Slice: Chicago

Pizza reviews in the Chicago area.

Chicago Pizza: Floriole Cafe & Bakery Pizza

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[Photographs: Nick Kindelsperger]

Floriole Cafe & Bakery

1220 West Webster Avenue, Chicago, IL 60614 (map); 773-883-1313; floriole.com‎
Pizza style: Neo-Neapolitan
The skinny: Excellent little "pizzetta" with creative toppings.
Price: $11.99 to $13.99

Let's just jump right into the most important question concerning this review: Does Floriole Cafe & Bakery actually serve pizza? I realize this is a strange question for a review on Slice. Still, technically, I suppose the answer is no. Sure, there are small baked objects that the cafe calls pizzetta, which, despite their diminutive nature, both look and taste exactly like pizza. And if you read my picks for the best bites of 2011, you'll know that they also happen to be delicious. So, I'm going with it.

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First and foremost, Floriole is a bakery. In fact, it just might be one of the best in the city. So it makes sense that at the soul of each pizzetta is a remarkable crust that is crackly on the outside, chewy underneath, and sturdy throughout. And if you adore the sort of developed bread-like crust pioneered at Great Lake, then you'll understand immediately why this means so much.

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Take the basic tomato sauce and mozzarella pizzetta. Nothing here is particularly out of the ordinary. The sauce is sweet and acidic, while the mozzarella is tangy and slightly salty. And then you get to the crust. Crispy on the outside yet chewy within, it is everything you could want from a bakery of this caliber. It's so good, just about anything would taste great piled on.

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And Floriole likes to experiment. The exact topping combinations change constantly, but each manages to surprise. That's definitely true of the bacon, potatoes, chives, thyme, and crème fraîche. The potatoes are sliced extra thin, so they add some heft, but manage to avoid weighing the whole thing down. Once again, fresh herbs lend their fragrance. Obviously, with both bacon and crème fraîche, this is hardly light. Luckily, everything is applied with genuine baker's care.

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That said, the kale and bacon pizza might go too far. Though completely covered in kale, this is one savory and fatty pie. Perhaps to make up for all those greens, it tastes like it had been drenched in oil before dished out. Of course, compared to an overloaded slice of stuffed crust, this would barely register. But it takes the focus away from the crunchy bacon and plentiful kale. I mean, I still ate the whole thing, but compared to the restraint of the first two pizzetta, it was a little disappointing.

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Though I'm calling this pizza, I definitely would avoid describing Floriole as a pizzeria. Instead, this is a charming little cafe, which features a huge menu of other items, including some excellent sandwiches and pastries. Pizza purists also have reason to be concerned: the pizzetta are cooked ahead of time, stashed behind a glass case, and rewarmed in a toaster oven to order. But when you're dealing with bread this good, it almost doesn't seem to matter.

About the author: Nick Kindelsperger is the editor of Serious Eats: Chicago. He loves tacos and spicy food. You can follow him as @nickdk on Twitter.

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