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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


  1. Hello.

    Any association with Pizza Metro is, in my mind, a terrible one. Therefore, I was not expecting much. I mean, given how terrible Pizza Metro is, why would anyone choose not to make better pizza if they could? And I found out last night that the owner of Pizza Metro can indeed make a marginally better pizza.

    Their speciality pizzas seemed boring to me, but we ordered 5 of them. It seemed clear to me that the best pizza was the rosemary and potato one. Despite a previous bad outing with what I perceived to be undercooked potatoes, I actually do like potatoes on pizza. This pizza featured potatoes that were soft and plentiful with a healthy dose of rosemary. Perhaps the rosemary was ground, because I didn't notice any sprigs or needles on my 3 pieces of this pizza. I see something dark in the pictures that could be the rosemary hiding in the cheese, but I didn't notice it on my pieces.

    I think the sausage pizza had sausage on it. I wouldn't know. All I tasted was garlic. And it was too salty. I did like the arugula pizza, but mainly because there was some acid (likely lemon) squeezed onto it that gave me a break from the massive salt load at I Monelli. The arugula was heavy, but the cherry tomatoes were not. We were picking around to make sure we each got one on our slice.

    I did like the crust for the most part. It was like a nice bread with a little crumble to it. I heard reports of previous visits including olive oil on the underside of the crust, but I did not notice that this time. There were patches where it was a bit soggy under the toppings, but after sleeping on it, I decided this wasn't so bad after all. It was never soupy, just a bit soggy.

    The over-riding theme here was saltiness. I wasn't particularly thirsty, so I don't think it was my brain compensating for perceived further insult. I think it was just flat out salty. The sauce was sparse throughout and I didn't find it to be noteworthy. It was just another salt conduit.

    I don't need to go back here. Once is more than enough. Is it better than Pizza Metro? Well, sure it is - Pizza Metro sucks. But I didn't think that I Monelli made enough of a jump to impress me. Maybe I'm anti-Roman.

    I give I Monelli a 5.5

  2. The potato and rosemary was a topping combo I have wanted to try for a long time, and I was happy to finally have the opportunity. It could be very easier to overdo the pototoes, but these were thinly, but not too thinly, sliced, and the rosemary was generous, but not overwhelming.

    As for the others, I found the crusts a bit dry on several outer slices. Also, I was unimpressed by the ham. This may not be fair since I just had a terrific ham on Easter, but still.

    The arugula and tomato on white pizza dough had a cheesy, kind of soft and wet texture beneath the arugula that I don't know what to make of. I think I liked the almost gooey texture. I think less arugula and more tomatoes would have worked better.

    Overall, I liked the pizza. I would just stay away from the ham.

    I give I Monelli a 6.25.

  3. I eat this pizza quite a bit, but usually stick to the Potato & Rosemary pizza, which seems to have been a favorite of the group on our trip. The way they cook the potatos on their pie and the nice flavoring of the rosemary give that pizza a nice heartiness that I really enjoy.

    I liked the other pizzas as well, but there were a few things that bothered me. While some of the toppings were very obviously fresh (the loads of arugula and the basil on the margherita) some seemed to be obviously canned or packaged... I'm looking at you, ham.

    And while I really enjoy the crust at I Monelli, I do find myself gravitating towards the crisper outter pieces rather than the soggier interior cuts of the pizza.

    So yeah, I'm a big fan of the potato & rosemary pie, the other pizzas varied a little in quality, mainly due to the freshness of the toppings. They're still my "go-to" restaurant when I want a pizza delivered, but I think I'll be sticking my aforementioned favorite.

    I give I Monelli a 6.5.

  4. Just for the record, CPC ate all of the pies in less than 25 minutes after arrival at the table.

    As I arrived late, I was only able to get one slice and thus, am unable to render a review or a score.

  5. I Monelli is new to me, Pizza Metro is not. The style is the same, but toppings vary. Sure this time we had two pizzas with ham on them, which I would never do because I dislike cubed ham, but my experience brought back pleasant memories of good pizza and swivel stools. The major difference between these two restaurants is ambiance. Although both are cozy, I Monelli does not have bar stools, or a bar for that matter. It is geared more toward families or couples, with a normal sit down restaurant feel.

    Now comes pizza talk. I always prefer pizza in the shape of a triangle because you can enjoy both the soft inner pizza as well as the outer crust. I Monelli doesn't make a round pie, and cuts their slices into small rectangles. It only takes a few bites to polish one off, and I always find myself wanting more...not just due to hunger. It tastes good! The crust isn't typical. It reminds me of foccacia. It's thin, but it's doughy. The ingredients seemed pretty fresh. My favorites of the night were the potato/rosemary, sausage/mushroom/garlic, and margherita. I agree that the sausage wasn't too present, but I love garlic and I can never have too much. My slices of margherita were piping hot, so the crust caved and I had a mess in my plate. I think that because the tomatoes were plentiful, there a was a bit too much moisture creating somewhat soggy crust. I still liked it. I wanted to love the Rucola pizza because it was so pretty. I think more tomatoes and less arugula would be a good idea. I found it bitter.

    So there it is. I'm a fan of this pizza. I do recommend experimenting with your own toppings...the list of specialty pies aren't too enticing with the exception of potato/rosemary and margherita.

    I Monelli gets at 7.75.

  6. I was eagerly anticipating our pies after seeing how good the pizza appeared on the other tables in the restaurant. It turns out that the pizzas at I Monelli looked better than they tasted.

    The crust had a buttery flavor with a flaky texture that was more pastry-like than that of traditional pizza dough. The tomato sauce had a nice balanced flavor that tasted fresh with a just hint of acidity but there simply was not enough on the pizzas for my liking.

    Of the pies ordered, the sausage, garlic and mushroom was by far my favorite. The sausage crumbs had a healthy dose of fennel that reminded me of my favorite pizza in my hometown of Springfield, IL. The garlic was laid on heavy and did overpower the other flavors but it was still the best pie of the bunch.
    The potato and rosemary pizza was more of a novelty than a pizza I’d get on a regular basis. Overall it was good but it left me unfulfilled (much like the remaining four pizzas).

    There was nothing that stood out as exceptional at I Monelli, at the same time nothing stood out as awful either. This spot gets a 5 in my book.

  7. The Sausage/Garlic/Sauteed Mushroom was my favorite...even though I couldn't really taste the individual ingredients, I enjoyed the combination. I felt the same way about the Capricciosa, although one of the slices (if you can call it that...everything here is *small*) I had contained a few great artichoke chunks.

    The Rucola was dry pretty tasteless, and the Romana tasted like a rubbery, too-salty ham-and-cheese omelette. The Potato and Margherita were just sort of meh.

    In general, the crust was like day-old Focaccia, too hard and too oily, and the cheese just didn't have texture. Many of the pizzas reminded me of deli-style places where they cook a pie in the morning and let it atrophy under hot lights for hours.

    The taste and texture of I Monelli's pizzas was seriously underwhelming. Without counting the fact that a half pizza is nowhere near enough for two people, I give the place a 5.

  8. I am getting over a cold, so I was not sure if that was to blame for the apparent dullness of some of the flavors (I'm talking to you, ham chunks), but from the comments above it seems it was not just my diminished senses. On the other hand, I definitely did not have a problem with the garlic levels of the sausage, garlic, mushroom pie and that was actually my favorite of the night. That said, they were all pretty so-so, with the only real disappointment being the wet mess of the margherita. Even there, the fresh basil gave it some good flavor, and I liked the cheese. I was disappointed in the dried rosemary and oregano on the other specials. I did not even know there was oregano on the Romana until I read Stu's review, which is pretty weak when these herbs are being advertised as key ingredients.

    Whether it was because of my cold or the objectively bland flavors of the sauce and toppings, I found myself paying particular attention to the taste and texture of the crust. I did not participate in the ordering, so when I noticed a variance in the crust from pie to pie, I thought there were supposed to be different thicknesses. But it turns out they are all supposed to be the same. They were uniform in the sense that they were all rectangles that were softer on the inside and crispier on the outside, but I found the overall thickness of each pie varied to such a degree that it seemed like a problem with consistency. Never a good sign for a restaurant. I preferred the thinner, crispier pieces that tasted a bit of oil. Others were doughy and/or had no hint of oil. Amanda and I noted that the arugula pie was flaky and bready in the manner of rolled-out Pillsbury crescent rolls.

    Overall, the pizza is not bad if you're in the neighborhood, but not worth a special trip. 5.3.

  9. I had been to I Monelli once before and had very good memories of the place. On that previous trip, the restaurant was not nearly as busy and I only had the potato and rosemary pizza, to which I added sausage.

    Once again, I really enjoyed the potato and rosemary pizza (this time without sausage). I often find that when rosemary is added to a dish, it overwhelms everything else. That does not happen with this pizza. The soft potato adds great texture to the pizza and I think also buffers the rosemary.

    The Capricciosa was not very good. The canned artichokes, canned olives and salty ham were all low quality ingredients that I think may not have been cooked as long as the entire pizza. The result was a lot of artichoke juice on the pie and too much salt.

    The Margherita was a bad ordering choice. A pizza that relies on fresh regular tomatoes in Chicago in April is necessarily going to struggle to be good and this one was not up to the challenge.

    The Rucola, billed as a white dough pizza, was interesting. There was a lot of arugula on the pie, which was okay in the bites that had a piece of cherry tomato, but a bit much in the bites without the added fruit. The dough seemed different from the other pizzas, but in a way I can't fully describe. There was something different about the taste, but I fear I ate my slice too fast to put my finger on it. The texture was definitely a bit chewier than the other pies. Hopefully Andrew will amend his review to explain the different crust.

    The Romana was not a good pizza and that is solely the fault of the generous supply of crappy ham that was oversalted and of the quality you might find, if you were particularly unlucky, at a budget supermarket.

    The sausage, garlic and mushroom pizza tasted like garlic. That was fine, since I like garlic. But it did remind me how mediocre the sausage is, both in taste and appearance (the sausage comes in tiny little crumbles with not nearly enough fat/texture).

    Overall, I was fine with I Monelli. My biggest disappointment was with the inconsistency in the crusts. They were cooked to varying levels of doneness. When done right, the crust was crisp, light and had a great oily flavor. Unfortunately, that was rare on this visit.

    I would go back to I Monelli, but not with such a large group (I think we overwhelmed the kitchen). I would also limit myself to the potato and rosemary pizza, which I still like a lot. But judging just on this visit, and taking all of the pizzas into account, I give I Monelli a 6.

  10. It seemed like very authentic Italian style pizza, but it just didn't taste THAT good. The margarita pizza was the best. I'm not sure that's saying anything. The Rucola pizza seemed like salad on a pizza which was...interesting. Nothing else was memorable. I give it a 4.

  11. I found that a lot of the pizzas tasted similar, even though they had different toppings. The best ones in my opinion were margherita pizza and sausage, garlic and mushroom pizza. The margherita surprised because it had better flavor than it looked, however it doesn't hold up comparatively to other pizzerias. I wasn't a fan of the potato/rosemary, it just seemed dense--perhaps the relatively warm weather that night made it less appetizing. The most interesting thing was that sometimes the crust had similar texture and taste to a Pizza Hut bread stick. If only I had that marinara dipping sauce. And if I was at a Pizza Hut. Having Pizza Hut breadsticks. I Monelli's suffers when people know it's part of Pizza Metro. Overall, serviceable pizzas, but if there are other options, it would be on the lower end of the list.


  12. It seems that I liked the pizza at I Monelli Trattoria more than most of my co-reviewers did. I can easily understand why someone wouldn't like it, though -- one's taste in crust, or expectations based on Pizza Metro, can really make or break the experience. I wasn't "wowed" by the pizza, but I enjoyed eating it. Here is my breakdown of the good and the bad:

    GOOD: For me, the crust -- I liked the pastry-like flakiness of it. I liked that it's crispy on the bottom and a little doughy on top. The sauce added appeal to the pizza, when there was enough of it (the Capricciosa and the Romana); it tasted light and fresh. I thought that the cheese had a nice stringiness to it, and particularly enjoyed the chewiness of the cheese on the Margherita. I loved the ham on the two pizzas on which it came, with its delightful piggy saltiness. The pungent freshness of the garlic and basil on the sausage and Margherita slices probably excited me the most. I can understand why some reviewers didn't like how the garlic overpowered everything though, which leads me to the...

    BAD: Yeah, so the garlic overpowered the rest of the flavor on the sausage slice; but I blame the sausage. It would've been hard not to overpower it, with any added ingredient. And, I thought the sausage was unfortunately dry. As noted by Neil, it did have some fennel flavor to it, but that's about it. I like my high-calorie meats to be more pleasurable; otherwise, it's not worth getting fat for. As much as I enjoyed theRomana pizza -- (probably my favorite pizza of the night, with the starchy potato rosemary a close second) -- if oregano is green, (and it is, right?), then there was certainly no oregano on that pizza. Other reviewers were kind in calling the oregano "light". There wasn't any, and given that it was listed as one of three ingredients, itshould've been a little bit more prominent than seemingly absent. Also? I will probably never enjoy arugula on pizza, and that's not because I haven't tried. It's way too bitter to toss on a pizza, and it should stay in salad, where it's welcome and where it belongs.

    I probably won't try I Monelli Trattoria for pizza again, since there is better pizza located conveniently to me. But I liked the quality of the pizza enough to want to go back and try the rest of the menu, which I suspect is better. I thought the location was charming; comfy and BYOB always makes for extra romance in a dinner date. But I give the pizza itself a 6.

  13. Ciao everyone! I think it is great that you have an active, official Chicago pizza club doing all of the dirty work for us pizza lovers. I came to this blog looking for a recommendation of a place in Chicago that does a Roman pizza, but I want to let you all know that the pizza I Monelli Trattoria is making is not by definition Roman style pizza. I would know, I live in Rome!

    It seems to me that this type of pizza I Monelli are making is the kind of pizza you get at a "pizza a taglio" (pizza by the slice) pizzeria, which you can actually find anywhere in Italy. But, a true Roman pizza has a very, very thin crust and minimal toppings and sauce (when it is not a pizza bianca). A pizza romana contrasts very clearly with the pizza napoletana in that it has a super thin, crisp crust with burnt edges from the heat of the oven.

    I will be moving back to Chicago very soon, and will desperately miss my preferred pizza romana. I challenge you to find the real thing in Chicago. I will be on the hunt, too. Let us know if/when you find it and I will do the same!

    In the meantime, buon appetito!