Chicago: Medici on 57th - Hyde Park's Oldest Pizzeria Is Far From Its Best
Serious Eats Chicago contributor Daniel Zemans checks in with another piece of intel on the Windy City pizza scene. —The Mgmt.
Medici on 57th
1327 E. 57th Street, Chicago, IL 60637 (map); 773-667-7394; medici57.com
Getting There: Red Line to 55th and #55 bus East, or #14 bus to 57th and Stony Island, walk about a mile west
Pizza Style: Pan and Thin
Oven Type: Gas
The Skinny: 45-plus-year-old neighborhood institution does some things right, but pizza isn't one of them
Price: Medium pan pie, one topping, $11.25
Good restaurants have long been scarce in Hyde Park, the southside Chicago neighborhood of my youth. Things have gotten a little better in recent years, but it's still not much of a food destination. There are, however, a nice variety of pizzerias. Giordano's (reviewed here) and Edwardo's (reviewed here) both offer stuffed pies, while Italian Fiesta (reviewed here) serves thin crust, and Caffe Florian (reviewed here) has some excellent deep dish. But predating all those places is Medici on 57th, which has been serving pizza for more than 45 years.
When I was a little sparky at the William H. Ray Elementary School, a classmate was the Medici owner's daughter. I ran into her a couple of years ago at a mutual friend's wedding where I found she was still angry about 20 years later at something I'd said in school. I can't remember what it was, but I'm pretty sure that 1) it was inappropriate and 2) my laughing at her recitation of my comment was not the reaction she was going for. On a recent trip to Hyde Park, I decided I would try to make it up to her by writing a positive review of Medici's pizza. Unfortunately, I fear I'm about to solidify a lifelong grudge.
The most dominant feature of the pan pizza at Medici is the massive amount of cheese. Loads of cheese is not all that unique in a city that gave the world deep dish and stuffed pizza, but those other styles typically feature a tangy sauce on top, which dramatically changes the way the taste buds interact with the food. Further accentuating the cheese at Medici is that the sauce is not particularly seasoned, so there isn't a lot of flavor to stand up to the mountain of mozzarella.
The crust is, well, a fine piece of bread, but it's incredibly soft with almost no crispness or chewy resistance. It holds up well to the hefty pile of cheese and toppings, but it added little to the taste. And the soft texture was, to my tastes, a bit of a distraction.
Regular readers know what I can be pretty forgiving towards mediocre crusts if the other components of the pizza bring a little extra deliciousness. Unfortunately, no other part stepped up on this pie. The sauce, as I mentioned, was fine but a bit bland and the cheese was fine quality, but it was still mass produced mozzarella. That left the sausage to try to save the day.
The best thing I can say about the taste of the sausage is that it was nicely salted. That was actually pretty important on a pizza with a bland sauce, loads of cheese and thick doughy crust, but it was not enough to save the half of the pizza with sausage on it. I did like that a portion of the sausage is cooked atop the cheese and those pieces got some crispness.
While the pizza is not particularly good, it's certainly edible. I wouldn't go out of my way to get it again, but I'd eat it if someone bought it for me. More importantly, there is much to like about Medici other than the pizza. The old wooden tables, which survived the move from the old location (the current home of Caffe Florian), have been carved in and written on by patrons for decades, which helps create a warm atmosphere. The burgers are good (or at least were last time I had one there a few years ago), and the baked good and shakes are very good. But as far as the pizza goes, my nine-year-old dining companion declared it to be the best or second best pizza he's ever had. The other place in the running? Pizza Hut.
Giordano's, a Stuffed Pizza Classic in Chicago
Edwardo's Natural Pizza: No Longer Great, But Still Very Good
Italian Fiesta Pizzeria Serves Barack Obama's Favorite Pizza
Caffe Florian: A Tourist-Free Gem in Hyde Park, Chicago