Pizzeria Brandi: Not Your Italian Relative's Pizzeria
Serious Eats Chicago contributor Daniel Zemans 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.
67 E. Cermak, Chicago IL 60616 (map); 312-794-5900; brandipizza.com
Getting There: Red Line to Cermak, walk 2 blocks east
Pizza Style: Chicago thin, stuffed, and deep dish/pan
Oven Type: Gas
The Skinny: Not worth going out of the way to get to, but if you find yourself at McCormick Place and are hungry, it's more than good enough
Price: Medium thin crust starts at $9.95, deep dish at $12.95, and stuffed at $17.95
More than most, Chicago is a city of distinct neighborhoods with widely accepted boundaries and full of residents who are fiercely proud of their urban subdivision. There are, however, two instances where identifying neighborhoods can me a bit of a challenge. The first is the fault of the City, which formally adopted the work of sociologists who divided Chicago into 77 officially designated community areas. Some community areas are the same as neighborhoods, sometimes they contain more than one neighborhood and once in a while, neighborhoods sit in two community areas. Another, less common issue that can muddy up common understandings of neighborhoods is when parts of the city transform rapidly.
Until about 20 years ago, there was a large area of land just south of downtown and mere blocks from the lake that had very little residential development and, aside from McCormick Place, less than impressive commercial space. In the past two decades, the market demand for urban living grew enough that developers were willing to build in areas they previously would not have touched. As a result, the northern part of the Near South Side community area was invaded by an army of high-rise condo buildings and townhouse developments. And when large numbers of people moved into the area south of the South Loop, north of Bronzeville and east of Chinatown, businesses followed. In January, one of those businesses was Pizzeria Brandi, a place that serves up good pies, but has nothing in common with the legendary Italian pizzeria with the same name.
Pizzeria Brandi is the brainchild of Giulio Spizzirri, who also owns a pizzeria called Spizzico in the western suburb of Elmwood Park. Brandi offers four different styles of pizza: Chicago thin crust, stuffed, deep dish, and—their own invention—the pan-double crust pizza, which they advertise as being slightly thicker than their thin crust, and having a "rolled edge." I tried the thin crust and the deep dish, neither of which were actually in the traditional Chicago style, but both of which were pretty good.
Up first was the thin crust with Italian beef and giardinera. Keeping in line with traditional Chicago thin crust was the extremely generous helpings of cheese, sauce, beef, and giardiniera. The Italian beef was well-seasoned and retained enough juice to retain good texture, but not so much that it would make a mess of the pizza. The giardiniera was nice and spicy and even had some small pieces of cauliflower, an ingredient I appreciate in giardiniera but see all too rarely. The sauce was sufficiently well-seasoned that I could taste it even as I got mouthfuls of beef and giardiniera.
Traditional Chicago thin crust has a crisp, cracker-like crust; the thin crust at Pizzeria Brandi had a relatively thick crust and there was little cracker-like about it. That's not to say it was bad—the crust had a little flavor and a crisp, well-browned bottom—there was just more dough than is common.
Influenced by an online review that declared Brandi's deep dish to be among the best in the city, I opted for a sausage deep dish pie. But as soon as I saw the pizza, I had a problem with it. Deep dish pizza was invented at Uno's (reviewed here for Slice) a little over 60 years ago. The original deep dish pizza had a cornmeal crust, topped with cheese and toppings, topped with a full layer of sauce. I'm willing give some leeway in the category and allow for crusts made out of other kinds of flour. But when there's a flour crust and just a little sauce under the cheese, that's no longer a deep dish pizza; that's a pan pizza.
My admittedly overblown reaction aside, the deep dish at Pizzeria Brandi was pretty good—at least it will be good to those who really like cheese. Like the Flying Tomato I reviewed two weeks ago, this pie had a whole lot of cheese on it and almost no sauce. I enjoyed the cheese, but would have liked more sauce. The cheese was very oily, which rendered the bottom crust very soggy, and had enough of a salty flavor to it that I suspected it included some Kefalograviera, the cheese most commonly used in saganaki. I liked the cheese a lot and asked the manager what was in it; he told me it was an expensive whole milk mozzarella.
There are at least 30 neighborhoods in Chicago I would suggest people live in before I'd recommend the home of Pizzeria Brandi, the area where the soulless collection of new construction sits. Along the same lines, there are well over 30 pizzerias in Chicago that I'd recommend people eat instead of Pizzeria Brandi. But if people are spending a day at McCormick Place and want to get out for a quick lunch, they could do a whole lot worse than getting a thin crust pie at Pizzeria Brandi.