Serious Eats: Chicago
Art of Pizza: Usually a Classic, But Not This Time
Daniel Zemans, our man in Chicago, checks in with another piece of intel on the Windy City pizza scene. Daniel also blogs about Chicagoland pizza, along with his friends, on the Chicago Pizza Club blog. --The Mgmt.
Very few places in Chicago sell deep-dish pizza by the slice. On a recent trip to Art of Pizza, I learned why. Until this visit to Art of Pizza, I had never eaten in the restaurant. I had only ordered whole pies and had them delivered or I had picked them up. I had never gone there for slices; and after this experience, I never will again.
The restaurant is located in what was once a small strip mall but has since become Art of Pizza Plaza--the restaurant has expanded over the years to take over the entire development.
Art of Pizza
3033 N Ashland, Chicago IL 60657 (map); 773-327-5600
Pizza Style: Deep dish and stuffed crust
The Skinny: It's not much to look at, but the Art of Pizza lands atop many Chicagoans' best deep-dish list. And they do have a great pizza there--just don't order it by the slice. The herbed crust sets AoP apart from the other players in town, and the crust on the stuffed pizzas are noticeably less flaky than at other joints
The inside of Art of Pizza is nothing special. In fact, for a place that many people rank as among their favorite pizzerias, it is noticeably unattractive. From the old formica tables, to the lack of wall décor to the 20-year-old television set to the view of a parking lot, there is nothing physically appealing about the restaurant. But just like it would be wrong to judge New York by the overflowing piles of hot garbage that line the city's streets, it is wrong to judge the food at Art of Pizza by the restaurant's physical limitations.
The crust at Art of Pizza is what noticeably distinguishes it from other pizzerias. Both the pan and stuffed pizzas feature an herbed crust that goes very well with the impressive amounts of mozzarella both pies use. Also, the stuffed crust, which is two inches tall around the outside of the pie, is not nearly as flaky as other stuffed pies in Chicago. I suspect they use either less shortening than other pizzerias or none at all, but I'm not enough of a breadsmith to be able to tell, and the kid working the counter on this trip had no idea about the dough recipe.
The sauce at Art of Pizza is usually quite good. It tastes fresh and has decent amounts of oregano and basil. The toppings are generally fresh, and Art of Pizza offers a good variety. I usually order stuffed spinach pizzas there because my usual staple topping, sausage, is too bland at Art of Pizza for my tastes. When I've felt particularly gluttonous, I have ordered Art's Meaty Delight, which features sausage, bacon, ground beef, pepperoni, and sliced beef.
On this particular trip, because I was eating slices, I was limited to what was already made. And because I arrived at Art of Pizza at the decidedly not busy time of 3 p.m., I encountered two significant obstacles. First, I had limited choices because the lunch rush had ended and AoP does not keep a full array of pizzas available for slices at all times. Second, the pizzas they did have had all been sitting in pizza warmers for an indeterminate (but clearly long) period of time.
I ordered two slices. First up was a piece of pan sausage pizza. The piece featured the typical herbed crust, which was unusually soggy due to the time it spent under a heat lamp soaking in its own sauce and cheese. The pan pizzas do not use much sauce, but there was enough that I could taste it even with the thick crust and layer of cheese. The sausage itself was, by Chicago sausage standards, very bland.
My second piece was a slice of stuffed spinach. Again, this one suffered from the amount of time it spent under the heat lamp. When I've eaten Art of Pizza before, I have only had fresh pies and the sauce has been quite good. After sitting in the heater for who knows how long, the sauce was somewhat dry and tasted as if it could have come from a can (for the record, I do not think their sauce is canned). Like any respectable slice of stuffed pizza, this one included a good half inch of cheese, but it too suffered from sitting out so long as the cheese had an oilness to it that was not good. Surprisingly, the crust actually held up well and retained its usual good herbed flavor.
So if you are looking for a deep-dish pizza on Chicago's north side, or you find yourself wanting to try a variety of the best stuffed pizzas in Chicago, Art of Pizza is definitely worth checking out. Just don't order by the slice.
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