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]

SoNo Wood Fired

1582 North Clybourn Avenue, Chicago, IL 60642 (map); 312-255-1122 sonowoodfired.com
Pizza Style: Americanized Neapolitan
The Skinny: Heavily topped pizzas have good flavor, though the crusts were inconsistent
Price: 14" thin crust pizzas range from $13 to $15

I had my doubts before I headed into SoNo Wood Fired. I knew virtually nothing of the pizza, but the name, which refers to a neighborhood that only exists in a real estate developer's imagination, screamed that the place was trying way too hard. I tried two pizzas and a few side dishes at SoNo. Nothing blew me away, but I was happy to see the restaurant is as much about substance as style.

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There are a dozen pizzas on the menu at SoNo, seven red and five white, and there is no build-your-own option. All pizzas are 14 inches and are cooked in a wood-burning oven. The restaurant bills them as Neapolitan but the thickness of the crust and the generosity of toppings indicate a hybrid between the delicate pizza of Naples and their decidedly not delicate Chicago counterparts. Shall we call it Chicagopolitan?

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The Spinaci is topped with goat cheese, ricotta, tomato sauce, spinach and garlic. There was a ton of garlic on there, which was balanced out by the ample dollops of a blend of ricotta and mild goat cheese. The tomato sauce, which was a bit chunky for a Neapolitan pizza, offered some sweetness and acidity though it lacked eye-popping tomato flavor. The fresh spinach was the least prevalent topping, but was still noticeable even if somewhat overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of the cheese, sauce, and garlic. The balance wasn't quite there, but I thought the flavors worked well.

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The Sopressata Diavola comes with the eponymous meat along with buffalo mozzarella, tomato sauce, "charred" onions and some basil. The chewy sopressata dominated the pizza, which was fine with me. The chewy meat was on the spicy side and covered virtually every inch of the pie. I was disappointed with the mozzarella since it was not as creamy as I expect when getting the good stuff from buffaloes. The charred onions, which were indistinguishable from caramelized, had a distracting sweetness and I thought the pizza was better after I removed them.

The crusts on the two pizzas I sampled were so different I'm surprised that the same person made them. The crust on the Spinaci was excellent in terms of texture and flavor. There was a crisp exterior and chewy interior, it was a little more dense than a typical Neapolitan pizza, and the flavor benefited from a nice amount of salt and an enjoyably heavy pour of olive oil. The crust on the Sopressata Diavola, pictured at right above, left 'charred' far behind and went deep into burnt territory on the undercrust. When cooked properly, I was a big fan of the crust, but my enthusiasm remains tempered by the tremendous inconsistency I experienced.

The fried artichoke bits were the best thing we tried at SoNo. Lightly crisp, well-dressed with lemon juice and served with a fine aioli, they were impossible to stop eating. The mixed olives, on the other hand, were indistinguishable from those found in a bulk bin at a grocery store.

While I'm clearly not giving SoNo a ringing endorsement, there were enough high points that I'm not willing to write the place off. The Spinaci was a good pizza and if the crust on that one is indicative of what's normal at the restaurant, the place has some promise. I won't pretend it's close to being among the top pizzerias in town, but it's a welcome addition to a neighborhood that nobody calls SoNo.

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