Serious Eats: Chicago
Edwardo's Natural Pizza: No Longer Great, But Still Very Good
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.
Edwardo's Natural Pizza Restaurant
1321 East 57th Street, Chicago IL 60637 (map); 773-241-7960; 8 other locations
Getting There: Metra to 57th Street or 6 Jackson Park Express bus to 57th Street and Stony Island, walk 1/2 mile west
Pizza Style: Stuffed and thin-crust available; known for stuffed
Oven Type: Gas
The Skinny: One of the oldest stuffed pizzerias; still good but, other than the crust, has declined in recent years
Price: $20.72 for a medium pizza with one topping
In my review of Bacino's, I mentioned that the owner of that establishment got his start in the pizza business after entering into a relationship with the owners of Giordano's (review here). That relationship didn't work out, and Dan Bacin opened Bacino's in 1978 using an Italianized version of his name. It so happens that there is a second pizzeria that has a similar history.
Edward Jacobson split from the Broglio brothers (then the owners of Giordano's) and went out on his own in 1978. There was no way to Italianize Jacobson, so he added an o to the end of his first name and opened the first Edwardo's Natural Pizza Restaurant on the far northern border of Chicago in Rogers Park. A year later, he opened his second location, this time on the south side in Hyde Park.
Edwardo's sought to carve out a niche as the healthier version of stuffed pizza. They pushed (and may well have invented) a spinach-soufflé-stuffed pizza, which was full of finely chopped fresh spinach. Hydroponic basil and oregano was grown in each restaurant and they used it on the pizza and sold it separately to people who wanted to take home some fresh herbs. Edwardo's tried out a whole-wheat crust as early as 1981. A concern with quality was also evident in the restaurant's use of San Marzano tomatoes in the sauce.
The company was clearly onto something, as there were six locations by 1984. Jacobson then entered into a relationship with Chicago real estate investors Ivan and Jeffrey Himmel. Soon thereafter, Edwardo's expanded to Minneapolis and Milwaukee and had plans to expand throughout the Midwest. They had some success in both areas and even worked out a deal whereby United Airlines served individual sizes of their stuffed pizzas on some flights.
In the meantime, the Himmels's company took over Edwardo's entirely and expanded its food empire to include Gino's East (review here). Edwardo's has suffered some setbacks in recent years, but today there are still nine locations, seven of which are in the Chicago area, with one on the outskirts of Milwaukee and another in Muncie, Indiana.
The highlight of Edwardo's stuffed pizza is the crust. The flaky crust has a nice soft chew but is strong enough to stand up to and complement the large quantities of cheese and sauce. The mozzarella was a little tough and chewy, although not terribly so. My understanding is that mozzarella gets tougher as fat is removed, and the ingredients listed on Edwardo's mail-order page indicate that the mozzarella is made from both whole and skim milk. It could also be that the company is using lower-quality cheese.
The generously applied sauce had a strong, slightly sweet flavor. It had fewer tomato chunks and was a little pastier than is common on stuffed and deep-dish pizzas but was still pretty good. I do not know what kind of tomatoes Edwardo's uses today, but I think it's safe to say that the days of using San Marzano tomatoes are long gone. There was a noticeable amount of salt in the pizza, which might have been in the sauce and might have been in the cheese, but that didn't detract much from the pizza. The sausage, which was overly salted, had a decent fennel flavor but was otherwise not good, an inexcusable fault in a city with ample suppliers of excellent sausage. I did not have it on this visit, but spinach remains a very good topping choice at Edwardo's.
Edwardo's has been a major player on the Chicago pizza scene for 30 years. It still serves up a very good stuffed pie, but I would recommend both Giordano's and Bacino's over Edwardo's.
Bacino's: Chicago's Healthy (?) Stuffed Pizza
Giordano's, a Stuffed Pizza Classic in Chicago
Pizza D.O.C.: Less Than a Minute from Greatness
Delisi's Pizzeria & Bar: A Fully Restored Neighborhood Institution
Gino's East: One of the Best Deep-Dish Pizzas in Chicago
Bricks, Pizza Heaven in the Bowels of Chicago
Burt's Place: Home of the Pizza King of Chicago
Is Chicago's La Madia a Pizzeria or Restaurant? Who Cares?