Serious Eats Chicago contributor Daniel Zemans checks in with another piece of intel on the Windy City pizza scene. --The Mgmt.
2931 N. Broadway Avenue, Chicago IL 60657 (map); 773-698-6688; mistapizza.com
Getting There: #36 Broadway bus to Oakdale; Brown Line to Wellington, walk half mile east and half block south
Pizza Style: Roman
Oven Type: Gas
The Skinny: Alleged emphasis on quality ingredients sets unmet expectations, but Mista still manages to serve up satisfying if unremarkable pies.
Price: 10 inch pies start at $4.45
The oldest active purveyor of pizza in Chicago still operating is Pompei, a pizzeria/restaurant/bakery with multiple locations across Chicagoland. According to Pompei corporate lore, it was founded by Luigi Davino in Chicago's Little Italy in 1909 as a bakery and pizzeria. But a 1968 article in the Chicago Tribune reports Pompei actually opened in 1893 and Davino, who was interviewed for the article, came to Chicago in 1916 and bought the place in 1924. Regardless of which version is correct, there is no question that the Davino name is an important one in Chicago pizza history.
Luigi's son Alphonse eventually took over Pompei and another son, Ralph, opened a restaurant next door to the bakery. Today, Pompei is owned by David Morton, scion of the family that game the world restaurants like Morton's and Hard Rock Café. But the Davino family hasn't given up pizza. Ralph's kid and grandkids opened Mista in Lakeview in August 2008.and a second location in Andersonville in August 1999. This week I went to the original Mista to see what they had to offer.
The first pizza I tried was the prosciutto pizza, which is one of Mista's ten specialty offerings. The pie comes with fresh mozzarella, organic arugula, organic roasted plum tomatoes, roaster garlic, olive oil, sauce, and, of course prosciutto. The pizza had a nice mixture of strong flavors that worked well together. With higher quality ingredients it could have been a great pizza, although the relatively low prices would certainly go up accordingly.
The fresh mozzarella was better than most pizzeria mozzarellas, but was not nearly as creamy as typical fresh mozzarella. The prosciutto, which was spread generously across the pizza, tasted more like good American ham than a traditional prosciutto. In both cases, the ingredients were good relative to standard pizzas, but not compared to gourmet pizzerias using higher end ingredients. If my pizza had been billed as a ham and pizza with no mention of the mozzarella being fresh, I would have had a more positive reaction to the pie. The sauce was another example of execution not meeting expectations. Mista emphasizes their use of San Marzano tomatoes in the sauce, but rather than a pure tomato sauce, they mix the high quality tomatoes with mediocre tomato paste/puree and then add sugar to the mix, nullifying the wetness and taste of the San Marzanos.
I also tried the sausage pizza which is, along with cheese and pepperoni, one of three so-called traditional pies offered. The traditional pizzas do not use fresh mozzarella, but instead have the ambiguous "Italian imported cheese." It might have been a blend of some sort, but it tasted like regular mozzarella. The sausage had a mild fennel flavor that was okay, but I had a hard time getting past the fact that it came in the form of sausage cubes, not to mention it's relatively soft texture. Regardless, at $5.95 for a 10-inch pizza, this pie is a very good deal.
The crust at Mista is similar to the Roman pizza at Pizzeria Via Stato (reviewed here). It's a light, incredibly thin and crisp and holds up well to the cheese, sauce and toppings. The crust is available in regular or whole wheat. I tried both (this was regular) and didn't notice an appreciable difference in taste or texture.
As I look back over this review, I worry that it's more negative than intended due to my picking apart the different components of the pies. Taken together, the pizzas were good for a corner pizzeria, but not good enough to be the destination restaurant that I expected based on the emphasis on high quality ingredients. There were no parts of either pizza that blew me away, but the pizzas were satisfying and cheap enough that I wouldn't object to a return visit.
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