Editor's Note: Whether you're a tourist or an office worker in downtown Chicago, you can get sick of eating at chain restaurants all day. So we've started a series to get you the lowdown on where to find a great and affordable lunch.
If you don't know where to look, you'll have trouble finding Reggie's Pizza Express. In fact, I had no idea it was there until a coworker came back to the breakroom with a few giant slices. When I asked him where he got it, he muttered around a mouthful of cheese, "It's in the bar across the street from Cactus." I knew where Cactus Bar and Grill was, because it's where a lot of the heavy drinkers (a.k.a. traders) from the Chicago Board of Trade go after work. (Total aside: Cactus' website URL is dontdrinkandtrade.com, and that sound you hear is my palm hitting my forehead.) Across the street is a rinkydink bar named O'Neil's, and if that doesn't sound familiar, that's because it used to be called Alcock's (hee hee).
The first time I visited Reggie's, I cautiously peeked my head in and looked around a dark and dingy bar. And there right ahead of me was a little tiny pizza stand with one person behind the counter working his ass off. If you couldn't figure it out by the name, Reggie's pretty much sells just pizza, with the exception of Italian beef and Italian sausage. When I visited, they were out of sausage, so I thought I'd pick a beef up, too.
My favorite pizza toppings are typically sausage and mushroom (together, of course), so it comes as a surprise to me that the cheese slice ($4.00 w/can of soda) is my favorite of the bunch. Plain cheese pizza hasn't been my favorite type since I was like six years old. But the plain slice makes it easy to taste all the flavors in one cohesive bite, reminding me how good the basic flavors of pizza really are, even in a cheap slice. The crust is bready, a little thick, and without too much chew; the sauce is sweet and seasoned with loads of dried oregano; and the uniformly thick layer of mozzarella is peppered with those coveted caramelized brown spots. Now I'm going to tell you right off the bat that this isn't a fancy pie whatsoever; you're not going to see any complex structure in the crust, and they aren't using fresh buffalo mozzarella. Reggie's doesn't even have any veggies on any of their slices, if that tells you anything about the place.
Next up on the docket is the sausage slice ($4.00 w/can of soda). It's the same basic slice, this time with little chunks of fennel-heavy Italian sausage. The salt and heavy fennel flavor in the fatty sausage throws off the balance of the slice, however, making the dominant flavors a combination of fennel, fat, and a whole lot of salt. The acidity and sweetness from the sauce is lost in the mix somewhere.
The combo of sausage and pepperoni (also $4.00 w/can of soda) isn't much different from the sausage. It simply has more fat and salt.
What I noticed with the meat pizzas was the level of grease. While I usually make fun of people who blot their pizzas with a napkin, I found myself having to do the same exact thing. I'm almost ashamed of having to admit it, like you caught me dancing to Justin Bieber or something. I even snapped a shot of the wax paper—it almost looks like a stained glass window, which is probably what my insides look like now.
The bottom of the pizza is, sadly, nothing special to look at. It's barely golden in most spots, and seems to mainly exists as an express delivery system for the sauce and the cheese into your pizza hole.
Don't bother with the Italian beef ($5.00). When I asked the guy behind the counter, he admitted that it was straight from Vienna Beef, which isn't a bad thing in and of itself, but the problem I've noticed with their prepackaged beef and au jus is the insane level of sodium in the broth. If you've ever purchased their grocery store version in the freezer section, you'll know what I'm talking about. Lately I've been griping about salt levels in the last few editions of Lunch in the Loop, but to me, salt shouldn't be a crutch to make up for lack of flavor.
I've actually had much better experiences at Reggie's, and I think the main difference is that I had gotten slices straight from the oven. This is just a quick to-go greasy slice type of place, which comes in handy when you show up to work hungover. And by you, I mean me.
Reggie's Pizza Express
411 South Wells Street, Chicago, IL 60607 (map)
312-939-4423 No website