Noli's New York Style Pizza
4839 N. Kedzie Avenue, Chicago IL 60625 (map); 773-588-0400; nolispizza.com
Getting There: Brown Line to Kedzie
Pizza Style: Thin
Oven Type: Gas
The Skinny: Lower-tier New York pies are edible, but not any better than that
Price: 14-inch pies with one topping are $11
When I began my three-year stint in New York in 2001, I came with a decided bias against thin-crust pizza, particularly those sold in the form of reheated slices. The pizzeria closest to my place, Ben's at 3rd Street and MacDougal, only served to reconfirm my prejudices. I didn't hate the stuff, but the idea that these large slices of pizza covered with cheese that oozed orange grease were somehow a source of civic pride was lost on me.
That said, even after I expanded my New York pizza grazing beyond Ben's and discovered that, in fact, New Yorkers' pride in their pizza was largely justified, I still occasionally found myself back at Ben's for a reheated slice of pizza made of nothing resembling good ingredients. I thought of Ben's for the first time on a recent trip to Noli's New York Style Pizza.
Located just north of the intersection of Lawrence and Kedzie in a strip mall that includes a Korean restaurant and a Middle Eastern grocery store, Noli's was, until a few months ago, owned by an Albanian family (which explains why the pizzeria also sells burek). A friend of the original owner took over but swears all of the recipes remain unchanged.
There's not a whole lot to say about the actual pizza. If you're craving that magical orange grease and are on the lookout for a mediocre New York slice, Noli's will fill your need. The cheese and sauce are properly proportioned for the style, but neither is very good. There's a poster for Grandé mozzarella in the store, but I'd bet any contract the place had with Grandé has long since expired and they've moved on to a cheaper alternative. The sauce, Full Red prepared sauce from Stanislaus, is advertised as mild on the company's website, an adjective that's an understatement.
I ate enough "pizza cheese" in New York to develop a taste for a dairy product that sweats orange, but I also came to expect a crust that had some solid elements of crispness and chewiness. Those hopes were raised when I saw the dough was hand rolled rather than put through a machine. Unfortunately, my whole pie, much like every slice sitting on the counter, was a bit undercooked, resulting in plenty of chew but almost no crispness.
As regular readers of my missives know, I am more than happy to celebrate a pizza that fails in every regard if it is topped with delicious sausage. Noli actually offers two different kinds of sausage, one of which is halal. Sadly, in a town where delicious sausage is almost as prevalent as pizza, Noli goes 0 for 2 in its sausage. The pork pieces were fattier, but both varieties failed miserably, thanks to woeful underseasoning and way too soft a texture.
Much like Ben's, the pies at Noli are cheap and certainly edible, and thanks to the wonderful combination that is bread, cheese, and tomato sauce, satisfying at times. Broken down and examined in components as I've done here makes it seem much worse that it was. This is definitely a case of the whole being better than the sum of its parts. But there are plenty of places around town, including those selling New York pies, that offer better parts and a better whole.