Places to Eat Non-Chicago-Style Pizza
This was a tough nut to crack. My beautiful and lovely boss vetoed an article I wanted to write called “Why Chicago-style Pizza Sucks” because it sounded too negative. TOO NEGATIVE? (Editors note: the beautiful and lovely boss also is a completely biased deep dish pizza lover.) Negative would be me telling you why that limp and soggy and disturbingly over-cheesed cousin of lasagna with its watery/runny overly sweet Campbells’-esque tomato sauce and judiciously but un-thoughtfully applied toppings is more of a shame to our badass hometown than Blagojevich’s hair. It saps the veracity of our unified claim that Chicago is a global culinary hot spot. I’m sorry, what was I talking about? I got distracted by the throbbing vein in my temple in the reflection on my monitor. So, here is an extremely positive (OK Tessa!?!) rundown of a few of my favorite real pizza places in Chicago. And before you sigh and roll your eyes, this list is not going to be an overly long list of mediocre places. I’ll also save you the obnoxious encyclopedia-ish run-downs of regional style variations, Neapolitan versus Sicialian, etc. but you can trust me, a pizza-fat local with 25 years of experience. So, in no particular order:
Great Lake Pizza, 1477 W. Balmoral – It’s impossible to do this place justice in a little review blurblet, not to mention the fact that everyone from the New York Times to Gourmet Magazine has done pieces on Great Lakes (even going so far as to call it the best pizza in the world), so I’ll make my appraisal short and sweet. Best crust, best toppings, best vibe (churchy almost, reverential certainly…everyone seems to be waiting for Chef Nick to make a mistake but he never does), too expensive, BYOB, takes forever, and finally, and honestly, the best pizza I have ever had. Totally worth it, totally worthy, totally makes Chicago-style pizza look like an inbred mouth-breather of the pizza world.
Union Pizzeria, 1245 Chicago Avenue, Evanston – This trendy, recently-opened gem from the chef behind one of my favorite bistro/brasseries Campagnola, has a warehouse vibe and good-looking well-heeled North Shore clientele rubbing elbows with Northwestern kids, but the food is no bullshit. The pizzas are close to Neapolitan in style but the combinations of ingredients are inspired. Lamb sausage with Greek olives and eggplant was a standout. Also good beers on tap, a decent little Italian wine list, and an actually bad-ass performance space in back for bands.
Spacca Napoli, 1769 W. Sunnyside – This Ravenswood spot has an airy and bright feel with a lot of young families and seems very at home in the neighborhood. The pizzas are no-frills and sparingly adorned with some decently high-quality ingredients. A combination of fancy cheese, deliciously unctuous prosciutto, tomatoes and fresh arugula was just about as light as pizza gets, and it was fantastic. Also open for lunch.
Piece, 1927 W. North – This Wicker Park pizza palace is the only representative in Chicago that I’m aware of that makes pizza in the “New Haven” style, with red sauce, garlic, olive oil, and Parmesan but no Mozzarella. I usually just get take out if I’m in the neighborhood, but this place has a pretty happening little bar vibe going on, with a particularly savage Live Band Karaoke night on Thursdays. Moral of the story, it can get very crowded. The pizza is satisfying and eats sort of like an haute-Domino’s. The bar also brews their own beer.