Serious Eats Chicago contributor Daniel Zemans checks in with another piece of intel on the Windy City pizza scene. —The Mgmt.
Dough Boys Pizzeria
626 S. Racine, Chicago IL 60607 (map); 312-226-5550
Pizza Style: Stuffed, Thin, New York, and Sicilian
The Skinny: Scott Harris's culinary revitalization of Little Italy continues with the mother of all pizza joints
Price: 14-inch thin-crust starts at $11.95; 14-inch stuffed starts at $17.95, New York and Sicilian slices, $4
Notes: Only four tables, but has a large delivery zone, from Cermak to Grand and from Lake Michigan to Western
When a successful restaurateur opens up a new pizzeria, it's usually a given that the place is going to be of the fancy-pants variety. Scott Harris, the man behind the Francesca's empire, followed convention when he dove into the pizza scene with Nella Pizzeria Napoletana (reviewed here on Slice and since renamed Francesca Pizzeria Napoletana). When I met with Harris just before that highly-anticipated opening in late 2009, he was excited about his new Neapolitan pizzeria, but couldn't stop talking about his dream of opening a "pizza joint."
A year later, Harris achieved his dream when he opened Dough Boys Pizzeria along with Jimmy Bannos, another star of the city's dining scene. To run the place, Harris brought in Leo Spizzirri, a Chicago-area native who has been working in pizzerias since the tender age of 13, most notably as Executive Chef at Giordano's (Slice review here). After leaving Giordano's last March, Spizzirri consulted at Labriola Bakery Café (reviewed here for Slice) and in exchange got to learn from the master breadsmiths at Labriola Baking Company. Dough Boys may be a joint, but it's a joint from people serious about food.
Spizzirri makes stuffed, thin, New York-style, and Sicilian pizzas, but I was most curious about what he was going to do with stuffed pizza now that he was no longer restricted to using the decades-old recipes he worked with at Giordano's. At first glance it looks the same: golden crust with a mountain of cheese and topped with a thick, chunky sauce. But upon closer inspection, there are a number of differences that really make this pizza shine.
The first thing I noticed is that the stuffed pizza at Dough Boys is significantly lighter than is traditional; Spizzirri estimates they're about 25% lighter than the 5.5 to 6-pound pies he made at Giordano's. The sauce, a blend of ground tomatoes and hand-crushed plum tomatoes, is riddled with small chunks of tomato and delivers an outstanding harmony of sweetness and tanginess. The one flaw I found was that it had way too much oregano.
Where Dough Boys stuffed pizza really stands out from the many delicious stuffed pizza offerings around Chicago is in the crust. Traditional end crusts on stuffed pizzas are flaky thanks to a dose of shortening, but they're not particularly flavorful. The crust typically adds nice texture, but its role ends there.
At Dough Boys, the stuffed pizza crust is made with lard, which means an even flakier and crispier end crust and an added burst of fatty flavor running through the whole pie. If the herbage in the sauce gets toned down, Dough Boys will be, by a significant margin, my favorite stuffed pizza in town. If it remains unchanged, it's still in the conversation.
While I loved the crust on the stuffed pizza, I was not a big fan of the flavor of the thin crust. Made with a healthy dose of semolina, some honey, and the heaviest dusting of cornmeal on the bottom that I've ever seen, there was too much going on. Texturally, though, it was great. The edges were wonderfully crisp while the bottom managed to have an impressive combination of crisp and chew that's uncommon for the style.
That evening's special, the Scooter Pie, was topped with meatballs and giardiniera, toppings that are both always available for those building their own pies. The giardiniera was fresh, crunchy, and had some bite to it, but a bit more kick would have been nice. The meatballs were moist, with good beef and herb flavor. They would be great with a bowl of spaghetti, but they were far too soft and too lightly seasoned to work on the pizza.
Unlike the meatballs, the sausage is excellent in every way. Designed by Spizzirri and made by Greco & Sons, it's loaded with fennel that's complemented nicely by a healthy dose of black pepper. Texturally, the sausage is chewy without being close to rubbery. It's great on the stuffed pizza, but really shined on the biggest surprise of the night, the outstanding New York-style pizza. The New York pizza, only sold by the slice, features a light tangy sauce that brightens each bite.
The bottom crust of the New York-style slice was really thin, but still nailed that crisp and chewy texture. The end crust also achieved great textural balance while adding in some excellent hearty fresh bread taste. Like the stuffed pizza, the New York pizza at Dough Boys is (at a minimum) in the running for best of its kind in Chicago.
The least successful pizza of the evening was the Sicilian, which suffered from two significant flaws. First, the crust was just way too soft, a problematic descriptor for most styles of pizza, but particularly damning when talking about such a thick crust. The second problem was the extremely light application of sauce, which resulted in an underseasoned slice of pizza. Because the other crusts showed no signs of textural problems, I'm hopeful I just got a bad batch of Sicilian. If not, I hope Spizzirri will adjust the crust, drawing on his experience at Labriola Bakery Café, which serves up one of the area's best Sicilian slices.
Before you visit Dough Boys, be aware that there are only four tables inside. There's a large outdoor area that should have seating in the summer and if you go next door to Salatino's, also owned by Scott Harris and Jimmy Bannos, you can order pizza from Dough Boys. The restaurant also has a huge delivery area, going from Cermak up to Grand Avenue and from Lake Michigan all the way to Western.
Dough Boys is only two months old and it's already home to some of the best stuffed pizza and New York-style slices in Chicago. As the team behind the place works to improve things over the coming months, the potential is there for it to be one the city's crown pizza jewels. Fortunately for Chicagoans who live far from Little Italy and for the good people of Madison, Wisconsin, there's already talk of additional locations, though nothing is set in stone.
UPDATE (2/27/11): I recently returned to Dough Boys and discovered two substantial improvements. First, the sauce on the stuffed pizza is now outstanding. The herbs are very much under control and the tangy powerful tomato flavor absolutely shines. Second, the Sicilian pizzas are now finished off with a little time out of the pan and directly on the deck of the oven giving those slices a really enjoyable crisp texture.