Serious Eats Chicago contributor Daniel Zemans checks in with another piece of intel on the Windy City pizza scene. --The Mgmt.
Nite 'N Gale
346 Waukegan Avenue, Highwood, IL 60040 (map); (847) 432-5244; nitengale.com
Getting There: Metra Union Pacific North train to Highwood; restaurant is visible from train platform
Pizza Style: Cracker crust
Oven Type: Gas
The Skinny: Highwood institution puts out a good cracker crust, but misses badly with its cheeseburger pizza
Price: 10" cheeseburger pizza is $12.50
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Nestled between Highland Park and Lake Forest, leafy suburbs that have been home to great wealth for over a century, sits the town of Highwood, the socioeconomic stepchild of the North Shore. Highwood has been home to a variety of waves of immigrants since the 1870s, including a sizeable group of Italians that came around the turn of the 20th century and built a community that remains there today.
Nite 'N Gale has been in the Fiocchi family since it was founded in 1947 and has been passed down from Geno to Marvin to Kyle, who owns it today. From it's dim lighting to oversized worn down leather booths to the large bar that dominates the main dining room, Nite 'N Gale oozes 1950s Italian restaurant and lounge. The menu includes a variety of traditional Italian-American favorites, including Chicago specialty Shrimp DeJonghe, as well as a number of decidedly non-Italian dishes (Cajun chicken?). Obviously, I was there for the pizza. Specifically, I wanted the cheeseburger pizza, a pie the restaurant is so proud of that it one of only two preset toppings combinations listed on the menu.
The cheeseburger pizza is basically a ground beef pie that, after being fully cooked, is topped with slices of tomatoes and pickles, as well as ketchup and mustard.
I'll start with the good: The cracker crust on the pizza was good. It was crisp and light, but had enough heft to stand up to the array of toppings. Unfortunately, that's the limit of the benefits of the pizza. I think the picture speaks for itself, but this was a horribly unbalanced pie that still has me wondering how it earned and has held a place on the menu. I am a huge fan of pickles and these ones were good enough, but I'm not sure I could ever embrace them as a pizza topping. I do know that in this particular case, where the pickle to meat ratio was about three to one and the ketchup and mustard and pickle juice thoroughly dominated the sauce, it did not work. Basically, this was a pickle pizza. It was certainly edible - I even ate the leftovers for breakfast the next day - but that's about the limit of what it has going for it.
I'm sure there are people out there who think that a cheeseburger pizza is never a good idea, but I wholeheartedly disagree with that sentiment. While I haven't had a good one in Chicago, I can put a plug in for the bacon cheeseburger slice at Maffei on 6th Avenue in New York. That slice is loaded with well-seasoned ground beef and also has some bacon and American cheese in addition to the mozzarella. There are no pickles or burger condiments, and there is ample sauce. Side note: Maffei is also home to one of Ed Levine's favorite grandma slices.
Obviously, I cannot recommend the cheeseburger pizza at Nite 'N Gale. That said, the crust was a good representation of the cracker crust style, so if you find yourself in Highwood and are craving a pizza, I suspect a more traditional pie at Nite 'N Gale would be fine, though not worth going far out of the way to try. Unless, of course, the idea of a pickle pizza appeals to you, in which case you should head to Nite 'N Gale immediately.