Daniel Zemans, our man in Chicago, checks in with another piece of intel on the Windy City pizza scene. Daniel also blogs about Chicagoland pizza with his friends on the Chicago Pizza Club blog. --The Mgmt.
Pizza Capri has been serving up thin and stuffed pies in Chicago since 1987. I must confess going in that I probably have overestimated Pizza Capri's import to the Chicago pizza scene due to the fact that I have lived, at different times, within a mile of two of the three locations. I was actually surprised when I discovered that there are only three locations.
Pizza Capri is owned by Anan and Margi Abu-Taleb, one or both whom went to business school at the University of Chicago (which I'd guess is fairly rare among pizzeria owners). The couple has owned a number of restaurants in the Chicago area, including a Latin American spot called Maya Del Sol. When opening that restaurant, they hired Rick Bayless' former sous chef at Frontera Grill to run the kitchen. Unfortunately, it does not seem that they paid as much attention to quality when deciding who would be responsible for the pizzas at Pizza Capri.
Before this visit, I'd been to all three locations, but I'd never actually eaten the pizza. Capri actually has a decent selection (in both quantity and quality) of Italian food and sandwiches. On this trip, I was on a mission to try their pizza. I went at lunch and took advantage of one of their lunch specials, which includes an individual pizza and a pop for $6.95. I got a stuffed sausage pizza, and my dining companion got a thin-crust with spinach. In the interest of research, I tried both.
The stuffed pizza was fine. The crust did not have much flavor, but that is pretty common for stuffed pizzas. The cheese was a touch rubbery but still good, and the sauce had some seasoning, though less than I would have liked. The sausage was OK by New York standards, but subpar for Chicago—better than mass-produced prefabricated sausage nuggets, but not a high-quality piece of meat that I'd want to eat much of on its own. The stuffed pizza wasn't the best in Chicago, but any combination of wet, chunky tomato sauce, significant amounts of cheese, and some salty pork is going to be good. The personal-size stuffed pizza is six inches across, which was big enough for a filling lunch.
The eight-inch thin-crust pie was a different story altogether. This was not a Chicago thin-crust pizza. The crust reminded me of the pilot biscuits I used to eat on canoe trips. The crust actually wasn't nearly that bad, but it was inexplicably thick and inexcusably dry. If the purpose of a crust is nothing more than to hold the rest of the ingredients, then it served its function. But if the purpose is to add to the taste and enjoyment of the pizza, it failed. The spinach was fresh, which was good, and I did not notice any toughness in the cheese on the thin pie. But the pita-thick crust was so dry that it overwhelmed the rest of the pizza.
I did not try any of Pizza Capri's featured " gourmet pizzas," all of which are thin-crust pies. While I suspect the crust is the same on those, which is unfortunate, some of them sound like they could be good. If I ever go back to Pizza Capri, I'd probably try the 'Shroom (portobello, shiitake, and crimini mushrooms with spinach, gorgonzola, mozzarella, and roasted garlic) or the Four Cheese (fontina, mozzarella, gouda, and Parmesan).
I did enjoy the stuffed pizza and would be happy to eat it again, but with so many other options nearby (there's a Giordano's a block away and a Lou Malnati's six blocks south), there's no reason for me to return.