Serious Eats: Chicago
Chicago Essential: Neapolitan Pizza at Spacca Napoli
1769 W Sunnyside Avenue, Chicago, Illinois 60640 (map); 773-878-2420 spaccanapolipizzeria.com
Pizza Style: Neapolitan
Oven Type: Wood-burning
The Skinny: Spacca Napoli stands alone atop Chicago's Neapolitan scene
Price: 14" thin crust pizzas range from $9.50 to $16
When Jonathan Goldsmith opened Spacca Napoli five years ago, he was an early player in the Neapolitan wave that is still sweeping the country. And in Chicago, a city whose pizza scene famously revolves around massive deep dish and stuffed pizzas along with heavily topped thin crust pies where the crust is often an afterthought, the challenge seemed particularly great.
Goldsmith is as passionate as anyone you'll meet about channeling the spirit of Naples into his pizza. He doesn't man the oven, but he oversees every single detail of the restaurant. And the results of his obsession are evident on every plate. The pizzas are made with top-of-the-line ingredients and come out with remarkable consistency. Chicago shows no signs of converting to a Neapolitan-first pizza city, but there's no question that Spacca Napoli has a secure place in the upper tier of the city's pizza pantheon.
The Diavola is my favorite pizza at Spacca Napoli. The mozzarella di bufala, imported regularly from Italy, is put on the pizza freely, in sharp contrast to the ridiculously restrained hands that plague many pizzerias that serve this white gold. The mozzarella is remarkably creamy and has a tang that adds some nice depth to a cheese that is commonly too bland.
The Diavola gets its name from red pepper flakes and a seriously delicious and chewy spicy salami. The heat is balanced by the cheese and the bright, sweet and mildly acidic San Marzano tomato sauce. The large pieces of fresh basil complete a set of toppings that never fails to satisfy me at Spacca Napoli.
The Salsiccia is another one of the seven red pizzas on the menu, which also includes an equal number of white options. The salsiccia has fresh fior di latte mozzarella that is on par with its bufala counterpart in terms of quality, though it's not quite as flavorful.
As was the case the Diavola, the pizzaiolo at Spacca Napoli was generous with the cheese and sauce on the Salsiccia. By generous, I mean by Neapolitan standards; by Chicago standards we're still looking at snack-size portions. The peppery sausage was nicely seasoned but came up a little short in the fennel and fat departments. Judging by the smooth sides on many of the pieces, it seems the sausage is a torn apart link rather than a loose sausage made specially for the pizza.
The charred crust at Spacca Napoli is consistently beautifully-spotted and very chewy. There is a slightly crisp outer shell on the end crust, but not very much. It's a delicious piece of bread, and it's about as good as pizza crusts get for those far on the crisp end of the crispy-chewy continuum.
Spacca Napoli cannot take credit for reintroducing Chicago to Neapolitan pizza; Pizzeria D.O.C. (reviewed here) came first. But since the day it opened, other than the surprisingly brief period that Nella Pizzeria Napoletana was open (reviewed here), Goldsmith's VPN-certified pizzas have consistently and indisputably been the best Neapolitan-style pies in town.