Serious Eats: Chicago
Candlelite: Enjoy the Pizza, Fall in Love with the Garlic Fries
"The crust is the thinnest, crackeriest (now officially a word) crust I have ever encountered."
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.
7452 N. Western Avenue, Chicago IL 60645 (map); 773-465-0087; candlelitechicago.com
Pizza Style: Very crisp, very thin
Oven Type: Gas
The Skinny: Fantastic pizza for a neighborhood bar but only mediocre as a pizzeria; garlic fries are exceptional
Price: Specialty pizzas are $9, $14, $17; all pizzas are 2-for-1 on Tuesdays
If they made romance movies about restaurants, Candlelite's story would make a great script: In a working class neighborhood on the far north side of Chicago, a local bar served up classic cracker-thin-crust pizza for seven decades. In the mid 2000s, the owners decided to close up shop and some regular customers refused to let their local watering hole and pizzeria die. A group of them banded together and saved their beloved pizzeria, and they all lived happily ever after.
Well, as long as you define happily ever after as a nice bar, pretty good pizza, and exceptional garlic fries.
The first thing I noticed when walking into Candlelite was that the inside looks nothing like I expected based on the exterior. Outside, Candlelite looks every bit like a nearly 80-year-old dive bar in Chicago should, from the dark bricks to the overflow of neon lights devoted to beer and sports. I expected to walk into a dark, dirty building with walls stained from decades of cigarette smoke and filled with cheap plastic and formica furniture. It turns out that when the new owners took over, they invested a chunk of money in the place. The result is modern lighting, heavy wood furniture, and exposed brick walls. If it weren't for the glow of the neon lights, the inside could pass for a trendy bistro. Actually, I don't think most bistros have multiple plasma TVs showing sporting events, but you get the idea.
I went to Candlelite on a Tuesday night, which is unquestionably the best night to go, as that is when you can get two pizzas for the price of one. Candlelite offers a variety of specialty pizzas as well as the build-your-own option. We opted for two of the specialty pies.
Up first was the white pizza, which is topped with olive oil, caramelized onions, roasted garlic, mozzarella, Parmesan, and goat cheese. The toppings worked well together. The caramelized onions were very sweet, and the pizza could have used a little more Parmesan or goat cheese to balance it out, but that's picking nits.
The crust is the thinnest, crackeriest (now officially a word) crust I have ever encountered. There are people out there who view crust as serving no function other than holding cheese, toppings and, sauce, and people who lean that way would love Candlelite. I like the texture of a crisp crust (though I think this place goes a bit too far) and I'm OK with bland crusts when the toppings are good, but the toppings would have to be pretty spectacular to get me to go out of my way to eat this crust again. And they're good at Candlelite, but not that good.
The second pizza was the Italian Meat Lover, which comes with a thin, nicely herbed tomato sauce as well as Italian beef and Italian sausage. They did a good job with both meats. The Italian beef was moist and very well seasoned, and the sausage seemed fresh and had a good amount of chewiness without being rubbery. The crust was just as thin, dry and tasteless on this pizza, but the sauce and the juices from the meat went a long way towards compensating for that.
No review of Candlelite would be complete without mention of their garlic fries. Ordinarily when I go out for pizza, I get nothing else, as my goal is to eat as much pizza as possible. But I will never set foot in Candlelite without getting their garlic fries. These perfectly cooked fries (recommendation: Ask for them crisp) come coated in vinegar, herbs, and loads of fresh garlic.
The upgraded version of Candlelite remains a great neighborhood institution. If I lived in the neighborhood, I would be happy eating the pizza regularly despite the crust (which some people absolutely love). The garlic fries, on the other hand, are well worth going out of your way for. And as long as you're there, it's definitely worth checking out the pizza, especially on Tuesdays.
Thin-Crust Pizza in Chicago? Yes, and It's Outstanding at Vito & Nick's
Great Lake: Stunningly Good Pizza in Chicago
Bricks, Pizza Heaven in the Bowels of Chicago
Pat's Pizza: House-made Sausage and a Perfect Crust Make One Great Pizza
Is Chicago's La Madia a Pizzeria or Restaurant? Who Cares?
Apart Pizza Company Has Its Own Style, and That Style Is Good
Pizza D.O.C.: Less Than a Minute from Greatness