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.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Papa Ray’s [Meeting #106]

Papa Ray's
2551 W. Fullerton Ave (Google Maps)
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 661-2113

CPC crowded into Papa Ray's in the Logan Square neighborhood on November 10, 2011.

We’ve all had pizza-by-the-slice, and to some extent, it’s usually pretty satisfying (more than likely because we’re starving when we get it; on-demand pizza greatly appeals to the under-satiated). The quest for some is to find the best slice they can in that genre to fill the gaps between more refined pizza meals where whole pies are made to order, and generally have greater breadth in topping selection and customization.

One small chain of pizzerias that strives to be the aforementioned go-to for top quality pizza-by-the-slice is Papa Ray’s Pizza & Wings. Founded at the turn of the last decade by George and John Rayyan, Papa Ray’s busted out of the gates with 3 Chicago locations all within a few miles of each other and established in close proximity, timewise. The Chicago Pizza Club visited the Logan Square location on November 10th.

As eluded to above, pizza-by-the-slice is not always the most gratifying food for the discerning palate, and for those who insist on only the best in every aspect (organic, super-fresh and/or exotic ingredients, pristine presentation, delicate proportions, etc.) Papa Ray’s will likely disappoint. However, if you fancy large servings of blue collar, no-frills pizza, this could be the place you hang your proverbial hat.

Potential drawbacks here are the expected inconsistency in freshness of the slices since they can potentially sit uneaten for some time, as well as the caliber of ingredients being appropriate to the genre and price point. As of this writing, you can get a massive slice with a refillable soda for $4.41 after tax. On the evening we went the choices were cheese, sausage, pepperoni, or bacon and the Pizza Club got one (or more) of each and split them up. The meats seemed to be a click or two above what you’d expect for fast food pizza – the sausage was not too rubbery; the pepperoni pretty standard; the bacon actually pretty decent and thick. As for the cheese, nothing about it was outstanding – same pre-packaged stuff you get at the grocery store. The sauce did have a bit of salty/canned flavor, but was more or less benign. The crust is actually pretty good with a pleasant fresh baked essence – one member commented and I thought I overheard “frozen” mentioned.

We shall see what the members had to say, but for the price and convenience, I think Papa Ray’s does a great job. And, if you decide to eat it there, they put that day’s newspaper in a clear plastic holder that spans the length of the counter so you can stay current while stuffing your face (at least, this is true at the Fullerton location).

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Dough Boys [Meeting #105]

Dough Boys
626 South Racine Avenue (Google Maps)
Chicago, IL 60607
(312) 243-9799

CPC crowded into Dough Boys in the Little Italy/University Village neighborhood on June 13, 2011.

Billed as a counter-service and delivery pizza place, Dough Boys is yet another collaboration of famed Chicago restaurateurs Scott Harris and Jimmy Bannos (Purple Pig, Salatino’s, etc.), and absolutely nails the casual “pizza joint” vibe they’re shooting for—though with decidedly better pizza than your average joint. From the simple outdoor patio, complete with red and white checkered tablecloths, to the four tables and no-frills interior, to the photocopied notebook paper menu, Dough Boys gets the easy stuff out of the way and focuses on what they know we’re there for: damn good pizza.

Pizza at Dough Boys comes in four styles: (1) Chicago-style thin crust, (2) New York style thin crust, (3) Sicilian and (4) stuffed, with the NY and Sicilian styles also available by the slice. Given all the standard topping options, plus a couple of less common ones like zucchini and roasted red peppers, we got down with the following:

  • Chicago-style thin crust – Daily Special: pepperoni, onion and garlic
  • Chicago-style thin crust – black olives and roasted red peppers
  • New York-style thin crust – sausage (by the slice)
  • New York-style thin crust – cheese (by the slice)
  • Sicilian – pepperoni (by the slice)
  • Sicilian – cheese (by the slice)
  • Stuffed – sausage
While Chicago-style thin crust is often pretty standard fare, the high quality and plentiful ingredients—well seasoned, tangy sauce and soft, creamy mozzarella—make this one a winner. The sturdy, lightly corn meal dusted crust, while perhaps a bit tame in terms of flavor, had a nice crunch and was more than up to the task of holding up under the considerable moisture of the sauce and toppings. Universally enjoyed by CPCers.

The New York-style thin crust, while hindered by the fact that it had been sitting out for not-sure-how-long under the front counter (or is that the secret to its authenticity?), had a delightful end crust, crispy and chewy, with a bottom crust sturdy enough to hold the slice up without needing to fold it or curl the tip back. Served fresh, this slice would be absolutely spot-on, and even slightly dried out under the counter, it was one of the better NY-style slices Chicago has to offer. Definitely a great slice-to-go option.

The Sicilian, unfortunately, suffered far more for having been sitting under the counter so long. While there is no denying that the crust itself is a work of baking magic, it is more than an inch thick, superbly light and airy on the inside and wonderfully crisp on the outside, the thickened cheese and lack of sauce made this slice a disappointment, and clearly the least popular amongst CPCers. A bit more sauce, a bit less cheese and a bit less time sitting around under the counter, and this one could really be a gem.

The stuffed pizza is clearly the treasure here and the real reason why Dough Boys is destination dining. Taking 40 minutes from order to table, this labor of love boasts a lard crust that gives it a unique richness of flavor and a flakier, crispier texture than just about any other stuffed pizza can offer. Topped with a wonderfully generous dose of the aforementioned soft, creamy mozzarella and covered with a wallop of chunky, tangy sauce, this bad lad deserves recognition as one of the finest stuffed pizzas in Chicago.

The bill for one stuffed sausage, three NY style slices, three Sicilian slices and two Chicago style thin crust pizzas came to $99, a mere $11 per person. That’s not much dough at all, boys!

As an added bonus, Dough Boys is a few short blocks away from the lovely Mario’s Italian Ice, a wooden stand painted in the Italian green, white and red, jutting out from the front of a brick row house on Taylor St.

A cool, fruity and delicious way to end a great night of grub.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Gulliver's Pizza and Pub [Meeting #104]

Gulliver’s Pizza and Pub
2727 W Howard Ave [Google Maps]
Chicago, IL 60645
(773) 338-2166

CPC invaded GULLIVER’S Pizza and Pub on February 4, 2011.

According to El Presidente, Chicago Pizza Club meeting #3 was held at Gulliver’s way back in 2003, before the days of this blog. Thus, no review was ever written and no photos were ever taken. To rectify this, CPC members emerged from their snow-ridden homes, after having braved “Blizzaster 2011,” a.k.a. “Snowmaggedon,” and met up at Gulliver’s, in Chicago’s West Ridge neighborhood.

Gulliver’s was started in 1965 by Jerry Freeman and Burt Katz, claiming to offer the “North Side’s original pan pizza.” Shortly thereafter, Mr. Katz moved on to open Pequod’s and then Burt’s Place, while Mr. Freeman stayed on as proprietor until his death in 2006. Since opening in Chicago, Gulliver’s has expanded to two other Chicagoland locations, in Glenview and Oak Brook Terrace.

The d├ęcor here is something out of a Vincent Price movie. The dining areas are filled with an amber-colored light, emitted from an eclectic array of chandeliers, and absorbed by the dark wood trim, walls, and furniture. Carefully placed throughout the rooms are marble busts on columns and various photos and antiques hanging on the walls. Buttressed by the aroma of fresh pizza, this bizarre space is quite welcoming.

Gulliver’s offers three kinds of pizza: (1) pizza in the pan, (2) thin crust, and (3) stuffed. With a wide array of topping options, most everyone will find their usual or unusual combination. On this evening, CPC ordered one of each pie and took the following account:

  • Pizza in the pan, large (14”), with sausage and garlic
  • Thin crust, medium (12”), with artichoke and black olives
  • Stuffed, small (9”), with pepperoni and onions
The pizza in the pan is dense. On presentation, the pie looked very much like a Lou Malnati’s deep dish, in that the chunky tomato sauce, garlic, and sausage were all clearly visible on top, with the cheese embedded. However, where Lou’s crust is golden cornmeal yellow, this pie had a lighter biscuit-like shade.

On taste, the pie is a winner. The sauce was juicy and tangy with strong notes of oregano. The chunks of tomato give it texture. The garlic was chopped fine and was plentiful. The sausage portions were cut big and while they were meaty and flavorful, they were not very spiced, reminiscent of the sausage used at Lou Malnati’s. This reviewer prefers the fennel sausage Chi-town magic found at Sano’s. The crust was crispy at the edge and bready at the base, with hints of butter throughout. It is in the crust that I take some exception. Although well-made and pleasant, it was somewhat bland and unspectacular.

The thin crust was my least favorite. On presentation, it looks generic. The toppings held well in the cheese and the crust had no char. On taste, it skewed towards the toppings and lacked an overall point. The sauce was pasty, bearing little resemblance to the sauce in the other pies. The cheese was firm and had little oil. The crust was solid, but bland. As the sum of its parts, this pie had little to offer by way of flavor or inspiration. Go pan or stuffed.

The stuffed was totally unexpected. After having tried the pizza in the pan, I expected it to be two pan pizzas stuffed into one. As my last stuffed pizza experience ended with a frown, I had low expectations. Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised. This pie had a character all its own.

This pie has great finesse. Like an undersized defensive tackle, it does not overwhelm with mass, but wins with technique and elusiveness. For instance, the onions were substantial, but melted away in my mouth. The pepperoni gave the pie porky protein, but did not overwhelm. The pie was deep, but the crust was light. The amalgam of cheese, sauce, and toppings flowed, but maintained individual structural integrity. Some would call this pie, “stuffed light.” For many, including this reviews, that is just fine.

The bill for three pies, six bottles of Fat Tire, one pint of Guinness, and one side-salad was $87.00. With tip, it came out to $17.00 per person. Score!