Serious Eats Chicago contributor Daniel Zemans checks in with another piece of intel on the Windy City pizza scene. —The Mgmt.
Manzo's Ristorante & Pizzeria
3210 W. Irving Park Road, Chicago, IL 60618 (map); 773-478-3070
Getting There: #52 Kedzie bus or #80 Irving Park bus to Irving Park and Kedzie
Pizza Style: Thin
Oven Type: Gas
The Skinny: Old school Italian eatery puts out some classic Midwestern pie
Price: 14" thin crust with two toppings is $14.50
There is no question that among the Slice community crust reigns supreme as the most important component of a pizza. Obviously, in an ideal world, every element would be great, but too often our pizza world is not ideal. When polled on the question last August, 58 percent of the voters agreed that nothing was more important than the crust. Twenty-seven percent went with sauce, and the remaining 15 percent opted for cheese and/or toppings. I didn't vote in the poll, as I've had good pizzas where each element listed was the only real redeeming quality of the pie. That said, I can understand those who play favorites.
What I can't come to terms with, however, are those who insist that a certain element has to be great to consider the pizza great. And let's face it—the only group that really goes that far is a contingent of crust-obsessives who ascribe to absurdly rigid definitions of what constitutes "real" pizza as if it's a category of food not allowed to develop and expand over time.
I was reminded how a delicious pizza can include a useless crust this weekend at Manzo's Ristorante & Pizzeria, a decades-old Italian restaurant in a neighborhood no-man's land between Avondale and Old Irving Park on Chicago's northwest side. Despite having a crust whose function is limited to serving as an edible plate, this old-school family restaurant with a map of Sicily on the wall, pleather booths, and a tarplike piece of plastic on top of every tablecloth serves up some immensely satisfying pizza.
As with so many old-school thin crust establishments in Chicago, the discussion really has to begin with the sausage. Manzo's makes their own and does a masterful job. The fennel packed hunks of gristle-free moist pieces of pork appear in about every other bite. On my pie, the sausage was complemented nicely by some fresh mushrooms and both toppings made appearances above and below the cheese.
Speaking of cheese, Manzo's has been getting their mozzarella from the same small Wisconsin farm for years. Judging by the thick layer of it on the pizza, the folks at Manzo's are confident, as they should be, that their customers will like it as much as they do.
Sometimes the old-school places use a sauce with a fair amount of sugar added. Personally, I'm not a fan of that style and I was happy to find that Manzo's uses restraint in that regard. The thick, heavily seasoned sauce has a mildly sweet tang that is ricj enough to shine through the ample helping of mozzarella, but does not come close to overwhelming the pizza.
Finally, the crust, which has adds neither flavor nor, thanks to being relatively thick for the style, the cracker texture that enhances other similar pies. The crust has no hole structure to speak of and it is rigid enough to hold an impressive amount of wet sauce and melted cheese without so much as a slight quiver. But given the quality of the sausage, the well-seasoned salt and the heaps of real mozzarella (no "pizza cheese" nonsense here), the purely functional crust does not stand in the way of this being a crave-inducing pie.
Is Manzo's the best of its kind in Chicago? Not at all. My two favorites, Pat's (reviewed here) and Vito & Nick's (reviewed here) are substantially better, and there are plenty of other places that serve up a thin crust pizza that is at least every bit as good. But if you live in the neighborhood or even in their delivery zone, Manzo's is definitely worth checking out.