Union Pizzeria: Ideas + Execution = Pizza Excellence

Serious Eats Chicago contributor Daniel Zemans checks in with another piece of intel on the Windy City pizza scene. The Mgmt.

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[Photographs: Above shot by Andrew Stamm; all others by Daniel Zemans]

Union Pizzeria

1245 Chicago Avenue, Evanston, IL 60202 (map); 847-475-2400; unionevanston.com
Getting There: Purple Line to Dempster
Pizza Style: Thin-crust
Oven Type: Wood-fired
The Skinny: The focus on high-quality ingredients pays off with excellent pizza at this deservedly popular Evanston hot spot
Price: Range from $11 - $14

On my previous visit to Union Pizzeria, I was a big fan of the flavor of the pizzas, but the floppy undercooked crusts were an insurmountable barrier to deliciousness. I decided to head back to Evanston to see if I had hit the popular pizzeria on an off night. It turns out that was a wise move.

Union, a project from owner Steve Schwartz and Chef Vince DiBattista of the nearby Campagnola, has made a name for itself both as a restaurant and a music venue. The menu includes some appealing small plates and an impressive beer and wine list, especially for a place of this size (about 25 tables). But the star of the menu is the pizza, cooked in an oak-burning oven that sits in the middle of the restaurant.

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Up first was lamb sausage pie, which features meat from Wisconsin's Pinn-Oak Ridge Farms along with eggplant, Gaeta olives and rosemary. As is often the case with a pizza with rosemary on it, the first thing that jumps out is the herbage. But while that flavor often overwhelms everything it touches, on this pie it runs right up to the line of overpowering and then settles back into its rightful place, letting the real star shine through.

That star is the lamb, which an exceptional pizza topping. The well-seasoned fatty hunks of meat were an absolute pleasure to eat. The pieces of eggplant and olives added an additional shade of meatiness to the pie that worked very well. I happen to like salt so it didn't bother me, but between the sausage and the olives, there was a lot of salt in the pie. I'd like to try this pizza with a fresh mozzarella to see if the creamier cheese could help soothe the salt a bit.

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The second pie of the evening was the artichoke pizza, which comes with sweet peppers and Gaeta olives along with fresh mozzarella and garlic. There were a lot of vegetables on this pie, which meant a risk of moisture killing the hopes of a well-seasoned pie. But thanks to the olives and basil on this well-conceived pizza, there was just enough flavor.

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Other than the garlic, which went unnoticed, every component of the pizza came through individually and worked well together. The sauce, which seemed to be made from nothing more than crushed high quality tomatoes, was much more noticeable on this pizza than the lamb one and it made me wish more had been on that first pie.

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Unlike my previous visit to Union when I left a pile of uneaten crusts on my plate, both pizzas were cooked perfectly this time. The crisp, chewy crust proudly stood up to even the heavily topped artichoke pie and displayed almost no tip sag. There was a touch of salt in the nicely charred bread, which ensured that there were no uneaten end crusts left on anyone's plate.


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