Chicago: Fontana Grill & Wine Bar, Pizza by Way of Boznia and Herzegovina
Fontana Grill & Wine Bar
1329 W. Wilson, Chicago IL 60640 (map); 773-561-0400; fontanagrill.com
Getting There: Red Line to Wilson, walk east 3 blocks
Pizza Style: Thin crust
Oven Type: Gas
The Skinny: Bosnian/Italian neighborhood restaurant provides nice atmosphere and good enough pizza
Price: 14-inch pizzas from $10 to $14; buy one, get one free Sunday–Thursday
Given that Bosnian cuisine is primarily a combination of Middle Eastern and Central European foods, it may seem odd that a Sarajevo native would open an Italian restaurant. But Bosnia and Herzegovina is a short swim across the Adriatic Sea, and Nino Divanovic was a big fan of Italian food while growing up in the former Yugoslavia. When violence struck the area in a major way in the early 1990s, Divanovic moved to Chicago, where he found work in the restaurant business, starting as a busboy.
Over the years, he worked his way up, including a stint as a general manager at Giordano's (reviewed here). About a year and a half ago, Divanovic and his wife, Milica, opened Fontana Grill & Wine Bar in Uptown. The menu includes a couple of Bosnian favorites like cevapi and American treats like burgers, but it is primarily an Italian place with a menu that includes seven pizzas.
The first pie of the evening was one that appealed to the side of me that thinks there's no limit to toppings that can work on pizza. The Viagra Vera pizza features New Zealand green mussels, 7 herbs and allegedly fresh mozzarella. Neither the server nor I have a clue what the name means, but I was prepared to call a doctor 4 hours after dinner if necessary.
This pizza was a disappointment. Each slice came with exactly one mussel. While the mussels were fresh and had nice flavor, they were only good for one bite of each slice because rather than cut them up into small pieces and spread them around the pizza, the chef opted to just put one whole mussel in the middle of each slice.
Still, it could have worked as a cheese pizza with a special bonus bite on each slice, but the seven herbs killed the chances of this being good. The basil, oregano, rosemary, sage, mint, thyme and parsley were all applied with a bit of a heavy hand, resulting in the most heavily seasoned pizza I've ever eaten. While my taste buds adjusted somewhat as the night went along and each slice was progressively a shade better, there was just too much going on with the herbage for the pizza to work.
The second pizza was the Capricossa, which came with much more traditional mushrooms and prosciutto. The mushrooms were fresh and flavorful and were generously spread all over the pizza. The prosciutto was fine, though nothing exciting. In sharp contrast to the Viagra Vera, the sauce on this pie was devoid of added seasoning. Fortunately the crushed tomatoes alone were enough to make a nice lightly sweet sauce. The crusts on both pizzas were a little underdone, although not as badly as the flash in my pictures makes it seem. Both crusts were too chewy for my tastes and added no flavor to the pizza.
While the pizzas at Fontana Grill are not worth going out of the way for, as a neighborhood spot, I'm a fan. The staff could not have been nicer and the outdoor patio may well be calling my name once summer gets here. Also, the prices are not bad at all. All pizzas are buy one, get one free Sunday through Thursday and bottles of wine are half price on Tuesdays.