Serious Eats Chicago contributor Daniel Zemans 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.
4159 N. Western Ave., Chicago IL 60618 (map); 773-866-9300; ofame.com
Getting There: Brown Line to Western, walk just over ½ a mile south; or take #49 Western Avenue Street bus to Berteau
Pizza Style: Thin Crust, Pan and Stuffed
Oven Type: Gas
The Skinny: Fresh ingredients, nice crust, but surprisingly bland pizza
Price: 12-inch thin crust pies range from $10.25 to $13.75
For years, O'Famé was a fixture in the heart of Lincoln Park where it seemed to have a pretty loyal following. I only visited the restaurant a couple of times, but it was crowded on both occasions and things seemed to be going well. On each visit, I had the same reaction: The pizza was close to very good, but there was something that was not quite right, either in texture or taste, that stopped me from going out of my way to return.
About a year ago, Lynn and John Casale, who started O'Famé in 1983, closed up shop there and headed to North Center, a less populous and less affluent neighborhood than Lincoln Park. Another change was that the new location does not have a dining room - it offers only carry-out and delivery. Last week, I met someone who raved about O'Famé and insisted I must have had really bad luck. Since I now live a relatively short bike ride away from the new location, I decided to give it one more try.
Before I go on, I want to point out that the pizza looked better than it appears in the picture. The pie, particularly the cheese, which is a good quality mozzarella, did not have the yellow tint. That said, the cheese was the best thing about the pizza, and that is not a good thing.
O'Famé has two specialty offerings, one is the fresh garlic, oil, and tomato, which I had previously and enjoyed. But the pizza, as I remember it, had a lot of olive oil on it. While that added very good flavor, it led to a soggy crust. And that was when it was served right out of the oven. Since dining in is not an option and I was going to have to wait to get home before I could eat, I was scared what the oil would do to the crust. So instead I went with O'Famé's other specialty, the Ricotta & Tomato, which comes with a layer of fresh tomatoes that covers almost the entire pie.
O'Fame rightfully prides itself on using fresh ingredients, including the tomatoes that were such a large part of this pizza. Unfortunately, the tomatoes were almost entirely devoid of flavor. As a general rule, I do not add seasonings to my pizza as I like to eat it as the chef intends. But between the bland tomatoes and the inconsistent application of seasoning on this pizza, I was forced to dig out my little used shaker of red pepper flakes to give some flavor to this pie. Even with the addition, the pizza was still way too bland. The generous supply of tomato slices, which, if good, could have made this a great pizza, destroyed any chance I had of really enjoying it.
That is not to say everything about the pizza was terrible. As I said, the mozzarella was good. The sauce was underseasoned to my taste, but that may have been due to the bland tomatoes. The crust was actually pretty good, and was fairly unique. Texturally, it was firm and crisp, but it had enough give that there was a good amount of chewiness. It was a touch thicker than most thin crusts and significantly thicker than on traditional Chicago tavern-cut pies. I appreciated the extra girth as, aside from a couple of middle pieces, it did an excellent job of standing up to the extra moisture from the tomatoes. The crust had a nice light brown toastiness and was coated with corn meal, which added some much needed flavor to the pizza.
I have met a decent number of people who really like O'Famé and with better tomatoes, this might have been a really good pizza, but I think I've given the place my final shot. There are too many consistently good pizzas to eat for me to give it a fourth chance.
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