Pizza By Alex [Map]
5044 W Montrose Ave
Chicago, IL 60641
CPC invaded Pizza By Alex on 12/01/08.
From deep dish pizza to stuffed pizza to the pizza puff, Chicago has been at the forefront of pizza innovation for over 50 years. But we at the CPC are not regional chauvinists; we can appreciate additions to the pizza world that did not originate here. One such welcome addition came from the California-based movement that began at Chez Panisse in 1980. When Alice Waters started putting then-goofy toppings like goat cheese and artisinal sausages on pizza, she started a movement that was soon copied by multiple California chefs. Ed LaDou was a San Francisco chef who copied Waters's pizza style while the chef at Prego. Wolfgang Puck had one of LaDou's pizzas and hired him to work at the not-yet-opened Spago. The founders of California Pizza Kitchen hired LaDou away in 1985 to create their menu and a new national pizza phenomenon was born.
Today, nontraditional toppings are commonplace throughout the land, but there is room for so much more variety, particularly if pizzerias choose to combine pizza with other ethnic culinary traditions. Pizza By Alex has done its part to fill that gap for the past five years, offering a number of Mexican-influenced options in addition to more traditional toppings. And it was the CPC's quest for chorizo pizza that brought us to Pizza By Alex for this meeting in Portage Park.
Alex Pinega learned the pizza business while working at Caponie's, where he started as a dishwasher in 1992 and quickly worked his way up to general manager in just three years. After developing his pizza-making expertise there, he founded Pizza By Alex as a carry-out pizzeria in 2004. He did well enough there that he expanded to add a sit-down restaurant in the early part of 2006.
Greeting customers who enter the restaurant is a large brick wood-burning oven that not only made pizzas, but provided us with some additional heat on what was the coldest night so far this winter. The thin crust pies, which includes their 8 special pizzas, all cook in the 500+ degree fire in that oven, while the deep dish and stuffed pies cook in a gas oven in the kitchen.
Ordinarily, the Chicago Pizza Club tries each style of pizza offered by every restaurant we visit, but we were so enamored with some of the specialty pies that we went with four thin crust pizzas one deep dish. We were not disappointed.
The crust was cooked well and had noticeable charring on the bottom. The texture was a little crisp and a lot of chew, which I think was a reflection of it being a touch thicker than is typical for wood-burning over/Neapolitan-style crusts. The extra girth was necessary to support the very generous amounts of whole milk mozzarella, fresh vegetables, and wide variety of meats.
Up first was the Pizza By Alex, which features Italian Beef, mushrooms and onions. There was ample meat which was good, but the fresh mushrooms actually had the strongest flavor. There was a very thin layer of tomato sauce on the pizza that some of us thought had little to no flavor, but others thought had a light tanginess to it.
The Pizza di Pastor had steak pastor with grilled onion and pineapple, and came with a choice of red or green sauce. We didn't specify the sauce and the pizza came with a spicy green tomatillo salsa, which was definitely the right call. The sweet pineapple provided a good balance to the spice from the salsa, and with the grilled meat made one of the more popular pizzas at the table.
The Pizza Ranchera featured chorizo, pinto beans, mushrooms, onions and a homemade chipotle sauce. The chorizo was crumbled and there was some disagreement as to how much flavor came from the meat and how much came from the chipotle sauce. Wherever the epicenter of spicy goodness was, this pizza made many Pizza Clubbers very happy. The soft pinto beans did an excellent job tempering the kick from the chipotle while adding a flavor that more than a couple of us thought was surprisingly good.
Carne Enamorada, which means in love with meat, had a whole lot of pig on it: The pizza came with bacon, ham, pepperoni, and chorizo. Italian sausage is an optional replacement for chorizo, but given how important chorizo was to the decision to go to Pizza By Alex, no serious consideration was given to Italian Sausage on this pie. As was the case with the Pizza by Alex, there was very little sauce on this one. An interesting twist to the pizza construction was that the bacon, chorizo and pepperoni were all on top of the pizza, while small pieces of ham were spread out under the cheese.
We also got one deep dish pizza - with roasted red peppers and onions. The crust, which was not thick at all, was firm and had a lot of chewiness to it. It was topped with a good inch of cheese that was filled with the onions and meaty red peppers. The sauce has more seasoning and is a little thicker than the red sauce on the thin pizza. There was a lot more sauce on the deep dish pie, but compared to other deep dish pizzas, there was very little. The deep dish pizza was well-received, but most of us were so focused on trying the different thin crust pies with the unique toppings that most people did not get to it until the latter part of the meal.
One more important detail worth noting about Pizza by Alex that is not advertised on their website: it's BYOB. And for your convenience, there's a liquor store around the corner, albeit one with a limited wine selection.
Petey Pizza gives Pizza by Alex a 6.972.
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Tuesday, December 02, 2008
Pizza By Alex [Map]