5343 N. Clark St. (GoogleMaps)
CPC invaded Calo Ristorante on 3/27/08.
Calo is a well-regarded Italian restaurant in Andersonville that has been around for 45 years. It is better known for its regular Italian fare, but the pizza has been embraced by many. According to the restaurant's website, in 2005, the Sun-Times identified Calo's as the place to go for Chicago pizza. The CPC had to do some fact-checking.
Eight members of the Chicago Pizza Club arrived at Calo on a sleet-filled evening, including three new members who are sure to debut on this site soon (or else they may quickly be former members). Calo has two large dining rooms, both of which had dimmed lights supplemented by candles on each table. The heavy wood tables, cloth napkins, painted murals on the wall, and framed photographs and sketches of Italy were all nice and made it clear that we were not in a typical pizzeria. Still, none of us were tempted by such menu items as Calo's famous gnocchi; we were there to try the pizza.
Calo offers three types of pie: thin, pan and stuffed pizza. We tried all three. At 7:58, we placed our order: a thin medium with goat cheese and onions, a thin medium with giardiniera, a large pan with canadian bacon and garlic, and a large stuffed with sausage. At 8:13, the stands to hold the pizzas were delivered. About 20 minutes later, four very attractive pizzas were placed before us.
The thin crust with goat cheese was very good. There was an ample supply of both toppings. The onions were particularly noteworthy as they were long thin strips of onion that had a slight sweetness to them that played well with the rich goat cheese. The sauce, which seemed a bit too sweet on the stuffed pizza, was fine on the goat cheese and onion pie. The crust was very thin, almost cracker-like. The taste of the crust was fine, though nothing special, but the texture of it held up well.
The thin pizza with giardiniera had the same sturdy, well-textured crust. The sauce and mozzarella were fine - there was plenty of both. But the crust, sauce and cheese were no match, flavor-wise, for the giardiniera. For those unfamiliar with Chicago-style giardiniera, know that it's not the same as the Italian antipasto. This is a much spicier local treat that is commonly put on Italian beef (another Chicago specialty), and occasionally offered as a pizza topping. I don't know if Calo makes there's or who they buy it from, but this was some spicy stuff. It was good, but it overwhelmed the pizza, which is probably not a good thing. However, the goat cheese on the other thin crust proved to be a very good follow-up to the giardiniera pie as it restored sensitivity to the taste buds.
The pan pizza, which came with garlic and canadian bacon, was another example of too much of a good thing. I love garlic. There was so much garlic on this pizza that I could not taste the canadian bacon. This was not garlic powder or minced garlic. This was a lot of coursely shopped garlic cloves on the pizza. The taste was very good - but I couldn't taste the bacon or the sauce - so basically this seemed like outstanding cheesy garlic bread. I would have been perfectly happy with that except the bread part, so essential to a pan pizza, was pretty much flavorless and fairly dry. It seems they use the exact same dough for the thin and thick crust, and that particular mixture of flower, egg, yeast and water works much better for the thin version.
The stuffed sausage pizza was very good. It has the same dry crust as the pan pizza, but that was less of a hindrance due to the amount of sauce. Speaking of the sauce, it was noticeably sweeter here than normal. It wasn't a bad thing, it was just different. The sausage, of which there was plenty, was very good. And while, as is always the case with stuffed pizza, there was a significant amount of cheese, this was definitely a very thin pizza by stuffed pizza standard - I'd guess about 3/4 of an inch thick.
Overall, I thought Calo's offered better than average pizzas. If I were to go back, I might get a thin crust pie to share as an appetizer, but I'd prefer to get something other than pizza as a main course. But if someone really wanted to just have Calo's pizza for dinner, I wouldn't complain.
Petey gives Calo Ristorante a 6.2/10.
Chicago Pizza Club and newbies...
Garlic and Canadian Bacon pan pizza...
Goat Cheese and Onions thin crust...
Sausage stuffed pizza...
Giardiniera thin crust...
Where it went down...
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Thursday, March 27, 2008
Friday, March 21, 2008
Little Caesar's (pickup)
Pizza Hut (delivery)
Bad Chain Pizzas invaded CPC on 3/21/08.
Ok, so we finally went and got Little Caesar's, Pizza Hut, and Domino's at the home of Stu for this pizza club meeting. This will be a brief review of it because I'm doing what so many of my elementary school teachers reminded me to do regarding not saying anything if it's not nice.
I don't remember what pizzas we ordered and I never meant to after having a bite of each. They were all bad. I do think we had a meat lover's and a veggie pizza from pizza hut. Domino's was so horrible it wouldn't matter what was on it. At least on the Little Caesar's pizzas had bacon on it. That's pretty much all I care to discuss regarding the pizzas.
In the end, the pictures and our expressions will have to speak for themselves. If there is anything redeeming said about any of these by our members it's because we were gasping for air and perhaps making relative comparisons only. If one was better than the other, it's only because we got philosophical and determined no two things can be equal. Weep not for pizza club nor for Chicago. We have good pizza and we know where to get it. Instead, direct your pity towards Kansas and Alabama and even Arizona. Sure, there may be a Pizzeria Bianco lurking, but I bet you most of the pizza in these places is horrible. So, if the best choice for pizza in your town is Papa John's, I weep for you and, more importantly, I eat for you. Small town America can get on our backs and vicariously enjoy the pizza through our reviews as we continue our crusade for pizza excellence.
Fred may have liked the pizza - he ate more than anyone else. However, Fred is Dan's hound so he probably has a slightly less discriminating palate than everyone else present that night.
- El Presidente
Bacon pizza from Little Caesar's...
Domino's Sausage pizza...
Pepperoni from Domino's...
"Holy Crap, this is bad..."
The State of the Pizza Club Annual Report
Fred doesn't seem to mind the bad pizza...
Meat Lover's pizza from Pizza Hut...
Veggie Lover's pizza from Pizza Hut
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
623 E. Adams Street
Marla Collins' Husband invaded Pizzeria Bianco on 3/9/08.
I arrived at Pizzeria Bianco at 4:50 on Saturday afternoon. I was seated at 9:45 on Saturday night. You read that right: I waited five hours just to be seated.
It was worth the wait.
Pizzeria Bianco, located in historic Heritage Square in downtown Phoenix, has been anointed the best pizza in America by Ed Levine, author of Pizza: A Slice of Heaven.
Going into the meal, I had two competing thoughts. First, the guy who wrote the book can presumably pick an outstanding pizza. But second, he dismisses Chicago-style pizza as being nothing more than a casserole, so I was skeptical of his "expertise."
I spent the afternoon baking in lovely Hohokam Park, spring training home of the 2008 World Champion Chicago Cubs. A little while after the game ended I called Pizzeria Bianco, which only takes a few reservations and only does so for parties of six or more, to ask what time we should get there to avoid waiting too long. The restaurant opens at 5:00, so I was expecting to hear that as long as we got there by 6 or so, we wouldn’t have to wait more than an hour. I was surprised when told that a long line had already formed and that we should get there ASAP. We drove over there and I got in line at 4:50. When they opened the doors and let the first people in, they took names of people in line and gave us all estimated seating times. Ours: between 10 and 10:30.
That shock elicited a short conversation between me, my little sister and her boyfriend. First, there was consensus that there was no way the wait would be that long. Second, we were glad we had eaten a huge, excellent Mexican lunch at Rancho de la Tia Rosa. Third, we were glad we brought books. We were in it for the long haul - this place has been open for 14 years and still has lines like this mean we were in for a treat. And while there were certainly a good number of tourists in line (March is the busiest season), there were plenty of locals willing to endure the wait.
The building next to Pizzeria Bianco is Bar Bianco. It’s even smaller than Pizzeria Bianco, but is the same style of building, dating back a century. The bar only serves beer, wine, a variety of soft drinks and a handful of appetizers. After about an hour wait, two of us had a glass of wine and the three of us split two appetizers: an outstanding prosciutto served with crunchy focaccia toast as well as apple slices, and an even better cheese plate served with three kinds of cheese, two of which were goat’s milk cheeses, raisins, apples and more focaccia toast. The quality of the appetizers and wine had me more excited about dinner.
In addition to the two buildings, there is a courtyard where people can drink and relax while waiting for their names to be called. As the sun went down, the weather cooled off. That, along with the big lunch and the appetizers, made the wait perfectly enjoyable. One detail worth noting about the courtyard: around the edges there are a number of herbs growing, some of which are actually used in Pizzeria Bianco pies. One more detail: having spent the day baking in the desert sun while watching the Cubs beat up on the Diamondbacks, and having had a nice glass of wine, I wanted a little pick-me-up, so I had a Coke. Not just any Coke, but a cane-sugar-filled Mexican Coke. This kind of attention to detail would show up again and again throughout the meal.
Despite the long wait, everyone we saw had good spirits about it. And there were enough repeat customers there to assure all of us newbies that the wait was worth it. Customers are allowed to leave the general area as long as they call in once an hour. There is a movie theater in walking distance, but nothing particularly appealing was playing.
By now some of you are likely wondering a couple of things. First, with all the outdoor seating, why not just eat outside. Second, why not just get the pizzas to go. The answer to both questions is the same: Chris Bianco wants people to enjoy his pizza at their optimal level, and he thinks something is lost once the pizzas leave his restaurant. I think that’s a tad goofy, but it’s his place.
Finally, at about 9:40, we were summoned into the dining room. The inside of the restaurant has a nice rustic charm to it. There is seating at the bar for about six people, and there is table seating for no more than 40 (probably less). The highlight of the inside of the restaurant is unquestionably the oven. The pizza is cooked in a brick, wood-burning oven. Chris Bianco works there every night and makes every pizza.
We ordered two appetizers and four pizzas. One appetizer was a simple salad of local organic greens with a red wine vinaigrette. It was excellent. The other appetizer was a caprese salad that was shockingly good. Good in a way that I didn’t think possible. The tomatoes were perfect, the locally made olive oil was perfecter, and the homemade mozzarella was perfectest. Oh, and the basil, a variety developed in Israel that has adapted well to the Arizona desert, was enormous and added perfect flavor.
The menu has six pizzas and 12 different toppings offered as extras. Three of the pizzas include tomato sauce as an ingredient and three do not. I like sauce, so this (unnecessarily it turned out) raised a red flag. We ended up ordering two with sauce and two without. The two with were a Margherita, to which we added roasted crimini mushrooms and fennel sausage, and a Sonny Boy, which has fresh mozzarella, salami and gaeta olives. The two without sauce were the Biancoverde, which has fresh mozzarella, parmigiano reggiano, ricotta, and arugula, and the Wiseguy, with wood roasted onion, house smoked mozzarella and fennel sausage.
This review has gone on long enough, so I will avoid even trying to adequately describe the perfection of these pizzas. There is a picture of each one below and they were every bit as good as they look. Suffice it to say that every single ingredient was perfect. The only flaw was that the center of each pizza, especially the Biancoverde, was too thin to support the pile of toppings – and there really are piles – no skimping at all. Anyhow, a couple of the ingredients merit special mention. First, the fennel sausage: Bianco buys free range pigs and takes them to Schreiner’s Fine Sausage, who make it according to Bianco’s recipe. It is perfect – so good that my little sister, who normally keeps Kosher, could not resist eating (and loving) a piece. The second ingredient worthy of a special mention is the cheese. I’ve tasted differences in mozzarella on pizza before, but never anything like this. And the smoked mozzarella on the Wiseguy was fantastic.
I just realized I haven’t talked about the crust other than its thickness (or lack thereof) at the center. As you can probably guess, the crust was perfect. In addition to it’s perfect texture – firm, but chewy – the crust was infused with the smoke flavor from the wood burning oven.
So do I agree with Levine that this is the best pizza in country? It’s been four days and I’m still not sure. Lou Malnati’s makes as good a deep dish pizza as I think exists, but I can’t say that it’s a better pizza than Pizzeria Bianco. It’s actually hard to compare two styles that are so different. What I do know is that I will never visit Phoenix without going to Pizzeria Bianco. Only next time, I will make sure to have a group of at least six and I’ll call months ahead.
About 3 1/2 hours in; enjoying Mexican Coke...
The Caprese Salad...
The Biancoverde with Fresh Mozzarella, Parmigiano Reggiano, Rocotta, Arugula
Margherita with Roasted Crimini Mushrooms and Fennel Sausage
The Sonny Boy with Tomato Sauce, Fresh Mozzarella, Salami, and Gaeta Olives
The Wiseguy with Wood Roasted Onion, House Smoked Mozzarella and Fennel Sausage
Efficient eating...Sonny Boy meets Wiseguy in Dan's mouth...
Behold... the Oven!
Where it went down...
Friday, March 07, 2008
Click on the pins below to see the locations the Chicago Pizza Club has visited. The title of each pin contains a link to the Chicago Pizza Club review. If you are planning to open several reviews then 'right click' the title after you open the pin and choose 'open in new window'. That will allow jumping between the review and the map and prevent the need to reload. Alternatively, you can go to the map here, which contains an alphabetical listing of all the pin locations. Member may also edit the map and add new pins here.
Sunday, March 02, 2008
5913 W. Roosevelt Rd (GoogleMaps)
CPC invaded Albano's on 3/4/08.
This Cicero establishment on Roosevelt Road is well known for its giant pizza puffs!
CPC arrived at Albano's Pizzeria at 8PM on a Tuesday night. Parking was easy as there is a lot adjacent to the restaurant off of Roosevelt Road. Albano's is set up more like a carry out establishment but has a dining room that is simple and clean with 6-8 red booths and 3-4 round tables. Orders can be placed at the window though the friendly staff provided us service at the tables and brought out soda, cups, ice, and plates. Pizza was served as it came out of the oven. Clientèle includes Chicago's Finest so plan your next heist at home before you come in to eat.
The menu is extensive but pizza is featured prominently on the first page. Also drawing attention on the menu is the claim "Chicagoland's Largest Homemade Pizza Puff". Nobody at our table was prepared to dispute this designation. Be aware that no alcohol is served at Albano's and it's not a BYOB.
Pizza sizes range from 10" - 18". Types include Regular, Pan, Stuffed, and Pizza Puff. There is also the option for thin or thick crust on request though thick crust will cost you an extra $1 to $1.50. There is an Albano's Special which is a bargain price for a pizza with 4 or 8( ! ) toppings. Topping choices are numerous and include shrimp, meatball, broccoli, bacon and tomato in addition to the standards you expect.
We had 7 members in attendance and ordered:
1) 16" Regular crust: bacon, sausage, onion, and tomato
2) 16" Pan crust: meatball, mushroom
3) Pizza puff: pepperoni
4) Pizza puff: sausage
5) Pizza puff: spinach and olives
Two 2 liter bottles of pop included with the order. (There is a coupon on the menu but they were included without us asking.)
Total price - $65 without tax.
The regular crust came in about 20 min and the three puffs followed 10 min later. The pan pizza took approximately 40 min.
The crust on the square-cut 16" bacon, sausage, onion, and tomato pizza was crisp and tasty throughout. No soggy middle pieces on this pie. Toppings were plentiful except for the tomatoes. Bacon was tasty with good sizes pieces and sausage had a nice amount of spice. The sauce was flavorful without being particularly sweet. Sauce fiends may be disappointed as it doesn't ooze out the sides of the square slices but there's enough to get a good taste. Onions were thin cut.
The pan crust was thick and crisp but on the dry side. The meatball topping was very tasty and well-liked though several CPC members commented the flavor was "steaky". Mushrooms were likely canned but well portioned. Overall, this was a popular choice for the group.
Now for the famous puffs! Basically it's an 8 inch pizza folded in half with a golden brown outer crust. They've been described as football-sized and this a pretty good literal estimate. We had underestimated the size and had plenty to box up and take home. If anyone out there was planning to knock one out solo they can do me a favor and to say hi to Kobayashi on the circuit. The fried browned crust is crispy and rich. Plenty of cheese and toppings pour out once the cutting begins. The only significant neg was the pepperoni slices that seemed a bit bland. The sausage and spinach/olive combinations were preferred at our table.
In summary, Albano's was a hit! The pizza puffs were huge and tasty. The table consensus was that a meatball puff would be a killer combination. Crust on the regular pizza was nice and crisp and toppings were generally tasty and plentiful. Minor complaints were the amount of sauce and the blandness of the pepperoni.
A delicious Pizza Puff... from the inside...
The Meatball Pan Pizza... mm... steaky...
The Bacon Pizza goes fast... as it should...
The CPC and the CPD...
Where it went down...
Fred enjoys Pizza Club leftovers...