Armitage Pizzeria is—how should I put this?—unassuming. The two-month-old shop can be politely described as spare, with no decor to speak of and only a handful of high-top tables. Usually, there's only one guy working, which means he has to handle of all ordering and pizza making duties. Of course, I wouldn't be writing this post if there weren't a "but" thrown in for dramatic effect, and for this piece I actually have two. Here's the first: But that solitary guy in question turns out to be James Spillane, who you may recognize as a former partner in another East Coast-influenced and very popular local pizzeria, Coalfire.
Why he'd want to open a bare bones pizza joint, especially one where he has to do most the work himself, is kind of confusing, though his unpretentious intentions are easy to taste in the pizza. And here's the second one: But since he grew up in Worcester, Massachusetts, his default pizza style happens to be East Coast-style thin crust, which is as straightforward as the shop. This is everyday pizza that is affordable ($11 for a plain cheese pizza), satisfying, and about as far away from "artisanal" as you can get.
Don't look for fresh mozzarella here, just shredded hard mozzarella, which still lends a real tang to each bite, even though it is lightly applied. The sauce is bright red, slightly sweet, and tart. The crust, when it's on, has a crisp and chewy bite with nice char marks on the bottom. No cracker crust here.
The crust fluctuates between nearly nonexistent to puffy and airy, sometimes on the same pie. Though humble, everything is here you'd want in a New York slice—sauce, cheese, and dough combined in an absurdly thin layer, yet all accounted for. In fact, this is the best approximation of a New York slice I've tasted in Chicago, handily beating Santullo's.
Of course, if you hate this style, or just love delving into the ridiculous New York vs. Chicago pizza debate, you could try a pie here, shrug your shoulders, and wonder what the commotion is all about. On the other hand, for homesick East Coasters, or people who just happen to love this style like myself, this can seem like a bigger deal than appears rational. If you've been craving this sort of simple, no-fuss option, one that you'll need to eat as quickly as possible, Armitage Pizzeria feels downright special.
As I mentioned above, the majority of the business is take-out, and most days you'll only find Spillane behind the counter getting things done. Luckily, he's also a good natured guy, so even if you show up with only a credit card at this cash-only place (like me), he'll suggest you just pay him back tomorrow (there also happens to be an ATM two doors down). Each pie only takes a few minutes to make, so you can show up, place your order, and watch as he works the dough with this hands, tops it, and slides it in the oven. And then, within 10 minutes or so of when you arrived, you're walking out with a box of piping hot pizza.
It's not the most consistent place I've been, and as I've tried to convey, this isn't the spot to look for an earth-shattering experience. Though I loved the regular cheese, the mushroom and hot calabrese salami pizza wasn't as successful. Still, if that's what you like, go for it. Just make sure to eat it quickly while the pizza is still warm. Hell, fold up a slice in half and eat it while walking. There's no reason to judge. This is pizza without pretensions, and Chicago is better off with it.
711 W Armitage Ave, Chicago 60614 (map)