gets a 4.

  6. There is not much to say. Almost every one of the 13 pizzas we had tasted exactly the same. If I had to pick a favorite, I would go with the bleu cheese pizza only because it had SO much cheese on it. It reminded me of my childhood hobby of squirting Easy-Cheese directly into my mouth.

    The crust reminded me of hardtack (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hardtack) and the sauce was Dominick's brand tomato paste.

    Cleo's itself is a fantastic bar. It is also the only place I have been in the city where you can $3.50 Kirin drafts. I'd rather they have offered sushi ...

    3 out of 10.

  7. Let's be clear here- Cleo's is a bar and in no way claims to be pizza experts. If you are in the hood and you want more to drink than eat, then by all means stop by! For crying out loud, the pizzas were only $4.99!!! So, for half price pizza night, the pizzas were fine. That being said, I'd be pissed if I had to pay full price!!! I was pretty excited about the buffalo chicken pizza until we got it and there was nothing buffalo about it. In the end, Cleo's was trying to be creative with the types of pizzas they offered, but really failed to deliver anything special and should probably just stick to the basics of bar food. I'll give Cleo's a 4/10.

  8. This is not a place to go for pizza, even if it's only $4.99. I am generally not a fan of seafood on pizza, but I found the shrimp/pesto combination particularly bad. The dough was really sub-par, it was definitely not made fresh. I give it a 3.0.

  9. It seems harsh to review the pizza here because it's not a pizza place. And the pizza blows. I have to say that I really like Cleo's; it's a great West Town establishment and delightful to hang out in. The ambiance is unpretentious and the crowd is full of the locals you want to see at your local bar. In spite of how shitty the pizza is, I will certainly hang out here again -- and hell, if I'm drunk and the pizza is $5 then I might even get it again; although, I'd probably just go down the street for the predictably mediocre Village Pizza instead.

    Andrew put it perfectly when he said that the pizza was hurt by quantity. I tried some and I thought it wasn't worse than Tombstone; but the more I had the worse it tasted and the more I regretted eating it. I did enjoy the way the chorizo slice had jalapeƱos that made my mouth all warm, but that is probably the best thing I have to say about it. The crust was awful, and though we decided that the pizza was not frozen, the crust almost certainly started out that way.

    All in all, I really don't like to complain, but I just didn't like the pizza here. It all tasted the same, regardless of toppings, it made me feel a little ill, and frankly I felt a little ripped off even at $5. I give it a 2.5.

  10. For the reasons above, I give Cleo's a 4. Not worth a trip for the pizza, but not bad when you're out drinking. Go for the chorizo.