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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Pizza By Alex [Meeting #70]

Pizza By Alex [Map]
5044 W Montrose Ave
Chicago, IL 60641
(773) 427-8900‎

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.




Pizza By Alex on Urbanspoon

10 comments:

  1. I liked the crust a lot, enjoyed the quality cheese, but wasn't a big fan of the tomato sauce on either the thin or deep dish, though I didn't actively dislike them. I loved the toppings on the Pastor and the Ranchera, two pizzas that I will definitely return for, and I appreciated the vegetarian deep dish pizza more than I thought I would. I was not impressed with the Pizza by Alex (Italian beef) or the Carne Enamorada, though I might have been with the green salsa or chipotle sauce instead of the tomato sauce. Taking all five pizzas into account, I give Pizza By Alex a 7.4.

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  2. When MCH proposed a chorizo pizzeria, I was intrigued but skeptical. What a fool I was to doubt the powers of chorizo, much like bacon, to make anything better by its mere presence.

    I will say that the deep dish was a fine pizza, but I ate it out of a sense of duty rather than desire. I did not find the sauce so memorably bland. It wasn't a standout, but it was a thin, tangy sauce that let the other ingredients play. In a vegetarian pizza, perhaps more is expected from the sauce, but in the meat pizzas that did have tomato sauce it was a fine addition.

    The Pizza By Alex, Al Pastor, and Ranchera were outstanding pizzas. The crust, which was surprisingly good, didn't hold up to the barrage of toppings that Alex puts on his pies until it cooled a bit. But then, it was a glorious combination of what had to have been skillet cooked chorizo added to a wood burning oven pizza right before baking. The chorizo was crumbled nicely, higher quality stuff than the radioactive orange stuff in the Mexican grocery store, and nicely spicy. Some people felt the beans were too present, but given my bloodlines, I don't find that to be possible and I loved it.

    The Pastor did not come with a tomato sauce, but rather a tomatillo salsa. Again, the salsa was spicy and fresh and the steak al pastor was served in the traditional fashion with slices of pineapple. I wish more Chicago taquerias would step up their al Pastor game and serve it with pineapple chunks like they do in Mexico City.

    As for Pizza By Alex, I will concur with MCH that indeed, the mushrooms were very strong. I was more puzzled by this than anything else, because I love mushrooms and I haven't had them stand out as much as they did in his pizza other than funghi pies. The roast beef was tender and even though some felt this pie was bland, I was happy with it.

    I feel my score will be higher than most pizza clubbers, but I really enjoyed the food here. I basically felt the specialty pizzas were all above average and the deep dish was merely average. Would I return? Gladly. Points off for blandish deep dish and for a meat lovers pizza that got in its own way (don't the always?) as well as a crust that doesn't quite match the large load of toppings. I also appreciated the free tiramisu at the end. It was nothing special, it may have come out of a box for all I know, but it was a great little dessert to end the weekly gorge.

    8.2

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  3. The pizza with the pineapples -- Pastor -- was my favorite, hands down. It was very spicey and the pineapple added a nice tart sweetness. The crusts on all the thin crust pies were nicely charred but chewy.

    The deep dish was my least favorite. The crust was fine, but my slice was quite greasy.

    The meat pizza was right by me and it was delicious too. Bacon always makes it better.

    Overall, skip the deep dish, get a thin crust with chorizo, with bacon, and with pineapple and you will leave happy.

    I give Pizza by Alex an 7.75.

    P.S. Not included in the score, but honorable mentions: good, friendly service. They comped us a desert and were attentive. Also, BYOB.

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  4. I was not as impressed with this pizza as MCH and El P apparently were. I thought the crust was cooked very well, but the cheese and sauce were nothing special, and I found the toppings disappointing. To me, all the different meats on the pizza seemed to be of very low quality. I probably would have liked the Pastor the best but for the low quality of the meat. The chorizo was okay and had a nice little kick, but I happen to prefer the radioactive orange stuff. I liked the deep dish, especially the roasted red peppers, and it was not too bready.

    5.4

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  5. This was some great pizza. I only got to eat one piece, but I loved it. I was so excited when I got to eat it that I jumped up and tried to take it out of Marla Collins' Husband's hand. He didn't let go so I ended up pulling off the cheese and toppings, which I ate whole. It was awesome.

    When I was done with that, I took a little more time eating the crust, which was also awesome. I was a little worried that the chorizo would mess with my stomach but the only thing it did to my tummy was satisfy it.

    On a scale of 1-10, I give Pizza By Alex a 25.

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  6. I, like Kate, wasn't really impressed with these pizzas either. The deep dish was pretty tasty, but nothing really special. I liked the crust on the thin crust pies quite a bit, but didn't notice anything too impressive about the cheese or the sauce. I did enjoy the variety of toppings this place offered, but they weren't enough to make me want to rush back anytime soon. I give Pizza By Alex a 6.

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  7. Pizza By Alex is all about Alex making pizza exciting with toppings you don't find at your average pizza house. I was really impressed by the Pizza di Pastor. Substituting tomato sauce with salsa verde works very well combined with pineapple, beef and onions. Another very interesting pie is the Pizza Ranchera. My tastebuds didn't rank this one as high as the Pastor, but I appreciated the unusual presence of beans and chorizo on a pizza. It had some kick! The deep dish pizza was fairly decent. I did think it had a tad too much salt (not sure what contributed to the sodium level) but I was satisfied with the proportion of crust, cheese and tomato sauce. I only wish there were more peppers and onions.

    Their menu describes the crust as paper thin which initially made me skeptical, but I'm happy to say it did not resemble the typical cracker crust that came to mind. Instead, it's a nice somewhat chewy thin crust cooked to pefection. The amount of tomato sauce present on the specialty thin crust pies didn't bother me. I didn't really notice it nor did I miss it.

    Pizza By Alex gets a 6.5.

    P.S. My coat still smells wonderful from the scent of the wood burning oven. That's an added bonus!

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  8. Pizza by Alex,
    Of the five we ate, I liked the Pizza Ranchera and the Carne Enamorada pizza. I liked the Ranchera most because it created a unique tasty Mexican pizza, that was very tasty. Flavorful. The Carne Enamorada was spicier, what I liked about it, but not too spicy. Of the two, I preferred the Ranchera or chorizo pizza as I liked to call it. The Ranchera might be preferred by people who don’t love meat, like me. I liked Pizza di Pastor, Pizza By Alex and the deep dish veggie less than the previous two because comparatively they were less tasty. Overall, I give the pizzas a 7.

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  9. The most impressive thing I noticed about Alex's pies were the deliberate lack of scorch on the crusts. The thin crusts in particular were noticeably aerated. Although I am not pizza engineer, I'd say that the aerated crust played a large part in avoiding the burn (as pleasant as it could be) that always results in thin crusts being baked in a brick oven. For those who appreciate technique and/or dislike burnt flour, Pizza by Alex is a must try.

    The deep dish sans pork product was my favorite. Pristine crust, solid tangy sauce, perfectly balanced with a modest amount of cheese and standard seasoning. All of the thin crusts were good. Special note to the Chorizo pizza with the pinto beans surprise.

    One of Portage Park's finest. Avoid the Bacci's across the street.

    7 out of 10.

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  10. I really enjoy crispy crust and this place was chalk full of it. I will get to the chorizo in a sec but I must comment on the surprisingly good veggie pizza. As a known carnivor I typically do not care too much for the veggie pies, but I though this was well done w good toppings good amount of sauce. It should also be mentioned we were sitting about 20 feet from the brick oven and it made the whole place smell great. Nothing like wood burning to stir a hungry man's soul. Now to one of the reasons we came... the mexican sausage. It was a great combo with both the pizzas which had it. It was a bit of spice and when added w some bean (never tried on pizza before) it made for a mexican-pizza treat. I give this place a solid 7.5/10 and would gladly come back.

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