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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


  1. So, having nothing to do with the pizza, I'll speak first about the pasta. Very, very good creamy sauce with crumbled sausage chunks. There were big pieces of sweet tomatoes in the sauce as well and I felt like I won some little lottery when I got a few of them on my plate. The pasta was a nice al dente, although I'm not sure if it was homemade or not. It was fine, but not as good as the sauce.

    The pizza was similarly good. The sausage and spinach was my favorite because both toppings were excellent and played well together. The sausage, we were informed, is the same as was in the great pasta sauce. We had three different crusts even though we were supposed to get the same crust for all the pizzas. The sausage and spinach crust was crisp, but I felt just a little dry. The white pie had a perfect crust, and the pepperoni one had a slightly soggy crust. I'm not sure if it was because of the cooking times for the toppings or if the water content of the toppings had anything to do with it, but they were different. I think time was the most likely factor because one would figure that a healthy amount of spinach would have been the topping most likely to make a crust soggy.

    I really enjoyed my whole meal at La Gondola and I plan to return when I am hungry and in this neighborhood shopping at Pier 1 Imports with my wife or ogling the video games at Gamestop. I'm betting La Gondola is better than its neighbor restaurant, Emperor Wok, in this charmless strip mall. I enjoyed the pizza, but I think I need to keep sampling their other menu items. I give the pizza a score of 8.1

  2. I still can't figure out how the three crusts on these pizzas had such different textures. I would think it was the toppings, but the pepperoni wasn't so much fattier than the sausage that that would explain it. And presumably they were all put in the oven together.

    Other than there being way too much garlic on the pepperoni pizza, I really liked everything about these pies. The toppings, sauce and cheese were all good quality. There was nothing mind-blowing about the pizzas, but they were definitely solid.

    That said, if I go back to La Gondola, I will not get the pizza. The pasta we had was simply outstanding. The sauce was so good that I asked for more bread and used it to clean out the bowl the pasta was served in.

    Judging just on the pizza, I give La Gondola a very solid 6.2.

  3. Who knew good things could be found in strip malls?

    It's frankly quite disgusting how good the pasta dish we all shared was, but since this is Pizza Club, I digress...

    The pizzas were all fantastic. The only complaint I had about any of them was that the Pepperoni & Garlic pizza had waaaaaay too much garlic on it, I don't even remember tasting any of the pepperoni, it was that overwelhmed.

    The sausage on the one pizza was pretty fantastic, but the real winner of the night for me was the White Pizza. The crust on this pizza (as were the crusts on the other two) was fantastic, but the real standout on this pie was the healthy amount of delicious cheese on top.

    I give the pizza here a 7.5, it was pretty good... but after sampling the pasta I think I have to agree with Marla Collins' Husband, that if I go back here I'll be trying the other dishes. But this is pretty impressive in and of itself, usually it's rare to find a restaurant that does a pizza of a high caliber as well as fantastic other dishes.

  4. I really enjoyed the pizza we had at La Gondola. My fave was definitely the sausage and spinach, first runner up was the white pizza and coming in last was the pepperoni and garlic. They say everything is made from scratch...and the sausage was perfect. I didn't find any undesirables in my meat. The white pizza was also delicious. This is the second time I've had ricotta on pizza and I think it's great. The pepperoni and garlic was way too overpowering with salt and garlic for my taste. I'll def go back to try more of their main courses because that pasta was heavenly.

    As I mentioned in the review, we did have leftovers and I will say that this pizza is much better fresh and hot out of the oven. I do appreciate eating day old cold pizza, but this crust isn't any good cold. It sort of tasted like pastry dough, but not in a good way.

    La Gondola gets a 7.5.

  5. I agree that La Gondola is a very well-rounded restaurant that seems to do everything quite well, and I'm looking forward to going back and trying more pasta offerings.

    The pizza was pretty good. They offer "thin" and "extra thin" crust, but we only tried the thin. I would be interested to try the extra thin next time, b/c the crust was best when I had my first slice and everything was hot and crisp. I imagine the extra thin is crispier and without the doughy softness around the edges, which was not bad but also not all that flavorful. Sauce and cheese were good, toppings were great. I love garlic so I enjoyed the garlic & pepperoni pie, but it is true that the pepperoni was barely discernible so we probably could have done without it.

    Overall, a really warm, inviting restaurant with great food and great service. It's in a surprising spot, but convenient for the next time I drag my husband to Pier 1.


  6. This place is weird and the perfect example of why you should not judge a book by its cover. The strip mall address with a half-lit sign and red and white checkered tablecloths spelled cheesy Italian restaurant disaster. The dining area is teeny-tiny (seats maybe 30 peeps max) and you have to go through the kitchen to use the restroom. Needless to say, I was hardly tickled for this to be to be my first pizza club meeting back after a brief hiatus.

    ...but it was amazing! AMAZING! I love this place and wish I lived in its 'hood. Starting off with the pasta was a phenomenal idea (up top for the suggestion Jen!) and set the tone for the meal to come. I will not let the awesomeness of the pasta influence my pizza ranking, but it deserves mentioning that we all but licked the bottom of the dish it came in.

    The pizza itself was excellent. Upon delivery to the table, I had a piece of sausage and spinach. Mmmmmmm. The crust was crisp yet chewy and delish. Hearing about the amount of garlic on the pepperoni from the other CPCers, I chose the white pizza next, which I think is one of the most boring pizzas anyone could order. Again, La Gondola came through with an amazing dish having the perfect amount of ricotta (too much usually ruins it for me). The crust started to get a little limp by the time I got to the pepperoni but stayed crisp, especially along the edges. I completely disagree with the other members that think there was too much garlic on this pizza. There can NEVER be too much garlic (see Kelly's favorite pizza toppings listed under profile). As for the crust comments, I don't think this is a place that would go to the trouble of making three different crusts for our pizza. They are too small. I did not pick up on it and therefore I attribute any textural differences in pizza crusts (indicated by other members) to the passage of time on our table.

    Bottom line, this place is great. Even if it isn't the Chicago style za I was craving, they've got a great thing cookin' over at La Gondola. AND one of the best host/waiters to ever serve The CPC (D, I'm pretty sure we voted unanimously that you need to join our club!).

    I give La Gondola a 7.0

  7. Great review. I've been looking for a place with good white pizza in Chicago. Seems to be more popular on the east coast. I will have to give La Gondola a try.