Welcome

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:

ChicagoPizzaClub@gmail.com

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

APART Pizza Company [Meeting #103]

APART Pizza Company
2205 W Montrose Ave [Google Maps]
Chicago, IL 60618
(773) 588-1550
BYOB!

CPC invaded APART Pizza Company on 12/21/10.

We were drawn to APART Pizza Company because Adam had a Groupon that he generously agreed to share. Also, APART was listed in Chicago Magazine's Top 25 pizzas in Chicago which had me wondering whether I'd missed something the last time I'd been there. In any event, a highly rated pizza at a discount made for idea meeting conditions. But sadly, in an embarrassing display of pizza loyalty, a mere four members showed up for the meeting, which was held at the Lincoln Square location of Apart (there's a second location in Edgewater/Andersonville).

Upon our arrival, we were pleasantly surprised to discover that we could put the Groupon off for another day as on Monday and Tuesday nights, the large 18" pizzas are BOGO (that's Buy One, Get One in internetspeak). After careful deliberation which consisted of me crossing off about 2/3 of the pizza listed on our menu and Adam picking two of the remaining ones, we ended up with eponymous APART pizza as well as the Tricolore.

The APART comes with sausage, pepperoni and fresh champignons. The pepperoni was pretty standard but I thought the mushrooms were better than average and the large knobs of sausage were very flavorful. The second pizza, the Tricolore, seemed to disappoint everyone. The pizza comes topped with fresh tomatoes, goat cheese and spinach, and is billed as looking like the Italian flag. They need to mash up that Italian flag as the tomato slice was too tomatoey, and others expressed disappointment with the spinach and goat cheese portions as well.

As far as the crust goes, it's designed to be a crisp, crackery crust but that doesn't translate to the 18" beasts we ordered. The crust had no chance and there were some sogginess issues. I found I had to fold my slices in half by folding the tip back to the end crust. Parts of the Tricolore's crust were more charred than some CPCers would have liked, though I didn't find that to be a problem. Neither the cheese nor the sauce stood out as positives or negatives. Given the amount of toppings and cheese, I thought more sauce would have been nice, though that might have led to complete crust disintegration.

Overall, everyone seemed to enjoy the pizza but nobody was blown away. But at $7 each, including tip, there's really no room for complaining.

Petey Pizza gives APART Pizza Company a 6.33/10

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Via Carducci La Sorella [Meeting #102]

Via Carducci La Sorella
1928 W Division Street [Google Maps]
Chicago, IL 60622
(773) 252-2244

CPC invaded Via Carducci La Sorella on 11/18/10.

Opened as the sister restaurant to the original Via Carducci in Lincoln Park in 1996, Via Carducci La Sorella has been offering rustic Southern Italian cuisine to the Wicker Park neighborhood since 2007. Their menu offers several dishes, including nine pizzas and one calzone. Since we were a small group of three this Thursday evening, we ordered three 12" pizzas, each of which were cut into ten slices and ended up costing a total of $20 per person including tax and tip.

We sampled:

  • Novella : Fresh porcini mushrooms, new potatoes, red onions, rosemary, mozzarella (no tomato sauce)
  • Rustica : Figs, caramelized red onions, gorgonzola cheese (no tomato sauce)
  • Roma : Sausage, mushrooms, onions, mozzarella and provolone cheese
The pizza has an unsual thin crust. It wasn't the super thin cracker crust you often find at Chicago pizzerias, but a thicker attempt at the cracker crust (think layered matzah crackers). The crust was virtually flavorless, consisting of probably no more than flour and water. Its texture was bizarre in that it had an initial flakey quality that turned into a somewhat stale bite. Atop the crust were mediocre ingredients. I applaud Via Carducci La Sorella for stepping out on a limb and trying some unique toppings, like the figs found on the Rustica, and potatoes on the Novella. The Roma was the most typical pizza and I think was the most well received of the bunch. Although I wasn't put off by the Rustica, I believe this ranked as the least favorite among the group. Out of the three pizzas, only one had tomato sauce (Roma), and I found it to be run of the mill and not too dominant. Although the toppings seemed to be fresh, the proportions were a bit skewed. For instance, the Rustica had little gorgonzola cheese, and was overpowered by the mozzarella. Needless to say, we had quite a bit of pizza remaining to take home.

Via Carducci La Sorella is inviting with its intimately spaced tables and dim lighting, and was bustling the night of our meeting, as I'm sure it is any other night of the week. Although I did see a nearby table nibbling on a pizza, the other offerings seem to be the choice selections.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Macello Ristorante [Meeting #101]

Macello Ristorante
1235 W Lake St. [GoogleMaps]
Chicago, IL
(312) 850-9870

CPC invaded Macello Ristorante on 11/2/10.

Macello Ristorante is situated along the moderately-industrial corridor that is Lake Street on Chicago’s near west side. Next to the roar of the elevated tracks that form Lake Street’s canopy, Macello is tucked discretely between a vacant lot and a space that once housed a welding shop. Upon entering Macello, you immediately smell hard woods burning in their two wood-burning ovens (yes, two). The room is very inviting and a great place to eat pizza, which at Macello, is made in the fashion of the Puglia region of Italy (very southern part, where owner Giovanni Denigris hails from, according to reconnaissance by Chicago Magazine in their July 2010 write up of Macello).

Chicago Pizza Club ordered four pies during the November 2, 2010 excursion to Macello:

  • Pizza Macello: Burrata, Cerignola Olive and Barese Sausage
  • Pizza Pugliese: Burrata and Thinly-sliced Mortadella
  • Pizza Bianca: Fresh Cherry Tomato, Mozzarella, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Basil and Arugula
  • Pizza Americana: Fresh Mozzarella, Sopressata, Mushrooms, Roasted Peppers
One advantage to having two wood-burning ovens is that you can crank out the pizzas fairly quickly, and the wait after ordering was not long for our group. All of the pies had a very thin, crunchy crust that seemed to hold up well to the ingredients. A nice bonus was the ever-so-slight char on the crusts’ edge, which made each slice completely enjoyable to the last bite.

The Pizza Macello was speckled with tasty dollops of Burrata cheese, which was complimented by the mild, herby olives; Barese sausage was applied appropriately and the combination with Macello’s moderately acidic/slightly sweet sauce was very nice, indeed. The Pugliese seemed to be lauded by all those in attendance – paper-thin slices of Mortadella allowed plenty of flavor exploration, and the fresh, spongy Burrata played nice with the slightly salty meat and the tomato sauce.

The Bianca, which gained Macello its spot in Chicago Magazine’s aforementioned issue, was refreshing and light, with large arugula leaves doing the heavy lifting for the pie’s overall flavor; chunks of Mozzarella and big pieces of cherry tomato with olive oil and basil gave a background reminiscent of Caprese salad. Last up for Pizza Club was the Americana – it was this reviewer’s least favorite of the evening (not that it was bad…just in comparison to the others) – the Sopressata was very strong, like a hybrid between salami and pepperoni, and seemed a fairly appropriate pairing with the mushrooms and roasted red peppers, if only for their role in offsetting the Sopressata’s very strong flavor. Mozzarella was a good inclusion here, although after eating the Burrata at Macello, one might wish they could sub it in on all their pizzas.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Pizzeria Serio [Meeting #100]

Pizzeria Serio
1708 W. Belmont Ave [GoogleMaps]
Chicago, IL
(773) 525-0600

CPC invaded Pizzeria Serio on 10/12/10.

We had previously been invited to Pizzeria Serio for a tasting prior to their official opening. We decided to give them a few months to work out the kinks and get their business running before heading back for an official visit. I'll note that Scott, the owner and pizza-maker, knew we were coming and gave us some complimentary calzones that we would not have otherwise ordered. How his knowledge of our attendance affected the pizzas is unknown because the restaurant wasn't packed this evening and he was making all the pizzas that night anyway.

Since our previous report, Pizzeria Serio has opened and acquired the sought after alcohol license. They had some nice bottles and drafts of local microbrews and I settled in with a Three Floyd's Alpha King to enjoy my pizza. Despite initial concerns that the city wouldn't allow him to burn wood in his oven, he was able to make the necessary changes to the hood to incorporate wood burning into his gas-fueled oven.

We happened to be there on a Tuesday and there is a nice special for pizzas - get 50% off your second pizza. We ordered 6 pizzas (and got the 50% for 3 of them):

  • Marinara
  • Margherita
  • Margherita Con Carne
  • Sausage and Peppas
  • Diavolo
  • The Big Cheese
Initial plans for 2 sizes of pizza have been scrapped and they settled on a 14" one-size-fits-all pizza. No major changes have been made to the crust from the initial review and usually it holds up well. I think that in trying to make The Big Cheese and Sausage and Peppas fully topped, he does a disservice to his crust. It is obviously overpowered and left soggy by the ingredients. In contrast, I felt that the crust on the Margheritas was excellent largely because they were approriately topped. The Marinara was quite good, although I thoroughly enjoyed the excessive amount of garlic. I was excited by the Diavolo, but in the end found it too spicy for my tastes (and I usually enjoy spicy food). The pepperoncini were all I could taste of the pizza. The sauce is sweeter than you would expect to find on this type of pizza, but not as sweet as an Aurelio's (or most South Side places, for that matter). I thought it worked well - particularly on the calzone.

I think the single most impressive thing I ate this night were the calzones. The bread was spot-on and the simple ricotta and mozzarella filling puts the focus squarely on the bread and a little bit of sauce. Last time, I really enjoyed the soppressata and I failed to get it this time - mistake. I think that in general, the best pizzas here tend to be the more simple ones. Scott is working on adding a spinach pizza to the menu, but otherwise he's locked in.

Pizzeria Serio is not touting itself as a NYC pizza place, but that's what its pizza most closely resembles. There are more hits than misses here, with the misses coming mainly from excesses - toppings, heat, . I find that a less complicated pizza from Serio really shines and showcases their technique better than more convoluted options. They have multiple large HD screens and a nice bar upstairs for watching sports. This western edge of Lakeview is short on pizzerias and Serio fills the void for a good neighborhood pizzeria.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Gruppo di Amici [Meeting #99]

Gruppo di Amici
1508 W Jarvis (map)
Chicago, IL 60626
(773) 508-5565

CPC invaded Gruppo di Amici on 7/21/2010

As with any arbitrary ranking, there is debate and skepticism. Chicago Magazine recently ranked the top 25 pizzas in town. So, naturally, CPC decided to do some reconnaissance on some places we have not tried. Our second consecutive trip to a ranked pie shop took us way north to Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood and #19, Gruppo di Amici. Located twenty paces from the Jarvis Red Line stop and nestled on a quiet block that boasts a neighborhood pub and fine foods store, Gruppo immediately sticks out of the crowd with its classic white stone Uptown Chicago façade and spacious al fresco dining patio. Lori Alderete and Phaedra Divras opened Gruppo in June of 2006 and have since been offering, among other things, their own unique variety of “Roman-style” pizzas.

The restaurant space is lofty, clean, and modern. Prominently anchored in the rear of the space is the wood-burning brick oven. According to the bartender, the oven holds approximately 5-6 pies and burns wood at a relatively cool 500 degrees Fahrenheit. As such, the pies take about 2.5 to 4 minutes to cook (as opposed to 90 seconds in the typical hotter brick ovens). This is done to minimize the burnt crust that is endemic to this type of pizza. For the most part, Gruppo succeeded in that objective.

We ordered the following:

  • Mare: Italian tuna in extra virgin olive oil with capers, olives, diced tomatoes and fresh parsley
  • Funghi e Prosciutto: Fresh bufala mozzarella, mushrooms, prosciutto di parma and tomato sauce
  • 4-Formaggi: Gorgonzola, Swiss, Fontina and Holland
  • Salsiccia: Red bell pepper and mild Italian sausage and tomato sauce.
First, I had mixed feelings about the seafood pie. The thing about the tuna is that you get the seafood flavor, without the seafood salt. As I believe that the salt is the point of having fish on pizza, I prefer anchovies. In this respect, the tuna did not satisfy, despite its quality. In contrast, the cracker crust was good. What it lacked in flavor, it made up in texture, which was crackery and firm. For the most part, Gruppo pies do not limp. The sauce was good, but not memorable. It had a safe balance of acidity and sweetness, but lacked a noticeable bouquet.

The mushroom and prosciutto pie was my choice and I was disappointed. I think the problem was a matter of proportion, as there were simply too many mushrooms. The mountains of mushrooms oversaturated the crust, which made it limp. Once the crust lost its texture, it lost its strength. The mushrooms also changed the character of the prosciutto, which became wet and lost its essential dry elasticity. Things got much better with the four-cheese pie, a white pie that had great contrast, which covered the entire flavor spectrum. The crust merely served as a mode of delivery for this delicious amalgam of fat, salt, and sharpness. As far as cheese pies go, this was pretty good.

However, my favorite of the evening was the sausage pie. This pie had all of the right stuff. The sauce had a noticeable tang, which was buttressed by the fresh red bell pepper. The mozzarella lumps were fluffy. The crust had great texture: firm and crispy, but not dry. The sausage was good, yet a little bland, as I would have preferred a little more spice. Why go with “mild” sausage, when you can have “spicy?”

In fact, I believe the sausage pie is the perfect summary of what Gruppo pies are all about: high quality, but safe. Even the temperature Gruppo bakes their pie is safe. The problem with offering brick oven pies in Chicago is that there are so many choices and unless your pie has a certain memorable quality, it will be forgotten. Risks must be taken!

Of all the pie shops CPC have tried in its over seven years of pizza gorging, this one falls somewhere in the middle. Gruppo may be a bit overrated at #19, but they certainly earned the spot by providing, for the most part, a well-balanced pie. Besides, every ranked team is going to have its critics.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Castel Gandolfo Pizzeria [Meeting #98]

Castel Gandolfo Pizzeria
800 N Dearborn St (map)
Chicago, IL 60610
(312) 787-2211

The CPC invaded Castel Gandolfo on 7/1/2010

The sign on the sidewalk in front of Castel Gandolfo proudly proclaims their recent third place ranking by Chicago Magazine. On July 1st the Chicago Pizza Club decided to see if their pies stood up to the prior 97 spots reviewed.

Castel Gandolfo has one of two coal fired pizza ovens in the city. Their cooking technique does not produce a char like the pizzas from Coalfire but that's not to say they don't do the oven justice. With a pizza menu consisting of just 2 sizes, 14" and 16" and the specialty option of a white pizza for $1 extra, the only debate is on the toppings. Considering there was only a $2 difference between the two pie sizes available (and no increased topping charges) the CPC ordered 4 pizzas for the review.

  • Sausage and Garlic
  • Margherita
  • White Pizza with Prosciutto
  • Roasted Grapes and Taleggio Cheese
The first round of pizzas delivered to the table were a sausage and garlic pie along with a traditional Margherita. Both pizzas had a generous amount of fresh mozzarella that extended closer to the edge of the crust than the slightly acidic sauce did. The crust was thin with a slight snap under the toppings and a soft wide rim. The second round brought out a white pizza topped with prosciutto along with an unlisted special pie containing roasted grapes and taleggio cheese.

The same Margherita pizza ranked highly by Chicago Magazine also seemed to be the favorite of the pizza club. Even with a crust that could have stood another minute in the oven, it's easy to see why this pizza is highly regarded. If Castel Gandolfo wasn't so close to the pizza I make at home, this would be a very frequent destination.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

[Meet the Members] Adrock




Screen Name: Adam Young

Real Name: Adam

Came out of the Oven: Hinsdale, IL

Favorite toppings: I am very much a fan of sausage and mushroom. For less traditional pizza, I enjoy plum and Roma tomatoes, pesto sauce, and some of the harder cheese varieties (Romano, Parmesan, and Asiago). Garlic!

First Pizza Club Meeting: July 9, 2009 at Union Pizzeria.

Favorite Deep Dish Pizza: Malnati's, no doubt. I remember the first time I had their pizza, which was my first deep dish, ever, and thinking how amazing the copious amounts of cheese and the chunky sauce on top was. They're consistently good and have yet to disappoint.

Favorite Thin Crust Pizza: Pizano's "thin" crust is not quite as thin as convention would have it, but man, it is ethereally good. When ordering it, the "butter crust" option is mandatory for this guy (they just add yet more butter to a crust that may not really need it). Another thin crust pizza worth mentioning here that vies for champion is the four-cheese plum tomato pizza from Marcello's. It is the lobster of pizza - very, very rich in flavor, and yet not without nuance and delicateness. So good.

Favorite Pizza outside of Chicago: I'm going with Monical's (they are a chain existing mostly south of Interstate 80 in Illinois) - they do a beautiful thin crust, and their french dressing made in-house is an odd but delicious accoutrement on each slice. Also worthy of honorable mention is Quatro's in Carbondale, Illinois. It is just all-around tasty pizza! I especially crave the caramelized pan crunchiness/chewiness their pizzas generally all have, and which is perfectly complimented by the more acidic sauce.

Had Pizza in the Motherland? I will make my way there, but as of yet, no.

What Do You Do When Not Eating Pizza? A strange amalgam of playing bass in rock situations, fishing/hunting, golfing, watching 'period' films, riding my vespa, and camping. Under obligation to manage luxury condos during the week.

Personal Pizza Statement: Great pizza is what makes you happy at the precise moment you eat it - some pizzerias just seem better at achieving this goal with consistency than others.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Edwardo's Natural Pizza [Meeting #97]

Edwardo's Natural Pizza
1212 N. Dearborn Street (Map)
Chicago, IL
(312) 337-4490‎

CPC invaded Edwardo's Natural Pizza on 6/14/10.

According to the information I've gathered from Marla Collin's Husband's review on Slice, Edward Jacobson founded Edwardo's Natural Pizza in 1978 after he split from the Broglio brothers (then the owners of Giordano's). The first Edwardo's Natural Pizza Restaurant opened on the far northern border of Chicago in Rogers Park and a year later, this time on the south side in Hyde Park, he opened his second location. Edwardo's early on sought to carve out a niche wtih a healthier version of stuffed pizza and they introduced a spinach-soufflé-stuffed pizza. They also had hydroponic basil and oregano grown in each of their pizzerias. In the early 1980's Edwardo's tried out a whole-wheat crust (available on pizza orders for an extra dollar) and were also known to make use of San Marzano tomatoes in their sauce.

By 1984, when Jacobson then entered into a relationship with Chicago real estate investors Ivan and Jeffrey Himmel, there were six locations. Soon thereafter, Edwardo's expanded to Minneapolis and Milwaukee. In the meantime, the Himmels's company took over Edwardo's entirely and expanded its food empire to include Gino's East. Edwardo's has suffered some setbacks in recent years, but today there are still nine locations, seven of which are in the Chicago area, with one on the outskirts of Milwaukee and another in Muncie, Indiana.

The Chicago Pizza Club decided to go to the Gold Coast location in Chicago due to its central location for our members. Tonight we ordered the following pizzas:

  • Fresh Spinach stuffed pizza
  • Edwardo's All Meat Combo stuffed pizza
  • BBQ Beef thin crust special pizza
There's been talk that the quality of Edwardo's has been dropping in recent years and this visit leads me to believe this is true. I'd have to say it is definitely the weakest of the major Stuffed Pizza chains in Chicago. The crust on the deep dishes were generally crisp but also pretty bland. The sauce was overly sweet and the cheese didn't really stand out at all. The meat toppings on the stuffed (sausage, pepperoni, bacon and Canadian bacon) were middling at best, and in the case of the sausage, downright embarrassing. The Spinach stuffed pizza was definitely the highlight of the evening, but that's not saying much. The BBQ Beef special (with sliced Italian beef, Monterrey Jack cheese, red onions, green peppers and BBQ sauce) was ordered on a whim and was entirely missable.

Whether our pizza tonight was a reflection on the state of Edwardo's pizza in general or on the location we chose to go to remains to be seen. But honestly, I don't think we'll be making too much of an effort to find out.

Petey Pizza gives Edwardo's a 3.77.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Pizano's Pizza & Pasta [Meeting #96; Meeting #22 revisited]

Pizano's Pizza & Pasta
864 N. State Street (Map)
Chicago, IL
(312) 751-1766

CPC invaded Pizano's Pizza & Pasta on 5/11/10.

Oh what a difference 4 years makes. In February 2006, with 21 meetings already under its belt, the Chicago Pizza Club hit the interwebs with a review of Pizano's. The shitty pictures and complete absence of any description of the pizza in that post show how far the pizza club has come. Back then, CPC was a group of friends who liked to go out for pizza. Today, we are a sophisticated pizza eating and reporting operation.

Pizano's is the child of Rudy Malnati, Jr., who is the child of Rudy Malnati, Sr. Rudy Malnati Sr. was the early manager at the original Uno's and later became a partner in the business. Working with him at Uno's was his son from his first marriage, Lou, who would eventually go on to open his eponymous pizzeria. Rudy Sr. eventually married another lady and had another son, Rudy Jr., who was substantially younger than his half-brother Lou. It seems that Rudy Jr. and his father's first family are not besties so rather than go into the family business, he simply went into the family industry instead, founding Pizano's in 1991.

I routinely identify Lou Malnati's as my favorite deep dish pizza in Chicago. But I've had a few misfires there, especially at the Lakeview location. I have never had anything but delicious deep dish pizzas from Pizano's and the 96th Meeting of the Chicago Pizza Club kept my streak alive.

The 7 members came hungry so we ordered three pizzas. Up first was a deep dish "Hey Hey" Jack Brickhouse Special, which comes with sausage and mushrooms. Like every deep dish pie at Pizano's this one featured a killer crisp butter crust and a tangy sauce of chunky tomatoes. The sausage outstanding and the mushrooms were there in sufficient quantity to announce their presence even while paired up with the sausage.

The second pizza was a deep dish Mark's Special, which comes with sliced tomatoes, basil, and fresh garlic. Again, this one had a potent and delicious flavor combination on a perfect butter crust. Personally, I would have liked a little more basil, but I know others in the group disagreed and thought the proportions were spot on.

The last pizza was a thin crust with pepperoni. A few years ago Oprah and her special friend Gayle anointed Pizano's maker of the best thin crust in Chicago. Pizza love is certainly subjective, but I fail to see what criterion they were using that could possibly have had them reach that conclusion. That's not to say the thin crust is bad; it's actually pretty good. But while the deep dish pies are cooked in pans that may well have been used on opening night at Uno's nearly 60 years ago, the thin crust pizzas are not cooked in such character-building cookware. The result was a soft crust that was disappointing. Another knock on the thin crust is that the spectacular sauce from the deep dish pies is nowhere to be found, replaced by a thin sauce that doesn't have much of an impact.

Hiccups with the thin crust aside, this was a night of outstanding pizza. We had two medium deep dish pies and one large thin and a few of us would have gladly eaten more. While the CPC has improved immensely since its last visit to Pizano's, I am happy to report that the pizzeria is still putting out some insanely good pies.

Petey Pizza gives Pizano's a 9.17.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

[Pizza News] Nella Pizzeria Napoletana sans Nella

Nella Pizzeria Napoletana (review) is still up and running and packed as ever. However, there might be a little bit more room now that they've lost the services of their namesake pizzaiolo.

Per this Chicago Reader article, Nella has been booted (or left, whatever). They are still open for business, but we have no word yet on how good the pizza is without the main talent there to steer it. Also, it appears the second location on Taylor street is a no-go. I have always suspected I didn't like Spacca Napoli as much because I never had her make my pizza. I suppose I will find out if I still like Nella Pizzeria Napoletana as much without her.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Uncle Tykie’s Prairie Fire Grill and Pizzeria (Chicago Preview)

Uncle Tykie’s Prairie Fire Grill & Pizzeria
213 N. Main Street (GoogleMaps)
Athens, IL 62613

Neil from the pizza club has found a vehicle to sell his years –in-the-making pie recipe (note: the only problem being that it is located 191 miles south of Chicago in Athens, IL.) For this CPC meeting we met at Neil’s apartment in Old Town for a facsimile of the pizzas soon to be served in Athens. As the commercial scaling of the pizzas may result in a slightly different preparation method, this review will focus strictly on the preview pies served to the CPC.

The hand-stretched, irregularly shaped crust is transferred from a cornmeal dusted peel and cooked directly on a stone. Much like the recently previewed Pizzeria Serio, these pizzas don’t fit squarely into any one of the traditional styles. The pizzas served were a hybrid of New York, Neapolitan with perhaps even a bit of New Haven style thrown in. The thin crust has a crisp, substantial base with slight bit of chew between the actual crust bottom and the toppings. The edge of the pie had a firm outer rim with a soft, airy inside.

As mentioned, these are not the actual pizzas served at Uncle Tykie’s in Athens so it is worth pointing out the similarities between the two. The dough and sauce recipe are the same, as is the asiago and pecorino romano hard cheese combination. This evening Neil prepared the following five pizzas for the CPC.

  • Margherita – garlic, basil, fresh mozzarella, asiago, pecorino romano and tomato sauce
  • Baseline Special – sausage, garlic, basil, fresh mozzarella, asiago, pecorino romano and tomato sauce
  • Chicken Doesn’t Belong on a Pizza? – roasted chicken, artichoke, garlic, fresh mozzarella, asiago, pecorino romano and tomato sauce
  • Pancetta – pancetta, onion, mushroom, fresh mozzarella, asiago, pecorino romano and tomato sauce
  • What’s Left – pancetta, onion, mushroom, red pepper, fresh mozzarella, asiago, pecorino romano and tomato sauce
Observations:

Shuffling multiple pizzas out of a small non-pizza oven resulted in some inconsistencies in the finished product. This night the oven held up well for the first three pizzas, while numbers four and five suffered from a lack of crisp on the crust’s bottom, as the stone lost some of its temperature.

The pancetta was by far the stand-out topping of the night with a hearty amount of salty, fatty goodness. This was Neil’s first foray into using chicken as a pizza topping and although the texture was spot-on, the heavy poultry taste and lack of saltiness shows that he still needs some refining in the preparation. As his search for the perfect sausage continues, Bob Evans breakfast sausage was used as a substitute with surprisingly palatable results.

Viewing these pizzas as the proof of concept, they displayed Neil’s passion for pie as well as some serious potential for a future in the pizza business.

Friday, April 23, 2010

[Special Report] Pizzeria Serio

Scott Toth, the chef and a co-owner in the soon-to-be open Pizzeria Serio, emailed CPC a few months back inviting us to come check out his new restaurant. Because these things alway take longer than anticipated, it was only yesterday that he was able to show me around and let me sample some of his food.

Toth is a former technology employee who, like many others, decided he wasn't finding the exact pizza he wanted and started making it at home. After trial and error, he had hit upon a recipe that produced consistently good pizza and then decided to open a restaurant. He grew up in Michigan and New York and he was craving the sort of pizzas he grew up eating. His pizza isn't exactly a Neapolitan pizza; it's the evolution of it that you can find in New York that has a lot of similarities, but focuses on making the crust more sturdy and is more generous with the toppings. The particular pizza he served me was oblong, like a New Haven pizza, but I think that was more accidental than intentional.

His new oven is an EarthStone and he likes to cook his pizzas at high heat for a brief period. Although the oven is gas fueled, he does have wood which he will add to it if some issues with the hood can be sorted out. The space itself is very large with seating for 75 in the downstairs and an extra 50 upstairs. Toth is hoping to be able to provide some craft beers on the 6 taps and create an atmosphere where people feel comfortable having a few drinks after the pizza is eaten.

Pizzeria Serio will have some salads, appetizers, and deserts, but the main focus here is on pizza. There will be two sizes (12 and 16 inch) and his goal is to make a pizza that has a more substantial crust while still maintaining some bubbling. Although his stated goal is to get rid of the "floppy" corner seen in just about every pizza cooked in this style, I'm not sure that's actually possible. Still, this crust was impressive in both texture and flavor. I ate a pizza that was half sopressata/red onion and half pepperoni/mushroom. My pizza was perfectly cooked and as we dug in, I really enjoyed the familiar sopressata from Graziano's and an excellent spicy pepperoni. The mushrooms were fresh and although Scott loves red pepper flakes on his pizza, he served me this one without any additional toppings. We also tried a few slices of his cheese pizza and it was similarly impressive. I should also mention how perfectly my pizza was complimented by my bottle of Mexican Coca-Cola. He plans on serving the pure cane sugar variety of a few sodas, including Fanta.

The plan now is to be open this weekend and await a liquor license. We'll be back to review Pizzeria Serio in a few months, but from this preliminary visit we are impressed with the quality of their product and expect that their neighbors will start flowing in to dine here. If you're looking for a new place to try on Saturday, Serio will satisfy your cravings for a well-made pie.



Pizzeria Serio on Urbanspoon

Annual State of The Pizza Club / Chuck E. Cheese [Meeting #95]

Chuck E. Cheese
1730 W Fullerton [GoogleMaps]
(773) 871-2484

CPC invaded Chuck E. Cheese on 4/17/10.

Another year, another State of The Chicago Pizza Club meeting. This time, in order to revel in our pizza proficiency, we decided to go to Showbiz Pizza (where a kid can be a kid). Shocked and saddened to find that our favorite childhood pizzeria/arcade/bacteria pool was bought out by Chuck E. Cheese, we instead chose this venue for our annual meeting. However, a little research shows that Showbiz Pizza was actually the one that bought Chuck E. Cheese and then decided to brand all their restaurants under the Chuck E. Cheese name. Bizarre.

Of course, there has to be a reason to gather all your close friends at such a place, right? Well, we decided it would be my (2nd) 30th birthday! This got me a crown, with extra tokens stuffed in it, a cool balloon with tokens weighing it down to the table (thanks for stealing those, everyone), 3 pizzas, 20 tokens for everyone that came, and unlimited pop all for $14 apiece. I also got to participate in the birthday show with all the little kids. At first, Chuck E. was a little standoffish with me. I tried to high-five him and he left me hanging. However, after seeing my enthusiasm for the birthday celebrations he warmed up to me and made it a memorable (fake) birthday. He's not so bad (for a rat) after all! Of the on-stage characters, I think Pasqually the singing chef got my vote as favorite because he's the only human on the stage.

I was kind of disappointed in the arcade game selection. There were some serious ticket-winners, such as Shoot The Moon, but they weren't very exciting. There were a few pop-a-shots and football games that were a lot of fun as well as the classic skee ball, but no good video game racers, fighters, or shooters. Perhaps the worst omission is that there was no whack-a-mole game anywhere to be found. I noticed a Bozo Grand Prize Game in the corner, but only after I had burned all my crown tokens attempting to shoot the aforementioned moon for mad tickets. After pooling all of our tokens (and purchasing additional ones thanks to MCH's coupon), we had 2500 tickets. This went towards the purchase of 3 foam rocket launchers and a Nerf football. Awesome.

The pizza...well...you know, it disappointingly wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. I only had one slice, pepperoni pizza. The best part was that the sauce was mildly spicy; I wasn't expecting any strong flavors for a pizza that is marketed and sold to over-sugared children. The crust was sturdy, though flavorless. We also got a sausage pizza and a cheese pizza.

As for Chicago Pizza Club, although I failed to give a speech I would like to note that we remain the best Chicago pizza blog ever and that our blog continues to have increasing readership. Fiscally, we had a rough year in that our revenue was exactly zero dollars. However, like all Americans living in this difficult time, we tightened our belts and are happy to report we only spent zero dollars this year. Therefore, we are able to continue the club into the 2011 fiscal year.



Chuck E. Cheese's on Urbanspoon

Thursday, April 22, 2010

[Pizza News] Fare Thee Well Orvieto, We Hardly Knew Ye

And so, just like that, we bid adieu to Orvieto.

Due to a terrible location and not at all to the quality of the food served, Orvieto has closed. We recently reviewed it and thought it was a good pizza. Apparently, we don't have the sway we used to have.

The full story is here.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Orvieto Pizzeria And Wine Bar [Meeting #94]

Orvieto Pizzeria and Wine Bar
2200 N. Ashland Ave (GoogleMaps)
Chicago, IL
(773) 395-0066

CPC invaded Orvieto Pizzeria and Wine Bar on 3/30/10.

Continuing a small trend of visits to pizzerias using gas ovens, we headed to the relatively new Orvieto Pizzeria which opened in November of last year. Housed in the same space as Green Dolphin Street, a jazz club, Orvieto Pizzeria and Wine Bar occupies the eastern half of the building. The interior is somewhat confusing; there is a sleek looking kitchen producing great food that clashes with a large number of flat screen HDTVs set out in a bar-like atmosphere. I found myself enjoying this contrasting decor, but then again, I would rather watch sports than talk to my friends. I'm not sure if it's a date spot or a place to come watch the MMA fight.

The chef, Nino Coronas, is from Sardegna (Sardinia), an island off the mainland of Italy. Orvieto represents his first American turn as executive chef. He worked at both Pizzeria D.O.C. (review)and Trattoria D.O.C. prior to their sale. Coronas calls his pizza just regular Italian thin crust pizza and noted that he credits his crisp crust to his cooking technique and use of 00 pizza flour. He has settled on my favorite sandwich shop, Bari Foods, which is also an Italian grocery store with a nice meat section, to provide his sausage. Being that Sardegna is an island, one might expect a multitude of seafood offerings at Orvieto. Seafood is indeed their specialty and Coronas told me that he plans on adding even more options in the summertime and plans on doing a seafood pizza as well.

It's a long trip from Italy to the Chicago. I would have packed socks and underwear, maybe a book; Nino brought his oven with him. The pizzas are cooked at 675 degrees in a Moretti Forni oven in their open kitchen. They have recently opened a North American branch and are headquartered here in Chicago. These ovens are gigantic, but there's no denying that they are attractive pieces of machinery. His 13-inch pizza cooks in here for 6 minutes before it's sliced and brought to the table.

We ordered the following pizza:

  • Rustica (sausage, onions, mozzarella, tomato sauce)
  • Calabrese (sopressata, tomato sauce, mozzarella, gorgonzola, jalapeño)
  • Al Tartufo (white pizza, truffle oil, mushrooms, mozzarella, speck)
  • Patate e Rosemarino (yukon potatoes, rosemary, mozzarella)
  • Prosciutto Cotto e Funghi (prosciutto cotto, tomato sauce, mozzarella, mushrooms)
The pizza came out quickly and we dove right in. I think it was fortunate that MCH was working with a new camera today because it gave the pizza a few minutes to cool just enough for the crust to firm up. My overall impressions were largely positive. The crust is a little bit chewy, but this is a small flaw in an otherwise great crust. It holds up well, has a touch of salt in it, and had a very good texture. The only drawback was that the tomato sauce on the red pies overwhelmed the crust a bit, particularly the sausage pizza. I think most of us found the Calabrese to be the big winner of the night. The fresh jalapeño accented what was already a good pizza. The Bari sausage was, as expected, an excellent mild sausage. From a prior trip, I can say that I enjoyed the pasta and would certainly come back here just for the pasta and meat dishes. Orvieto has wine and pizza specials depending on the day; Monday is $5 10-inch pizza and Tuesday is half-priced Italian wine bottles. They also have all-you-can-eat pasta on Thursday, but unless you're running a marathon I found the regular portions to be more than adequate. On any given night, Orvieto is a good bet.

And now, I leave you with a few fun facts about Sardinia:
  1. There are proportionally more centenarians in Sardegna than anywhere else in the world. Must be the olive oil and ocean air.
  2. They speak Sard there. It's an amalgamation of all languages from civilizations that have inhabited the island.
  3. There is apparently a small island of miniature albino donkeys just off the coast of Sardinia. I'm not kidding.




Orvieta on Urbanspoon

Friday, March 26, 2010

[Special Report] Revolution Brewing

Revolution Brewing
2323 N. Milwaukee Ave (GoogleMaps)
Chicago, IL
(773) 227-2739

I recently went to Revolution Brewing with Randy, one of the reviewers at the Chicago Bar Project website. For the uninitiated, Chicago Bar Project does reviews of Chicago bars. I'm not sure if there are more pizzerias or bars in this town, so their project is pretty ambitious and their website is pretty comprehensive. In addition to just writing reviews of neighborhood bars, they also have organized events where you take trolleys to different bars.

Because Revolution Brewing is trying to make high-quality food as well as great beer, we decided to team up to review their pizza and the bar. The review for Revolution Brewing is already posted here on their website. In brief, I have been here a few times now and while I am slightly underwhelmed with their beer thus far, the bar itself is very nice. It's custom built and an excellent use of their space. I'm not too worried about the beer given the pedigree of the brewers; I'm sure they'll make me a hop-overloaded IPA soon enough. My favorite beer, and last beer of the night, was the Eugene porter.

It was nice that our server pointed out to us that all meat products are from Boe's Farm in Ottawa, IL. We noted that the sausage is made at the brewery. Their oven has a large fire and appears, at initial inspection, to be a small wood-burning oven. A closer look reveals that while it has an open mouth, it's a gas oven with flames in the back that radiate the heat to the front of the oven where the food is baked. The pizzas here are cooked at about 500 degrees for 7 minutes before they are served.

On this trip, we tried two pizzas:

  • Duck confit with gorgonzola, pistachios, rosemary, red onion, and tomato sauce
  • Italian sausage with mozzarella and tomato sauce
The crusts were the same on both and kind of confusing. The edges were great - light, well-cooked, and almost flaky. However, the portion which was topped was not really up to the task of holding up the toppings and became soggy and limp. I thought it was between pizza and focaccia. The sausage was better than I had hoped for; it is among the better sausages to grace a pizza in this sausage loving town. I had a lot of problems with the duck confit pizza. We both felt it was too salty - not to the point where it was inedible (we finished it), but enough that it became a chore to eat. The duck itself was too salty, suggesting the cure was applied for too long or was too salty to being with. In addition, Revolution questionably adds gorgonzola cheese, which only augments the salt from the duck. The pistachios and other toppings, besides the rosemary, were hardly noticeable on this pizza, drowned out by salt.

At this point, I find the sausage pizza a success because the sausage itself is outstanding, but the duck confit needs some work. They have 10 pizzas on the menu plus a special. There are a few here that seem appetizing and I'd be interested to try them. I'm not sure if we'll have an official meeting here, but the overall package at Revolution Brewing is very nice for a beer lover like myself. I went on a Wednesday evening and had to wait 30 minutes to get a seat at a table or the bar. Clearly, I'm not the only one enthusiastic about an excellent brewery opening up in town.



Revolution Brewing on Urbanspoon

[Pizza News] Which Do You Prefer: Guns, Pizza, Or Nudity?

Internet sociologists floatingsheep.org have turned their map-making focus on pizza. Well, pizza and strip clubs and guns.

Happily, it appears that their analysis of user-generated GoogleMaps placemarks indicates that here in Chicago we have our priorities straight. Other findings include: the South still sucks, the nebulous area between California and the Midwest still sucks, and there are lots of strippers in Las Vegas.

I think that Missouri made the right move in moving to the South, judging by their green patchiness.

Click here to see the map.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Sano's Pizza [Meeting #93]

Sano's Pizza
4469 W Lawrence Ave. (GoogleMaps)
Chicago, IL
773-725-9482

CPC invaded Sano's Pizza on 3/23/10.

Sano's Pizza is a mysterious place. I don't know anyone who has eaten there, they've only driven by. There's no website, and phone calls are unanswered. There isn't even voicemail. The official page on Facebook boasts only 44 fans. That said, there are a few ardent fans on Yelp! and other sites. In fact, I hadn't heard of it until some readers emailed us to recommend we check out their pizza. So what's this place all about?

Sano's Pizza, located in Chicago's Mayfair neighborhood (in the Albany Park community) at Lawrence and Elston, has been in business since the 1950s. The current owner, Frank, has owned it for the last 40 years. He bought it from the original owner, the eponymous Mr. Sano. Frank is a kindly older gentleman, who cooks the pizzas right out front in a Faulds rotating gas oven (a Chicago-based bakery oven manufacturer). It's clear Sano's is not like Spacca Napoli, and other "Neapolitan-style" pizzerias that are de rigueur in Chicago these days. Frank dislikes brick ovens because they do not cook consistently -- pies are either under-done or over-done, and then they are over-priced. He originally wanted to move his oven into the back, but never did. Now, he's happy that it's in the front, because having the kitchen in the front is back in style. There's no doubt that Frank, and his lovely niece, Maria, who was our waitress, are delightful. But what about the pizza?

We ordered:

  • thin crust with sausage and garlic
  • thin crust with Italian beef and onion
  • stuffed pizza with broccoli
The thin crusts were definitely the winners, and most of our group enjoyed our selections. Frank is not shy about garlic -- there were large slices and chunks of garlic evenly distributed through out our pie. The sausage, which is house-made, was flavorful and plentiful. The sauce was sweet and a little spicy, and fairly thick. The crust is thin, but sturdy. You won't have soggy slices in the middle of this pie.

Giardiniera is available upon request to accompany the Italian beef. Some took advantage of the Giardiniera, others did not. Even without the Giardiniera, the Italian beef can stand on its own, if you like beef on a pizza in general. The crust has integrity, the sauce has flavor, and the Italian beef is subtle in flavor, with somewhat crispy edges due to the thin slices.

There were mixed feelings at the table about the stuffed pizza. The schism is due to the amount of cheese in this pie. If you think there is such a thing as too much cheese, then this is not for you. However, if you can take a lot of cheese in a single slice, I think you'll be pleased. The broccoli in our stuffed pizza was not overcooked, the pieces were large and included the stems. In a way, the presence of broccoli made the whole dish seem more virtuous. The crust on the stuffed pizza, like the thin crust, was firm and flavorful. The outer crust was chewy with a pleasant blend of melty cheese and sauce.

Sano's may be somewhat of a mystery, but it's definitely worth a trip to Mayfair.

It must be noted that our final bill -- for three pizzas generously serving nine people -- was under $60. This is a very good pizza at $8 per person (including tip). Also, Sano's is BYOB, with no corkage fee and there is a liquor store next door.

As a final note -- one of our party was wearing the official Chicago Pizza Club thong panty. I can't say who, but a little bird told me that the panty was stylish, and comfortable after you got used to it. If you'd like one for yourself, check out the Chicago Pizza Club store at CafePress.com.



Sano's Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

[Second Helping] Domino's Pizza

Domino's Pizza
Located approximately everywhere

Over the weekend, at the Flourish afterparty, I was served Domino's pizza, and curiosity got the better of me. So, I tried a few slices. It's possible that I haven't had Domino's in over 15 years, so I don't know what it tasted like before the recent, supposed overhaul. My boyfriend, who dined with me and has had Domino's in recent years, noticed that there was a new garlic flavor that hadn't been there before, although he said that the difference wasn't great. I did notice the garlic as well, but more on the nose than on the palate -- garlic-scented pizza! Most of the dough wasn't offensive to me -- I thought the thickness was fine; however, when I got to the crust, my mouth collided with the nasty, fake butter, (think bad movie theater "butter" juice), that was slathered on the ends. Yuck! I noticed the sauce, but only because I could see it. And, the cheese was SQUISHY. Yep. Lastly, I realized that the pizza had a bizarre aftertaste. I'm not sure if it was the butter sauce or garlic scent, but it might best be described as acrid. Next time, I'm turning down the Domino's; but, I guess the experience was educational.

This is what it looked like:













Domino's Pizza on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

[Pizza News] Pizza Tours

Georgie Tourgie has started a Chicago pizza tour called Second City Pizza Tours. They take their customers on a trip to 5 pizzerias located in the North end of downtown. They hit up 1 stuffed pizza, 2 deep dish, 1 brick oven, and 1 thin crust place. It's $36 and it takes about 2.5 hours. I have to say, it seems like a good deal and a nice way for tourists to knock out these busy restaurants without having to wait for the pizzas to cook. They're ordered prior to the group's arrival so they should be waiting for you when you arrive. So for anyone coming to visit for a short time, consider this a good way to sample some deep-dish and stuffed Chicago pizza. They don't just talk about pizza though, they mainly focus on architecture and history for the walking tour. Also, the owner assures me that it's so much pizza you might as well skip breakfast before starting it.

Here's the list:

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Pizzeria Via Stato [Meeting #92]

Pizzeria Via Stato
620 N. State Street (GoogleMaps)
Chicago, IL
(312) 337-6634

CPC invaded Pizzeria Via Stato on 3/2/10.

Ten Pizza Clubbers turned out for an early meeting tonight at Pizzeria Via Stato in downtown Chicago. By some counts we had 10 2/3 people, but we round fractions and fetuses down in these parts.

Pizzeria Via Stato is part of the Lettuce Entertain You family of restaurants, perhaps Chicago's most successful restaurant company. A couple of years ago, the Lettuce people took the bar area of Osteria Via Stato, one of their Italian restaurants, and converted it into a separate pizzeria. Reservations are accepted at lunch but not dinner, so the CPC met earlier than normal, with most members showing up on time at 6:45 tonight. AJ was late and the loss was most definitely his as he did not get to experience the breadth of pizzas the rest of us did.

There are 11 pizzas on the menu, but one of those pies is barely filling enough for a dinner. We decided to get all 11 for the ten of us plus two extras. I knew from experience that the sausage and Margherita are both excellent so we ordered an extra one of each.

There are 6 red pizzas on the menu:

Classico Cheese (mozzarella, tomato sauce)
Margherita (San Marzano tomatoes, hand-pulled mozzarella, basil)
Vegetable (green pepper, vidalia onion, mushroom, mozzarella, basil)
Sausage (housemade sausage, mozzarella, tomato sauce)
Pepperoni (crispy pepperoni, mozzarella, tomato sauce)
Mushroom (mushroom, vidalia onion, mozzarella, tomato sauce)

There are 4 white pies:

Peppered Bacon (caramelized torpedo onion, hand-pulled mozzarella, Slagel farm egg)
Potato (organic fingerling potatoes, pancetta, smoked mozzarella)
Roasted Fennel (fennel, radicchio, hand-pulled mozzarella, parmigiano reggiano)
Four Cheese (hand-pulled mozzarella, young pecorino, goat cheese parmigiano)

And there's a rotating monthly special. Up this month is the Roasted Mushroom, which features oyster mushrooms, goat cheese, leeks and rosemary.

There were a couple of themes to all of the pizzas. First, there is the incredibly thin, crisp crust. This is thin even by Chicago cracker crust standards. The only place I can think of that comes close to this is Candlelite. But while Candlelite's crust is largely devoid of flavor, the nicely blistered crusts at Pizzeria Via Stato have a nice fresh bread flavor to them. The second, more important theme that was consistent across all the pizzas was the high quality ingredients.

I tried to survey the Club to see which were the favorites, but virtually every pie had a vocal supporter. Well, nobody thought the Vegetable pizza was the best, but that's to be expected. Personally, I thought the March Special stood out a bit. The sweet leeks, meaty roasted mushrooms and creamy goat cheese were perfectly matched. This pizza should be added to the regular menu immediately.

Another favorite for me was the peppered bacon. While every piece (these pies, which the restaurant calls "Tavern Pizzas," are cut into squares) is not blessed with egg, they all have the sweet onions, fresh mozzarella and bacon. As with the March Special, this pie had a fantastic blend of sweet and salty. In fact, those two pizzas were so good that we decided to replace our extra Margherita with one of them. After some discussion, we picked the Peppered Bacon. We must have confused our very attentive server because we got the Roasted Mushroom instead. Nobody minded one bit.

On the flip side, I was not a fan of the Roasted Fennel pie. The hand-pulled mozzarella was excellent as were two of the toppings - the fennel and the parmigiano reggiano. But the radicchio was too bitter for my taste. That said, at least one person identified it as one of their favorites.

I'm not going to go into detail about all 11 pizzas. Hopefully, other CPCers will chime in with detailed descriptions of their favorites and most hated. While we might not have achieved unanimity as to our favorite pies, we were in complete agreement that Pizzeria Via Stato puts out some delicious pizza.

Petey Pizza gives Pizzeria Via Stato an 8.175/10.



Pizzeria Via Stato on Urbanspoon

[Pizza News] Domino's Has Improved Sales, Still Sucks

Looks like those commercials where the people at Domino's admitted they were ashamed to make such shitty pizza have paid off. Per the Associated Press, Domino's has seen increased sales and revenue after "re-launching" with their new and improved recipe. If anyone has actually tried this new recipe, please leave it in the comments below. Also, I miss the NOID.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Great Lake [Meeting #91]

Great Lake
1477 W. Balmoral Avenue [GoogleMaps]
Chicago, IL
(773) 334-9270

CPC invaded Great Lake from 2/3/10 to 2/6/10.

Great Lake has been featured everywhere and I presume that if you're reading this blog you don't need me to point you towards the various articles that sing its praises.

Many of our members had already eaten here on their own. With our usual large group out of the question at this small storefront with only 4 tables, we decided to make it a week-long affair. From Wednesday to Saturday, our members went in groups of 2, 3, and 4 to eat and debate the merits of Great Lake.

I took the Saturday shift and went in with 1 member and 1 non-member. We were in the initial seating for the evening. We waited 40 minutes in brisk February weather before the restaurant opened. Ordering is pretty quick considering there are only a few pizzas available every week. We decided to order the #1 and #2 and added prosciutto and pancetta, respectively. Below are the pizzas that were available when we went. Keep in mind that these topping combinations come and go, oftentimes never to be seen again. After about a 30 minute wait, our pizzas arrived.

As luck would have it, my friend's parents were eating at Great Lake for the second time in two nights. Excited by their gushing reviews, I grew antsy waiting for my turn to eat. Undoubtedly disappointed that all they had to show for their son's higher education was an article on Tosca and futurism, they have decided to act out by: dressing cooler than me, being more athletic than me, and hanging out at cooler spots than me throughout the city. After humbling me with their coolness, they felt bad and generously shared their salad and lone pizza, #3, with us and our group was thus able to try them all. The salad was excellent; fresh, simple, and local.

In my experience, the crust at Great Lake is unique. It is rare to find a gas-cooked pizza that features a crust as sturdy and crisp as this one. It has an airiness that belies the fact that this crust holds up so well when piled with toppings. Even the center of our pies were as crisp as the edges; rare indeed. When you do get to the edge of the crust, it is essentialy like eating excellent bread.

The first pizza was a cheese pizza and a great way to judge the basic components of a Great Lake pizza. The sauce was sparse and this was the only one of the three that had a tomato sauce. I would say it's sad that the frequently omit their excellent tomato sauce, but so far my favorite pizzas have been their non-sauce ones anyway. The sauce was just tomatoes and provided an acidic balance to the prosciutto and creamy mozzarella and nutty Mona. The third pizza was unique to me: chopped spinach served in a pseudo-creamed form that doubles as the "sauce" for the pie. I didn't get much of the Mona flavor here, but the cayenne pepper was certainly prominent. The pizza was expertly cooked, but I thought the combination was not well-executed. The cayenne was some welcome heat, but I felt it overpowered the spinach cream and I had to try to find the taste of it in every bite even though it was certainly there in terms of quantity. When I focused on the spinach, it had a depth of flavor I appreciated, but generally speaking I was struggling to find it.

The cremini mushroom pizza deserves its own article, however. This was a transcendent experience for me. It's rare to find such nice pieces of pancetta, especially when it is so abundant, be matched by any ingredient, especially mushrooms. That's what Great Lake was able to accomplish here. The creaminess of the Capriko cheese made the whole thing more pleasantly unctuous than any pizza I've ever had. I really can't decide which component was the star and that is probably why I enjoyed it so much. It was as well put together as any combination of toppings I've had and the crust provided a nice textural counterpoint to the smooth and velvety toppings.

Great Lake owners Nick Lessins and Lydia Esparza work at their own pace. It's been well-documented and to expect anything else at this point is ridiculous. It's clear they like the slower place with limited seating and hours that enable them to spend a lot of time outside of their restaurant. They don't try especially hard to be accommodating and are not believers that the customers is ALWAYS right. If you can get past these things, and I will note I had perfectly friendly service, then you will have some outstanding pizza. If you can't, then you should do yourself a favor and at least order some for take-out and eat it in your car.

Great Lake is a BYOB restaurant and they do sometimes sell bread to take home. They are only open from Wednesday to Saturday, but word is that they are considering opening on Tuesday as well although they may not publicize it. They have outdoor seating in warm weather, but be warned that the combination of deliberate service and massive demand can make for a multi-hour wait. I had read they they no longer take phone orders for take-out; you must come in to the store to order it in person. When we were there, I thought I heard them take phone orders. So it might depend on how busy they are and I recommend calling to find out. The pizzas serve one to two people and cost about $20 apiece. It's not cheap, but the list of purveyors demonstrates that they are buying the best ingredients available. And, no, they do not have a website.

Great Lake makes excellent pizza and manages to not drown underneath the mountain of hype. All three pizzas were excellent, although the pizza topped with cremini mushrooms and pancetta was my clear favorite. The ever-rotating menu means I'll head back every so often with a nice bottle of beer to see what new combinations they have in store for their loyal patrons, whose ranks I have now joined.



Great Lakes Pizza on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

DiGiorno Delivery! Wait, what?..

So we got this email recently from The Midnight Show about a video they posted on Funny or Die and asked if we'd be interested in linking to it. It makes fun of frozen pizza, so they can't be all bad. You may remember Paul Scheer as the head page and foil to Kenneth on the awesome 30 Rock. Maybe he can tell us if Cerie really looks like that.