Chicago: More Flavor Needed at Gruppo Di Amici
Gruppo Di Amici
East Rogers Park is not exactly overrun with pizzerias and Gruppo Di Amici is the only restaurant in the area that attempts a higher end pie. Owners Lori Alderete and Phaedra Divras, who live in the neighborhood, have focused on Roman cuisine since they opened their doors in June 2006. The dimly lit restaurant has a welcoming feel and the service is great. But the pizza came up short.
The Funghi e Formaggi was named the 19th-best pizza in the Chicago area by Jeff Ruby of Chicago Magazine last year—high praise from the co-author of Everybody Loves Pizza. The pizza had about an acre's worth of sautéed mushrooms on it which would have been great if the mushrooms had much flavor. But the mushrooms were overcooked and had so little seasoning that my server had to convince me the rubbery funghi were fresh and not canned.
There was no sauce, and the mild goat cheese (which would have been fine if there had been stronger flavors on the pie) added to the blandness of the pizza. The crust was thicker and less crunchy than Roman pies at places like Pizzeria Via Stato (Slice review here), but it was crisp enough to make it enjoyable to eat. Still, a merely solid crisp crust is not going to save a bland pizza.
Not knowing how deeply flawed the mushrooms were at the time I ordered, I had to eat them again on the Funghi E Prosciutto pie. I hoped that the pizza would be saved by the addition of tomato sauce, prosciutto, and buffalo mozzarella, but unfortunately, this pizza had other issues.
The prosciutto, which was cooked on the pizza rather than being placed on top after the pie was out of the oven, was a little tough but still added some much-needed salt. The fresh buffalo mozzarella was excellent but was muted a bit by the aged commercial stuff that was far more generously applied. The sauce had none of the tangy tomato zip that's critical to a successful red pizza.
If I had just had the Funghi e Formaggi I would have assumed there was some promise for the pizza at Gruppo Di Amici that was severely damaged by a particularly weak batch of mushrooms. But even the pizza adorned with ostensibly more flavorful toppings was bland. Nothing was terrible, but I didn't have a bite that was good enough to make me want to go back.