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.
416 W. Ontario Street, Chicago IL 60610 (map); 312-787-1400; blue13chicago.com
Getting There: Brown/Purple Line to Chicago, walk 1/4 mile south on Franklin and then west one block on Ontario
Pizza Style: Thin crust
Oven Type: Gas
The Skinny: Proves you don't have to be a pizzeria to put out an outstanding pie
When I went to Chicago Gourmet a couple weeks ago for the most overindulgent eating experience of my life, I tried food from about 80 of the best high-end restaurants in Chicago. One item that stood out in a weekend full of delicious bites was a braised pork belly and kimchi dish by chef Chris Curren from a restaurant I had not previously heard of: Blue 13. While waiting in line, I noticed two unique pizzas on their menu, one featuring lobster and one with tuna. Between being blown away by the pork belly and my excitement at two very new (at least to me) pizza toppings, I was determined to get to Blue 13 sooner rather than later.
Sooner came quicker than expected and I found myself at Blue 13 for dinner last week. The restaurant, open for about 15 months, is the joint project of Chef Curren and his longtime friend, general manager Dan Marunowski and is very much molded in their image. The two proudly tattooed guys named the restaurant after a number that's significant in the tattoo world and have decorated part of the restaurant with framed tattoo artwork. Marunowski's previous career was in the music industry and he prides himself on creating a new playlist for the restaurant almost every night. The music, which is not so loud that it impedes conversation, is a mix of alternative and rock largely from artists that those of us who are not into new music have never heard of. The combination of music, tattoos, a decent-sized bar area in the back of the restaurant creates a unique vibe for a restaurant that serves the kind of quality food that Blue 13 puts out, but it's one that I think works well.
The restaurant changes its menu seasonally, but some things are too good to be subject to the whims of the season. One of the dishes that has earned at least a semi-permanent spot on the menu is the "3 Birds" Lobster Pizza, named after the Cleveland-area restaurant Curren worked at before moving to Chicago four years ago and that serves a similar pie. The pizza is so good that Blue 13 actually tried taking it off the menu at one point, but the people rose up in unison and management listened and brought it back.
The star of the pizza is, of course, the ample chunks of fresh lobster. Lobster, a rich and versatile meat that I love, can be a little bland on its own. But when paired appropriately with other foods, as is the case with this pizza, lobster can work magic.
The nice layer of gooey manchego cheese is just sharp enough to add the kind of great flavor that mozzarella can only dream of, and does it while adding a healthy dose of salt. Balancing out that saltiness are caramelized cipollini onions, which add a touch of sweetness to the pizza. The roasted garlic purée, used in lieu of a sauce, shines through in every bite, but is sufficiently subdued that the rest of the ingredients are able to do their thing. The crust was both crisp and chewy, although on my pizza it leaned closer to the chewy side of the spectrum. A little crisper and this pizza would have gone from merely excellent to sensational.
By the time I got to Blue 13, the menu had changed and the tuna pizzeta, which had ahi carpaccio, wasabi cream cheese, pickled ginger and cucumber, was no longer available. Currently, the lobster pizza is the only pie offered, but other ones will surely come and go in the future. Despite pizza playing a small role on their menu, Blue 13 does use a pizza oven. They actually use the oven for some of their other dishes, particularly finishing off meats when higher heat is called for. Everything my guest and I had at Blue 13 was exceptional, and I really can't recommend the place enough for those interested in contemporary American cuisine.