Chicago: Dante's Pizzeria Is Much More Inferno Than Paradiso
3028 W Armitage Avenue, Chicago, IL 60647 (map); 773- 342-0002; no website
Pizza Style: New Yorkish
The Skinny: Certainly edible but disappointing all the way around
Price: 20 inch pizzas start at $18 with specialty pies ranging from $23 to $26; slices start at $3.50
When stories began trickling in about the pending opening of Dante's Pizzeria in the southern end of Logan Square a few months ago, all signs pointed to it being a successful venture. Georg Simos, owner of area establishments The Rocking Horse and High Dive certainly knows the neighborhood. And by bringing on former employees of Piece (reviewed here) and Santullo's (reviewed here) to run the show, expectations for Dante's were understandably somewhat high.
If the Yelpers, who have collectively given Dante's four stars, are to be believed, then the place is a success. And it's possible that the pizzas I had on my visit were anomalies (someone from the Reader certainly liked it when he checked it out). But there was so much fundamentally wrong with both pizzas I tried on my visit that I have a hard time believing that that's the case. From the crust, to the sauce, to the toppings, to the prices, to the Ms. Pac Man arcade game that operates at absurdly high speeds, this was a deeply flawed dining experience.
Every pizza at Dante's is 20 inches across. Diners can build their own pie or choose from one of 8 specialty pizzas, each of which shares a name familiar to reader of Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy. The Inferno, which is billed as having "9 Levels of Hell" thanks to a staggering collection of toppings that includes sausage, pepperoni, bacon, garlic, poblano, jalapeno, banana pepper, onion, and giardiniera. I jokingly suggested it to my dining companions because the idea of getting so many different toppings on one pizza seemed ridiculous. But the woman working behind the counter assured me that it worked really well and convinced me to try it.
The customer may not always be right, but in this case I definitely was. This pizza was kind of a mess. Despite the massive quantity of toppings the kitchen had to play with, the decision was made to leave a significant portion of the pizza canvas blank. Of the bites with toppings, only the garlic, jalapenos and pepperoni came through. And my efforts to isolate individual toppings proved pointless, as none of them were notable in any way. All that said, I did polish off two large slices, so I obviously don't think it was terrible, but that's hardly a ringing endorsement.
We went fairly minimalist on the second pizza, opting to build our own and only top it with spinach and mushrooms. Unfortunately, this one was even worse than the Inferno because as nutty as the pile of toppings was, it turns out they were the best thing on that pizza. The sadly restrained application of veggies on this pizza allowed the sauce to shine through. With a good sauce that would be fine, but this stuff tasted like marinara sauce.
The crust was a mixed bag. The texture of the end crust was a bit on the chewy side but otherwise pleasant. The bottom crust, on the other hand, especially on the Inferno, was far too soggy. Foldable is one thing but foldable like an accordion is something quite different. In terms of flavor, the crust was a fine piece of ordinary bread that got an extra kick from bits of garlic spread around the top and a decent dose of corn meal on the bottom.
At the end of the night, my two dining companions and I spent more than a couple of minutes strongly encouraging each other to take home the leftovers. This is not a pizzeria I can see myself returning to for a meal, or recommending others to check out. But if you find yourself in the area craving pizza and needing it quickly, it's worth mentioning that Dante's always has 4 different slices available: cheese, sausage, pepperoni, and a rotating specialty pie.