Serious Eats: Chicago

Chicago: Ciao Napoli Struggles to Meet Expectations

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: Daniel Zemans]

Ciao Napoli

2607 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago IL 60647 (map); (773) 278-7300‎; ciaonapolipizzeria.com
Getting There: Blue line to Logan Square
Pizza Style: Neapolitan
The Skinny: Good ingredients but the bland and dense crust gets in the way
Price: 12" pizzas start at $12; 18" pies start at $16

Of the many challenges facing restaurateurs, I think that managing expectations might be the most difficult. Customers who expect great but receive good are going to be disappointed, while diners expecting mediocrity but get something pretty good are going to be happy. All else being equal, if forced to decide on a return visit to one of the two, I suspect many customers would choose the second restaurant even if they actually liked the food at the first one better.

Ciao Napoli bills itself as a Neapolitan pizzeria, though they offer an 18-inch oval pizza in addition to the standard 12-inch pies familiar to fans of Neapolitan pizza. It may not be fair, but when a pizzeria calls itself Neapolitan, I think it sets the expectation that the crust is going to be a highlight of the pie.

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I heartily enjoyed the toppings on the Spicy Salamino, which comes with salami, spicy olive oil, and fresh mozzarella (we opted to pay the $3 upcharge for buffalo mozzarella.) All of the ingredients were impeccable. The salami developed a nice bit of chewiness thanks to the time spent in the 800 degree wood-burning oven. The creamy buffalo mozzarella and simple sauce of crushed tomatoes were both spot-on and would make any pizza better. But it was the spicy oil that really sang out to me. The gentle heat upgraded the salami flavor into something akin to a rich sopressata and gave the entire pie a nice kick.

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I was hoping for a great crust, though, and was sorely disappointed. The crust at Ciao Napoli is a bit bland and very dense, making it almost unpleasant to chew. We asked for it well done, but half the pie had the desired extra crispness and half did not.

While I was impressed with the sauce and toppings at Ciao Napoli, I can't wholeheartedly recommend it. I guess I just expected something better.

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