Daniel Zemans, our man in Chicago, checks in with another piece of intel on the Windy City pizza scene. --The Mgmt.
5663 N. Clark Street, Chicago IL 60660 (map); 773-944-1492
Getting There: #22 Clark Street bus to Hollywood
Pizza Style: Neapolitan
Oven Type: Wood
The Skinny: Very good Neapolitan pies. High-quality ingredients. Good chew in the crust but not a lot of crisp
Price: Pizzas are about 12" and range from $11-$18
There is no denying the rapid increase in high-quality thin-crust pizzerias in Chicago. While some seem to think that this is indicative of a decrease in the popularity of stuffed or deep-dish pies, the lack of any decline of such pizzerias suggests that is not the case. Instead, Chicago is simply expanding its pizza universe, and in my world, that's a very good thing.
A couple of months ago, I wrote a little about Andersonville in my review of Great Lake. This week, the neighborhood drew me back to try yet another new high-end place. Chef-partner Mario Rapisarda, a native Sicilian, is a Spiaggia veteran who opened Antica Pizzeria last October. He is committed to putting out fresh, high-quality, authentic Neapolitan pies, and I was pleased to discover that, for the most part, he succeeds.
I tried two pizzas at Pizzeria Antica and, based on that small sample size, it seems they have mastered consistency. Both pizzas offered pretty much what Neapolitan connoisseurs expect. The crust in the middle of the pies was very thin, while the cornicione was full of blisters. The cornicione and bottom had a decent amount of charring. The crust did fall a bit short, literally, around the outer edge, but not by a lot. My only complaint about the crust was the lack of a crisp exterior, which was particularly surprising given the very attractive blistering.
The fior di latte was fresh and was applied in nice splotches evenly distributed around the pizza. For those who care about such things, I should mention that Pizzeria Antica is not VPN certified (and is unrelated to Marina Del Ray's VPN-certified Antica Pizzeria). Those not impressed by silly labels but who are fans of the Neapolitan style will be happy to know these pizzas are cooked in a wood-burning oven around 800 degrees for about two minutes.
Up first was the Pizza Mugniaia, which was the special pizza of the day. It came with a generous supply of fresh mushrooms as well as homemade crumbled fennel sausage. The sausage seemed to have been cooked in a pan, as each piece had a thin crust on at least one side. While I was not a big fan of that added texture, I liked the well-seasoned sausage. The fior di latte was very good, but not great. The flavor was excellent, but it was a shade chewier than I expect fresh mozzarella to be.
The second pizza was the Quattro Stagione, which my non-swine-eating dining companion turned into a Tre Stagione by requesting the pie without prosciutto. Typically, stagione pizzas are served with each topping covering only one-quarter of the pie. Stagione means "seasons," and the idea of the pizza is that each piece represents one of them. But some pizzerias, like Antica, mix the toppings together which, while making a satisfying pizza, seems to destroy the whole four-seasons concept. In any event, I did like the Tre Stagione quite a bit, even more than the Mugniaia. The fresh mushrooms, oily artichoke hearts, and salty olives worked well together with the wet cheese, mild sauce, and chewy crust.
Recent years have seen an explosion in the number of thin-crust pizzerias in Chicago that focus on high-quality ingredients and products that are closer to traditional Italian pies than the Chicago version of thin-crust pizzas.
Some of the new places have done an extremely good job, while a few fall woefully short. Personally, I put Antica toward the higher end but not in the top few. Among true Neapolitan pies, I'd rank it below Spacca Napoli (reviewed here for Slice), but ahead of Pizza D.O.C. (reviewed here for Slice). That said, while I might enjoy the pizza at Spacca Napoli a little more, the absence of lines at Pizzeria Antica--and its BYOB policy--more than outweigh the difference in pizza quality.
Great Lake: Stunningly Good Pizza in Chicago
Chicago's Spacca Napoli: Good But Not Great
Pizza D.O.C.: Less Than a Minute from Greatness
Thin-Crust Pizza in Chicago? Yes, and It's Outstanding at Vito & Nick's
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?