I went to Avec because I was embarrassed. Please don't judge me, but the last time I checked out the West Loop staple was about seven years ago, two years before I even moved to Chicago. But while shame took years to bring me back, the pizza had me return in less than a week.
When Logan Square's Ciao Napoli Pizzeria closed last year, the restaurant group behind the neighboring Telegraph Wine Bar quickly snatched up the space. Since opening last November, their new restaurant and bar, Reno, has taken Chicago by storm (most recently landing on Eater's Pizzeria Heatmap). The osteria launched with morning, midday, and nighttime menus, offering up wood-fired bagels and pastries in the a.m., sandwiches at lunch, and an impressive array of pastas and wood-fired pizzas come dinner.
Oh, the weight of expectations. For the past six months, I've eagerly anticipated the opening of Flour & Stone, mostly due to the restaurant's claim that it would serve "Chicago's Brooklyn style pizza." Now, I know what you're going to say. What the hell is Brooklyn-style pizza?
On my last pizza dispatch from Chicago, I took you inside John's Pizzeria, a decidedly old-school joint that serves extra-thin pizza in a room that looks suspiciously like an aging 1970's suburban living room (remember the buxom young brunettes?). So for this review I wanted to go as far in the other direction as I could, and locate the most lavish place imaginable to satisfy a pizza craving. I knew exactly where to go.
It's the last call for Great Lake Pizza at 1477 West Balmoral Avenue. One of the great pizza destinations will no longer be serving some of the country's best pies from their current location come February.
John's Pizzeria in Bucktown does not serve destination worthy pizza, but in its own special way, the John's experience is worth the trip. You have to know what you're getting into before you go, because the restaurant's very good thin crust pizza is only one component. Though it doesn't come anywhere close to serving my favorite pizza in Chicago, John's is one of my absolute favorite places to eat pizza.
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.
Steve Dolinksy recently declared this the best Neapolitan pizzeria in all of Chicago—better than Spacca Napoli and even Pizzeria da Nella! Expectations like those can more than color one's pizza experience.
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. 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.
Nella Grassano is both Chicago's most famous pizzaiola and disappearing act. She is known for introducing our city to the pleasures of light and airy Neapolitan-style crusts, which she started dishing out at Spacca Napoli back in 2006. I wondered if her return to Pizzeria da Nella would up the Neapolitan game in Chicago.
On a menu of stunners, what caught my eye at Tony Mantuano's Bar Toma was the Capriole Goat Cheese pizza—a combination of creamy Indiana-made goat cheese, toasted hazelnuts, melted leeks, fragrant thyme, jammy dates, and rich Acetaia San Giacomo balsamico.
Balena might be the only restaurant on earth with (a) a fully functional wood-fired oven and (b) pizza on its menu, but refuses to cook (b) in (a). But this does help explain what kind of pizza Balena serves. The crust has all the qualities of Neo-Neapolitan: a very high cornicione, impressive structure development, and a texture that balances between a crisp exterior and chewy insides. Basically, this is good bread.
No matter what happens, Nellcôte, the newest hot spot in Chicago's West Loop, is going to be known as the only restaurant that makes pizza from flour ground in-house. From the looks of things, Chef Jared Van Camp is already making some very good pizza and could be on the way to having something truly special.
In the food world, Garfield Ridge on the southwest side of Chicago is fairly unexplored territory. But the locals there swear by Obbie's Pizza, a delivery and carry-out only hole in the wall that's been making customers happy since 1977. While my hope that I'd stumble on a place that should be a city-wide legend did not materialize, I did have some solid pizza.
Since 1980, Piero's Pizza has been satisfying pizza cravings in the northern suburb of Highland Park. After trying two of the five styles of pizza on the menu, I was left wondering if there's something about the place I just didn't get.
With a location steps from the Magnificent Mile and across the street from Water Tower, Chef Tony Mantuano's Bar Toma would be doing extraordinarily well based on his star power and the location, even if the restaurant served frozen dinners. Fortunately, Mantuano did not rest on his laurels, delivering some seriously delicious pizzas that should have locals fighting tourists for tables.
Q's Restaurant & Pizzeria has served the people of Hillside for well over 50 years and exudes old school pizzeria charm. But Q's is an exemplar of how legendary suburban pizzerias can live on in greatness due to nostalgia more than the pizza.
No restaurant in the ever-expanding empire of Scott Harris has gotten more praise than Davanti Enoteca in Little Italy. The hype means that two hour waits are fairly common on weekend nights. The food just might be worth it.
There are countless average to above average pizzerias that get the designation, "it's good for the neighborhood." But as I discovered at Fornetto Mei, when the neighborhood is packed with excellent pizza options, decidedly mediocre pizzas aren't going to elicit much more than a shrug.
Trattorria Porretta & Pizza has grown from tiny pizzeria to a full-service Italian restaurant and banquet hall over the years in Portage Park. The family operation maintains the regional status quo in the Chicago thin crust department, but the carry-out only stuffed crust is worth sacrificing the comforts of a sit-down meal.