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 with his friends on the Chicago Pizza Club blog. --The Mgmt.
2251 W. Lawrence Avenue, Chicago IL 60625 (map); 773-784-8777; mypizzadoc.com
Getting There: Brown Line to Damen (station reopening soon); walk 1 block north and two blocks west
Pizza Style: Neapolitan
Oven Type: Wood-fired
The Skinny: One of the first places in Chicago to offer Neapolitan pizza. Undercooked crusts is all that is preventing a return to former glory
Price: $12.50 - $14.95 per pizza. Visa/MC/AmEx, cash
Founded in 1999, Pizza D.O.C. is the granddaddy of the Neapolitan pizza scene in Chicago. Offering 20 different pizzas in addition to periodic specialty pies, all of which are cooked in a wood-burning oven that was imported from Tuscany.
Cesar D'Ortenzi was already a well-established Italian restaurateur in Chicago, thanks to La Bocca della Verita, when he opened Pizza D.O.C. The D.O.C. in the name comes from "Denominazione di Origine Controllata," the designation given to some Italian wines, guaranteeing their authenticity. As far as I know, it has nothing to do with pizza.
When Pizza D.O.C. opened, it was an immediate hit and remained popular for years. It was the place where I first had Neapolitan-style pizza. I hadn't been there in a couple of years before my most recent visit, and I was disappointed. The pizza is still good--but not as good as I remember. And from talking to other people, I know that I'm not the only one with that impression.
Fortunately, the primary problem others and I identified is one that is easily correctable: They need to cook their pizzas a little longer. I went with a decent-sized group so I was able to try six different pizzas, and all six of them were undercooked. Two of them were tolerably undercooked--they just needed a few more seconds to get better crispness and a little char. But four of them had almost no crispness at all. The toppings, cheese and sauce were all good, so hope remains, but Neapolitan pizza is so dependent on a very good crust to be successful that the flaw at Pizza D.O.C. is huge.
The sauce is made from San Marzano tomatoes. Other than my common complaint about Neapolitan-style pizza--that there was not enough of it--I really enjoyed the sauce. The cheese is a high-quality, fresh, whole-milk mozzarella. And all of the toppings were good and generously supplied. Of the six pizzas I tried, two of them really stood out.
The Gustosa has aparagus, ham, Parmesan, and a sunny-side-up egg that was cooked on the pizza. Even without the egg, which I think should be included on thin pizzas much more often than it is, the combination of toppings on the Gustosa would have worked well together, with the fresh, juicy asparagus going well with the salty ham and Parmesan. But the egg made the pizza really enjoyable (damaged only by the undercooked crust).
The Quattro Formaggi was another favorite of mine. With mozzarella, Swiss, Parmesan, and blue, this pizza was a cheese lover's delight. Sometimes when blue cheese is put on pizza, it can overwhelm everything else. But Pizza D.O.C. proportioned the cheeses properly--we got all the good flavor of blue cheese but were still able to taste and enjoy the other three cheeses. Again, however, the crust held this one back.
One fun little gimmick D.O.C. does that I'd never experienced before involves the Margherita. Rather than put the basil on the pizza, they bring the table a dish of chopped fresh basil for people to sprinkle on their own pie. I'm not sure that it added anything tastewise, but it gave us a few seconds of fun.
D'Ortenzi, who built Pizza D.O.C. died last September, a few months after the current owner bought into the place. I don't know the full story of what's happened in terms of staff turnover, but there has definitely been some since D'Ortenzi's untimely death. In my last review, I noted that at least some of the staff has moved to I Monelli, so perhaps that explains the current struggles with crust consistency. Here's to hoping Pizza D.O.C. fixes what's ailing them. If they don't, Spacca Napoli, which is only about a mile away, will take away even more of Pizza D.O.C.'s business than it already has.