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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


  1. Ian's concocts a number of unusual pizzas by taking traditional meals and placing them on a bed of dough. They also offer a lot of typical toppings so you can customize a "normal" pizza if you so choose. The mac and cheese special was the biggest hit for me. Who doesn't love mac and cheese? The crust was buttery and the bottom was crispy. They even sprinkled a green herb on top...I think it was parsley. My second favorite was the Philly Cheese Steak. I liked the fresh crisp red and green peppers, onions, and rich cream sauce. These pizzas are pretty intense so it's nice that they're offered by the slice. The least thrilling of the night was the pesto and portabello. I found it to be incredibly salty and the pan was full of olive oil once the pizza was gone. I generally like pesto, but this was way too much for me to handle. The remaining pizzas were mediocre. I wasn't wowed by the sausage slice. The tomato sauce didn't stand out and everything tasted pretty mild; Maybe my tastebuds were overwhelmed by the other dramatic pizzas. Lastly, the s'mores pizza arrived. I was looking forward to that all day, but was less than satisfied. The lingering taste was Hershey's chocolate sauce. I wouldn't not eat this dessert pizza, but it could've been a lot better (my memories of the dessert pizza at Piece still make me salivate). There were too many mini marshmallows and they weren't melted enough. Maybe I should've eaten it when it came straight out of the oven.

    I recommend that if you're going to a Cubs game or if you find yourself in the area, stop by Ian's and get a slice of mac and cheese pizza. I doubt you'll be disappointed.

    Ian's gets a 6.

  2. Ian's is good. Surprisingly good. It's a place that focuses on elaborate and unique combinations of toppings, but takes the time to make sure it's all piled onto a good crust.

    The Mac and Cheese pizza special is even better than the regular Mac and Cheese at Ian's, which is an outstanding slice of pie. This was unquestionably the best pie of the night and anybody who disagrees has serious taste bud problems.

    Next for me was the Chicken Cordon Bleu. Ordinarily, like Cisco, I am opposed to chicken on pizza, but fried chicken accompanied with bleu cheese and ham works well. And with some Frank's hot sauce dumped on top, I'd even call it very, very good. This kind of creativity is Ian's at its best.

    The Philly Cheese Steak pie did nothing for me, but I am averse to green peppers on pizza so if you are not, my opinion on that pizza should be meaningless to you.

    The pesto and portabello was ass. I regret having finished my mini slice. The pesto was not good and the portabellos didn't have the richness that portabellos normally do.

    I didn't get to try the sausage pizza. I did pick off a piece of sausage and was not a big fan. The taste was okay - nothing exciting - and I thought the texture was a bit mushy. Not terrible sausage by any stretch, but not very good either.

    Like Mikel, I was particularly excited about the S'Mores pizza and I was disappointed by the dominance of the flavor from the chocolate sauce. The S'Mores pizza was served way too early - they should have waited until we were at least half way through our regular pizzas before bringing out dessert. But even with more heat and crispness in the crust, the S'Mores pizza would not have lived up to the hype I'd created in my mind. I'd gladly eat it again, I just wouldn't go out of my way for it.

    I give Ian's a 6.

  3. Ian's is a decent small place for a quick slice--mainly for 4am.

    The best pizza was the Mac 'n Cheese pizza- there was a nice balance of cheese and macaroni so it wasn't too overwhelming.

    4am severe drunkenness is the only time I might enjoy the Cordon Bleu or Philly Cheese Steak pizzas being appetizing. They were both falling apart heavy and loaded with creamy cheese and the meats had mediocre flavoring.

    The pesto was way too oily and the portabello wasn't that appetizing either.

    I, too, was excited for the smores pizza but like everyone else it congealed too quickly. With a few adjustments they could have a good desert pizza.

    The crust worked with the macaroni but overall it was chewy yet a little too tough. If you're in the area and in need for a novelty slice, stop in for the Mac 'n Cheese pizza.


  4. As a long-time connoisseur of mac-n-cheese, I was particularly interested in Ian's famous mac-n-cheese pizza. Frankly, I expected it to be gross. I was completely converted. The cheese were creamy but sharp, and they diid not us a heavy hand with the macaroni noodles. They were there but did not overload the crust. It was cheesy delicious.

    My second favorite was the philly cheese steak pizza. There was a creamy sauce and I can't put my finger on it, but there may have even been mayo in there. Sauteed onions, peppers and steak round out the slice for a creamy and savory treat.

    I am normally not a fan of bleu cheese, or chicken on pizza, but the chicken cordon blue was not bad, if you like both of those things generally, then you'll probably love this pizza.

    I found the pesto/mushroom and sausage pizzas forgettable. The pesto pizza was incredibly oily and I found the sausage to be just average. Ian's shines with unconventional toppings, but falls short on the typical ones, in my opinion.

    Finally, the Smores pizza is a real treat. It's chocolatey gooey goodness. Definitely worth it if you have a crow with a sweet tooth.

    I give Ian's a 7.0.

  5. I give Ian's a 6.5.

    I liked trying their zany pizza toppings and I think it's worth trying for other people as well. I just don't know that I have a burning desire to go back for those. I liked the sausage pizza and I think I'd happy eating that again.

    There was some mustard or something on the philly cheese steak pizza. That was a weird flavor - mustard should not be found on a cheese steak sandwich or pizza. Also, people complained about the portabello mushrooms but I found them to be very flavorful and marinated in some type of oil. They were great, the pesto was not. Cordon bleu had nice pieces of chicken, but I actually could have done with out the salty ham chunks.

  6. Ian's = 7

    This is strictly a novelty pizza place. Those really annoying Chad/Trixy drunks wandering the streets of Wrigleyville for a post-bar meal would be so fortunate as to happen upon this establishment.

    At first, I was skeptical of the crazy toppings. By the end of the meal, Ian's had won me over. In fact, it was the conventional sausage pizza that disappointed. It was not bad by any means, but next to the mac & cheese and chicken cordon bleu, it was just plain. This could also have been attributed to the fact that the sausage was the only red pie in the bunch. After sampling all of the crazy flavors, the sausage pizza just fell flat on the buds.

    Note: I encountered serious resistance when I opined that the mushroom pizza was good. It IS good. I enjoyed the almost smoky flavor of the mushroom. The pesto, while salty, was ok. On balance, the pesto did not take away too much from the fungal experience. Pizza is salty, get over it people.

  7. I thought Wisconsin only knew of cheese. I never would have thought that they could put it all together and make a pizza. This place was pretty darn good. I had been told that it was a good place in Madison to get a slice when really really drunk. Well those drunks are really really lucky because this rates as quality pizza.
    The Mac and Cheese special was the best pizza in the place. This is not too much of a shock. It had very good crispy crust. Great ammount of cheese and very good sauce.
    The portabello and pesto was also good. Mainly becasue I love mushrooms and these did not taste like canned 'shrooms.
    I did like the sausage but there could have been more of it and I like my sausage spicy. I did not try the chicken thoug I heard it was good. Sorry, I do not eat toppings that used to have feathers.
    The smores pizza was a great way to cap off the night. I do not think it would go good with a ton of beer in your belly though so watch out
    drunks. Overall I give this place a solid 8/10 and would gladly go back.

  8. Turns out I'm total a sucker for the concept slice, and Ian's excels at it. While living in Madison, rumor around town had it that their Mac & Cheese slice was awesome; though I'll admit I was skeptical until I tried it. In fact, CPC Meeting #85 confirmed it: their Mac & Cheese slice is amazing, and even more amazing when they add fancy cheeses to it, as was the case that evening. What is especially notable about Ian's is that they actually use good ingredients on the pizzas, rather than depending on the kitsch alone to carry their pizza. The Mac & Cheese was really good mac & cheese -- I even think it was some of the best I've had in Chicago. This was my favorite slice of the evening, although...

    I CAN'T STOP THINKING ABOUT THE CORDON BLUE. It's the first thing I think about when I wake up and the last thing I think about as I fall asleep. That is not much of an exaggeration. The fried chicken was perfect, the blue cheese sauce so creamy, and the chunks of ham delightfully smokey. Dousing this pie with Frank's Hot Sauce brought it to perfection. I've actually never had the sandwich that the slice was intended to mimic, and honestly, I'm afraid that I will be disappointed when I finally do.

    Next up for me was the pesto pizza. It wasn't the worst thing I've had, but that's about the best I can say. The slice was bland, and this is unfortunate given how many of the specialty slices listed on Ian's menu feature pesto as its sauce. A lot needs to be done to this sauce to liven it up, and I'm hoping that we were just there on a bad pesto night. If it wasn't for this piece of pizza, my total score would be higher.

    It was about here that I started to get too full, extra sad that I used up tummy space on the pesto/portabello, but still driven to taste everything else. I thought the Philly Cheese Steak slice was pretty great and loved its creamy sauce, athough not nearly so much as I loved the blue cheese sauce on the chicken pizza. I thought the sausage was okay, but the marinara was scant to my liking and didn't stand out at all.

    I don't really like chocolate, and dislike super-rich desserts, (especially when combined with beer); so I'm not a fair judge of the s'mores pizza. I did have about 1/2 slice, and the best I can say is that children probably love it.

    I think that is is important to mention how well the crust complimented all of the pizzas with its fantastic flavor (just the perfect touch of salty!), and as the other reviews mention: a perfectly thin crust that doesn't go out of its way to be different, (unlike the increasingly popular ultra-thin and cracker crusts).

    With a few small improvements, such as a better pesto and marinara, this could be an 8+ pizza joint. As it is, I give Ian's a 7, which still means it's pretty damn all right to me.

  9. As someone who appreciates not being subjected to snobby ambience and unnecessary pretense, I enjoyed Ian's utilitarian, no-frills approach to both their decor and furnishings, as well as to their pizza. That may sound counterintuitive based on the creative topping combinations they offer (see Mac & Cheese pizza, et al), but in light of recipes dissimilar to the norm, they are executed in a very palatable, comfortable and familiar way.

    My fav, like most of the club, was the Mac and Cheese. I was pretty hungry and it was my first slice of the night, so it had that on its side - but I say to you that this is good pizza! They really did a great job balancing the two starch/carb ingredients (crust and noodles), and the cheese combo gave a fair shot to all flavors involved.

    I will say that, after the M&C, the other pizzas I tried were slightly lackluster - but only slightly, and part of that had to do with the fact that through my first three samples, none had red sauce. The Cordon Bleu surprised me with its subtle (but not too subtle) bleu cheese flavor, which was adequate for me - I like bleu cheese, but too much can happen easily with me. I agree with El Prez, and fried chicken has now been added as a happy caveat in my pizza memoirs. I tried the Philly Steak pizza right after the CB - this was good, but like the slices before it, white-sauced and very robust, so it was a little difficult to make an objective analysis. I did like the Philly, though, and would eat any of these two pies with gusto in the future.

    At this point, I was nearing capacity. I went for half a slice of their sausage, and I blame it sitting for a while on it being soggy and not very impressive - I won't denegrate it after not trying it fresh. Same problem with the s'mores pizza - by the time I got around to it, it had been sitting there for a decent while, and we all know what happens to marshmallows when they've been heated up and then allowed to cool: they lose their delicious gooeyness! I will say that I feel it might be best to come to Ian's for the s'mores pie after eating a non-pizza dish somewhere else beforehand. It was just too much crust for me at that point - I needed a chocolate soda or a spumoni at that point.

    Well-deserved 7.