Paula & Monica's
1518 W Chicago Avenue, Chicago IL 60622 (Armour Street/Greenview Avenue); 312-929-3615; paulaandmonicas.com
The Skinny: Worthy newcomer with an unusual "Combo" hybrid pie that combines Italian beef and pizza
Price: 10-inch Combo, $10; 14-inch Combo, $17
As happens every spring in the midst of the NBA, NHL, NCAA sports championship hoopla, mayors in every major city hunker down and waste public tax dollars trying to feed the PR machine with cheeky side bet offerings of their particular cities culinary offerings. Just before the Blackhawks–Canucks game, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley promised Vancouver's mayor Red Hot Chicago hot dogs, Red Hots candies, and Goose Island Brewery's new Red Felt beer if the the Blackhawks lost. They didn't, and I don't know what we get in turn from Vancouver, but with all the TV shows filmed there and the proximity to the water, probably some old X-Files props and a bag of fish.
That said, it seems like such a waste and a logistics pain in the rear to gather up all those different food items every time you lose a bet. The perfect losing bet would be for a single food item that captures the tasty soul of a city. For Chicago, at least in terms of national reputation, that means a food item that encapsulates the Italian Beef and pizza. While no such explicit thing really existed, enterprising corner shops, the kind of one-stop spots that seem to offer every deep-fried combo imaginable (shoes, Twinkies, whatever) in addition to their pies, have generally had roast beef as a pizza ingredient option. Some, also had giardinara, and so a creative customer could put together some variant of an Italian beef pizza.
Paula and Monica's pizza in Chicago's West Town has finally taken all the guess work out of that game by offering a combo pizza featuring Italian beef, garlic, giardinara, and Italian sausage on a thin almost-foldy New York–style-aspiring crust. And for three weeks in a row, this has been my Friday dinner.
The thin crust, with its slightly charred bottom and cornmeal dusting, is as satisfying as other pizza favorites such as Coalfire or Pizano's, and the ingredients and topping balance as good as any around town. While I have yet to get into the idiosyncratic Great Lake pizza in Andersonville, Paula and Monica's is definitely one of the best newcomer pizza spots in town.