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Chicago: Embrace the Stuffed Pizza at Porretta's

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[Photographs: Daniel Zemans]

Trattoria Porretta Ristorante & Pizzeria

3656 N Central Ave, Chicago, IL 60634 (map); 773-736-1429; trattoriaporretta.com
Pizza Style: Midwestern thin crust, pan, and stuffed
The Skinny: Solid stuffed pizza but thin crust falls short
Price: Medium thin crust with three toppings is $15.62; 12 inch stuffed pizza with one topping is $17.60
Notes: Stuffed pizza is carry-out only

When I reviewed Suparossa's last year, dedicated Slice reader and pizza fiend Alberto (forzapizza) chimed in to bemoan the fact that my voyage to Portage Park was limited to a review of a pizzeria not owned by his family. It took about a year, but I made it back to the neighborhood to visit Trattorria Porretta & Pizza. Alberto, who built an oven in his backyard, makes gorgeous pies of a Neapolitan bent, but his family, which entered the pizza business long before the quest for "authenticity" became a culinary trend, turns out decidedly American pies.

Over the years, Poretta's has grown from a tiny pizzeria to a successful business that includes a full-service Italian restaurant and a large banquet hall across the street. The restaurant offers thin crust pizza and pan pizza if you dine in, but also sells stuffed pizza to go. Much as I would have loved to take in the ambience of the restaurant, I wasn't going to pass up the chance to try a new stuffed pizza, so I picked mine up, took some quick pictures in the car, and ate pizza for a good portion of the 20-minute drive home.

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The stuffed pizza made my decision to sacrifice the comforts of a sit-down meal a good one. The thick, rich sauce is tangy and a little sweet, and is loaded with an oregano-heavy mix of herbs. The crust, flaky as is normal for the style, had a bit more crunch than is typical, which made for a nice contrast to the massive quantities of cheese and sauce. It's a very good representative of the style that Portage Park residents are lucky to have nearby.

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Where the stuffed pizza fell short was with the sausage. We Chicagoans are spoiled when it comes to good sausage on pizza. Large chunks of oddly shaped pork, oftentimes housemade, appear regularly throughout the area. But these smooth-cut squares of "sausage" are short on flavor and texture. Thanks to the approximately three-quarters of an inch thick layer of cheese, the dull sausage couldn't detract from an otherwise fine pie, one that is decidedly better than that at nearby Suparossa's.

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The thin crust was not as successful. Old-school thin crust Chicago pizza rarely wows anyone with its crust. There are some places that do things out of the ordinary, like Vito & Nick's putting milk in the dough, but for the most part you're getting a machine-rolled piece of bread without a lot of flavor. Given all that, this is a style of pizza that starts with a major barrier between it and greatness.

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I tried a thin crust pizza with the reliable combination of pepperoni, onions, and garlic. The pepperoni is run of the mill stuff, which is fine; truly delicious pepperoni is fairly rare. The fresh garlic was applied with a pretty heavy hand, completely negating the onions, but the pepperoni still made its presence known and the two toppings I could taste made for a fine combination. But "fine" toppings weren't enough to catapult this pizza into the category of pizzas I'd like to eat again.

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Sausage aside, Porretta's makes a good stuffed pizza, and if I lived in the neighborhood it would be part of my regular rotation. Forzapizza's grandparents and Porretta owners have clearly laid a solid pizza foundation. But based on the pictures of Alberto's My Pie Monday pies, I think he may have even surpassed the older generations in the family. Now we need to get that guy to open a pizzeria!

About the author: Daniel Zemans is so devoted to Chicago that he covers pizza for Slice and burgers for A Hamburger Today. When he's not focusing on expanding his waistline, he works as a lawyer on behalf of employees and tenants.

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