Somehow, without the critical guidance of CPC members, the Chicago Pizza Fest judges managed to decide on the winners of their contest.
Best Chicago Style Deep Dish: Nonna's
Best Thin Style: My Pie
Best Gourmet/Unique: Nonna's
We've already been to My Pie, so looks like we definitely need to hit up Nonna's! If you missed it, check out Stu's review below.
We invite you to post any comments on anywhere you have eaten under our review of that establishment. If you have any questions, please read the FAQs on the sidebar first to see if it has already been answered. Please note that we are at capacity and are not seeking new members. And finally, if you have a place you think we should try, have some other inquiry, or want to send us love/hatemail then please contact us at:
Monday, June 30, 2008
Thursday, June 26, 2008
I'll be the first to admit that I'm having a slow work day, and having already read all of today's Obama-centric news stories, kept up to date with my blogs and purchased my new Chicago vehicle sticker a friend suggested I check out the Chicago Reader website for their "Best of Chicago 2008" selections.
Seems a bit early for Best of 2008 picks doesn't it? I mean, we're not even at the halfway mark for 2008 yet...
Anywho, I was kind of suprised to see their pick for Chicago's Best Pizza, though I must say the place they picked does serve a pretty fantastic pie...
Read about their choice right here, and then why not read the Chicago Pizza Club's review of that very same restaurant by clicking your mouse right here.
Do you agree or disagree? Let the endless debates begin!
Screen Name: AJ
Real Name: AJ
Came out of the Oven: Evanston
Favorite toppings: Various Pork Products
First Pizza Club Meeting: June 25, 2008 (Ranalli's)
Favorite Deep Dish Pizza: Lou Malnati's
Favorite Thin Crust Pizza: Vito and Nick's
Favorite Pizza outside of Chicago: Why would I want to have pizza outside of Chicago?
Had Pizza in the Motherland? See above.
What Do You Do When Not Eating Pizza? Masquerading as and being accused of being "the man."
Personal Pizza Statement: For future wannabe CPC members, two words of advice: Fork and Knife. "Sharing" is the word and as you can see from my shameless profile picture, I was slow to learn.
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Ranalli's on Clark
2301 N. Clark St. Map
CPC invaded Ranalli's on 6/25/08.
Ranalli's is a family-owned Italian restaurant that first opened on Lincoln Avenue in the 1970s. In addition to the current Lincoln Park location on Clark that we visited, Ranalli's also has restaurants in Andersonville and on Montrose. Each location offers a variety of pizza styles in addition to standard Italian fare, with a few Mexicanish staples mixed in.
The indoor dining room of the Clark Street location seats about 100 and is set up as a typical Lincoln Park bar/restaurant. Because our visit took place on a lovely summer evening, we elected to dine on the outdoor patio facing Clark to accommodate member Fred. We were joined by enough others to order all five styles of pizza on Ranalli's menu. We also took advantage of a couple of notable offers. With respect to the pizza, you can order any number of toppings and all the toppings after the fourth are free. You can also get a bucket of six beers for the price of five, which were priced pretty reasonably even without the bucket.
We ordered the following pies:
- Super thin wheat crust pizza with mozzarella, cheddar, swiss, provolone
- Thin crust I Heart Mexico pizza
- Pan pizza with capicola, mortadella, genoa salami
- Stuffed pizza with basil and tomatoes
- Double Decker pizza with sausage, bacon, garlic, tomatoes, green peppers, mushrooms, onions
Although the reviews reflect fairly divergent opinions among our members as to whether the pizza as a whole passed muster, most agreed that the toppings made Ranalli's stand out a bit. The variety was excellent, and most of the toppings themselves were pretty good. The various pork products we tried won't be mistaken for having come from your favorite Italian deli, but pork is pork, and pork tastes good.
The thin, pan, and stuffed pizzas are in line with what you typically find at a pedestrian Chicago pizza place, but I was not sure what to expect from the Double Decker. It is, in fact, exactly what it sounds like: a thin layer of crust topped with sauce/cheese/toppings, followed by another thin layer of crust topped with sauce/cheese/toppings. It also had a very thick circle of bread/crust around the edges. The crust was no more remarkable than with any of the other pizzas, but we were impressed that the layer of crust in the middle of the pizza stayed crispy. And the wild toppings party ordered up for the Double Decker made each bite more interesting than most of the other pies.
The Mexican pizza was different from taco pizzas we have tried in the past. This pizza seemed to have more beans than usual, and it had no tomatoes or lettuce. Or sauce, as far as I could tell. Also, don't order it if you're not willing to get three to four jalapenos in every bite.
The cost came out to $13/person for those abstaining from fun, I mean beverages, and $16/person for the rest of us. Note that Ranalli's will validate your parking in the adjacent pay lot for up to 90 minutes.
Overall, I'm not sure why some of our harsher judges were so disappointed. I did not think any aspect of any pizza stood out as bad, though the failure of the crust, sauce, and most of the cheese to stand out at all is why I found the pizza a bit humdrum. Kate-D. gives Ranalli's a 5.5.
Petey gives Ranalli's 4.9375 / 10.
Dan and Fred enjoying their post-pizza afterglow...
Where it went down...
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
In the 1990s, Air Force officer Mark Evans of Elk Grove, IL, sent 50 Lou Malnati's pizzas to the troops in Bosnia. Recently, he and his son have decided to repeat history, but on a much bigger scale.
They decided to try to raise money to send 3000 Lou Malnati's pies to the troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan for a Fourth of July pizza party. The response has been so tremendous that they have increased their goal to 3,000 pizzas.
Anyone interested in helping can send an email to Evans. Kudos to DHL for offering free shipping for all of the pizzas the Evans buy for this project.
Sunday, June 22, 2008
The 2nd Annual Pizza Fest Chicago
Racine & Fullerton Map
The Chicago Pizza Club invaded the 2nd Annual Pizza Fest Chicago on 6/21/08.
It was very hard to tear myself away from the television on Saturday afternoon (with the crosstown, Cubs/Sox rivalry in full swing), but with a pitching change in the 4th inning I headed out the door and hopped on the CTA towards the DePaul campus and this year's Pizza Fest Chicago. Upon meeting up with Dan and Fred (who muddied my Pizza Club t-shirt with a very enthusiastic greeting) we paid our $5 "donation" to enter and proceeded to purchase the tickets that are standard food and beverage currency for Chicago street festivals. After walking the grounds briefly we entered the area that housed the music stage and pizza vendors, and using the logic that the longest line must correlate to the best pizza we queued up and waited for Pizza Club member Kate to join us while we waited.
First off, let me say that I loved the idea of a Chicago Pizza Fest. Not just because any street festival in Chicago is going to be a good time when the weather is good (and the weather is seldom better than it was on Saturday afternoon), but also for the opportunities that a Chicago Pizza Fest would present to sample a variety of Chicago pizza at once.
A few things stood in the way of such a Pizza Fest realizing its full potential. Mainly, none of the pizzas served were freshly cooked. All of the vendors had opted to serve their wares from under heat lamps and warming trays. This was a huge letdown to all of the Chicago Pizza Club members in attendance. The heat lamps seemed have a detrimental effect on the cheeses and crusts of all the pizzas we sampled. We understand that using heat lamps and serving "warmed" pizza is the most cost-effective measure for this situation, but we also know that there are other alternatives that would've allowed the vendors present to offer up freshly cooked pizzas on the premises.
Another downer was that of all the numerous and varied pizzerias in Chicago they only managed six pizza vendors at the festival. I realize that the Pizza Fest is only in its second year, but six options at a festival celebrating Chicago Pizza seems to me like a slap in the face. Especially when one of those vendors was a frozen pizza company. Seriously, frozen pizza?
One of the upsides though was that most of the vendors offered sample slices for only $1, which was a nice way to get a variety of pizzas at the festival.
Fortunately, the Chicago's Best Pizza judging featured a more diverse range of entrants (and we certainly wished some of them would have been vendors), we didn't get the chance to witness the judging (nor to take part in the judging for that matter as the CPC sent in their applications a tad late) as the judges seemed to be set off to the side.
For the reasons I listed above I don't really feel that it is fair to rate any of the pizzas we sampled at the festival, but we did make note of a few places for the Chicago Pizza Club to visit in the future.
Also, none of this is to say that I didn't enjoy myself at the festival (though, the weather was the main contributor to that), but without a more diverse offering of pizza vendors, and freshly cooked pizza I can't recommend this festival to anyone who's looking for anything more than spending some time outdoors on a beautiful day at an average Chicago street festival.
***UPDATE: And the winners of the pizza contest are:
Best Thin Style: My Pie
Best Gourmet/Unique: Nonna's
Waiting in line for some samples and enjoying some music...
Frozen? Pizza?? Frozen Pizza???
Some of the various pies we sampled...
Fred cares nothing about heat lamps...
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Piece, the New Haven style pizzeria in Wicker Park, is raising money for PAWS Chicago in a rather unique manner. Rick Nielsen, lead guitarist for Cheap Trick, who is an investor in Piece, will turn into a pizza delivery boy for one night and will deliver pizzas to the highest bidder on eBay.
The winner gets five pizzas delivered anywhere within 40 miles of the restaurant, a couple of Rick Nielsen autographed Piece t-shirts, some guitar picks, and they can hang with Rick Nielsen for a bit. None of Piece's award-winning beer is included in the auction.
The auction ends just before noon (Chicago time) on Monday, June 23.
Monday, June 16, 2008
270 Wellington Street, Toronto ON Canada
In the midst of a fine weekend of Cubs baseball and gastronomic excess, my friend and I were looking for a place to eat when we stumbled upon Pizza Rustica (no relation to the Chicago pizzeria with the same name). One look through the window at the pies on peoples' tables and it was an easy decision for us to head inside.
Pizza Rustica is about two blocks north of the Rogers Centre, next door to Wayne Gretzky's (he was a hockey player) restaurant, and a couple of blocks away from Toronto's booming night club scene. Despite it's location, it's a nice quiet restaurant.
We got two pizzas, the Spinach and Blue Cheese which, aside from the obvious, was topped with sun-dried tomato sauce, mozzarella, and sliced roma tomatoes; and the Salsiccia, which came with fresh sausage, sweet red onion, gorgonzola cheese, mozzarella and tomato sauce.
The crust of both pizzas was very thin and yellow - likely the result of the corn meal that seemed to be in it. The oven cooked the pies quickly at about 280 degrees. That might not seem very hot, but the silly Canadians use celcius. In civilization, that's 536 degrees.
Both pizzas were very good. The spinach and blue cheese had fresh spinach and just enough blue cheese to give the pizza a good tanginess, but not so much as to overpower the rest of the pie. The sliced roma tomatoes were a nice treat, as they always are on top of a pizza. I didn't taste anything particularly sun-dried about the tomato sauce, but that may be because there was not much on it.
The Salsiccia also had a good balance between a strong cheese - gorgonzola - and the mozzarella. The sausage, which was obviously fresh, was excellent. Again, I didn't think there was enough sauce, but I never do when eating Neapolitan pizza (or similar styles).
If you're in Toronto, I'd recommend stopping by Pizza Rustica if you're in the mood for pizza, but there was nothing particularly mind-blowing about it that makes it a must-see in anyone's eating tour of the Great White North.
Look at all the friendly, pizza-loving Canadians...
The oven, makin' it happen...
The Salsiccia Pizza...
The Spinach and Blue Cheese Pizza...
Where it went down...
Saturday, June 14, 2008
1517 Miners St,
Idaho Springs, CO Map
This is a long overdue special report on some great Colorado pizza. On your next trip out west be sure to schedule a stop at Beau Jo's.
The original Beau Jo's is in Idaho Springs, a small Colorado mining town. And apparently miners take their pizza seriously. I've been to this town twice now and while I've never remembered to bring my pickaxe, I have always brought some friends and a healthy appetite. Average Joe Snowboarder encounters this place by pulling off I-70 between Denver and the ski resorts.
Beau Jo's offers an extensive menu with an incredible number of pizza options.
Pizza sizes are described in pounds. 1-5lbs instead of S-XL, which makes more sense if you're used to weighing the days work.
Crust options are Thick (Mountain Pie) or Thin (Prairie Pie). And while I am from the prairie state, Mountain is definitely the way to go. Options for crust are honey white or honey whole wheat. And I'm happy to report that Beau Jo's rejects the notion of disposable crust ends (Giordano's are you paying attention?!). A bottle of honey is provided as a dip for the large fluffy crust. It's a deliciously sweet way to finish off a big slice.
You'll also have some decisions to make with the sauce. There is regular pizza sauce, garlic/olive oil, basil pesto, garlic cream, barbeque, salsa, ranch, green chili, marinara, ranch/hot sauce. Nice, huh?
Plenty of ingredient choices including the regulars and more rare toppings like salami, andouille sausage, meatballs, red hot chicken, smoked salmon, pepperoncini, green chili, tofu, sun dried tomatoes, scallions, and artichokes.
Choices of cheese include mozzarella, low fat mozzarella, fontin-provolone, dairy free mozzarella, montery jack, provolone, cheddar, feta, ricotta and swiss.
You could eat here every day for ten years and never have the same pizza. And while the indecisive are already getting overwhelmed, Beau Jo's also has a list of 46(!) specialty pizzas with their favorite combinations.
Lastly, Beau Jo's also has the John-Candy-from-the-Great-Outdoors-esque pizza challenge. THE CHALLENGE is their Grand Sicilian weighing in at 12-14lbs with hamburger, sausage, green pepper, onion, mushroom, and pepperoni. Two people try to finish in one hour. Winners take home $100, t-shirts and the pizza is free. Even those who epically fail (i.e. two teenage girls with daddy's credit card) will have a Polaroid picture placed on the wall to commemorate the attempt.
Our group ordered two Mountain Pies specialty pizzas, which were excellent. My wife, Kelly, especially liked the Beau Taco pizza. Everyone enjoyed the honey-dipped crust ends. Service and wait time were reasonable. We had leftovers and everyone could still afford their lift tickets the next day.
Highly recommended. 8/10.
Ryan, Chris and Paul eating at Beau Jo's
Crust on the taco pizza
Honey for the crust!
Chis polishes off a slice
Polaroids on THE CHALLENGE wall of fail
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
La Villa Restaurant and Banquets
3632 N. Pulaski Map
The Chicago Pizza Club invaded La Villa on 6/11/08.
It's not often that we venture West of Damen Ave., but the Pizza Club is a fearless bunch and we had no problems trekking out near Addison and Pulaski. I have to say, after reading the rave reviews on Yelp.com that I had high expectations for this place. But I guess this just goes to highlight the difference between Yelp and the Chicago Pizza Club.
Thanks to the ever punctual CTA bus service I showed up about 20 minutes late to the meeting to find that our order had already been placed and that we had several appetizing bread options at our table. I opted for some pizza bread which was really quite good, maybe the best thing I had all night? We had eight members attending the meeting and ordered a 14" pan pizza vegetarian special, a 14" stuffed pizza with pepperoni and mushroom, and a 16" shrimp and garlic thin crust pizza. Our order was placed at 7:45 and I don't think it took more than 30 minutes for our food to come, but maybe it should have...
The best of the bunch was the thin crust with garlic and shrimp... but yeah, that's not saying much. The garlic was overpowering and the shrimp was not very high quality, obviously we don't expect fresh shrimp yanked right from the ocean here in Chicago on our pizza, but you hope for something better than this. The crust was bland and the sauce didn't bring a whole lot to the table either. The pan vegetarian pizza was described by one of our Pizza Club members as as a salad with dough and cheese, and I don't think I can argue with that. The excess of vegetables made the whole pizza much too soggy. And the pepperoni and mushroom stuffed pizza? Well, the best comment I heard about this pizza was that at least the mushrooms weren't canned. I'm sure this pizza did have pepperoni on it, but I can't remember tasting any... I was probably too distracted by the half-cooked crust and the bad sauce. Also, kind of disappointing was the fact that there was no difference in crust between the pan and stuffed pizzas.
It's kinda rare that there is leftover pizza at a Chicago Pizza Club meeting, but tonight there was plenty, and it was even thrown up for debate whether if even Fred would want the leftovers. I'm honestly suprised that there were so many positive reviews of this place on Yelp.com. While it's hard to call any Chicago Pizza Club meeting a failure (dinner out with good friends is always cause for a smile) this meeting was definitely a let down. Not the worst pizza the CPC has ever had, but I don't think any of us will find a reason to head back to La Villa.
Petey Pizza Gives My Pie a 3.1/10.
The Pizza Bread!
An unsuspecting Chicago Pizza Club...
The Stuffed Pepperoni & Mushroom Pizza...
Thin Crust with Shrimp & Garlic...
The Vegetarian Pan Pizza...
Where it went down...
According to this article, the following are all true:
- There are almost 70,000 pizzerias in the United States
- More than 66 percent of them are independently owned
- 17% of all U.S. restaurants are pizzerias
- Nearly 33 percent of all U.S. restaurants have pizza on their menus.
- Chicago is the largest frozen pizza market in the world
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
When the Chicago Pizza Club recently visited My Pie in Lincoln Park, we were surprised to learn that there had once been 23 different locations in 9 states, but that according to the website there were now only two locations, one in Lincoln Park and one in Bucktown.
It turns out that the out of state locations were franchises and that at some point in the 1980s, the owner decided to stop franchising My Pie and the restaurant went back to being exclusively owner-operated and in Chicago.
In much more recent news, it seems the CPC were among the final visitors to the Lincoln Park location, as it is now closed! The Bucktown location is still open and the company is looking for a new location in Lincoln Park.
Monday, June 09, 2008
Punch Neapolitan Pizza
704 Cleveland Ave S, St Paul MN
I went to my college reunion this weekend and may have stumbled on the future of Neapolitan pizza in the United States. Punch Neapolitan Pizza was founded in 1996 by John Sorrano. Sorrano and his family had moved to Italy when he was 8 and he spent a lot of time in a pizzeria there. While on his honeymoon in France in 1995, he and his new bride stumbled upon a Neapolitan pizzeria and he was reinspired. Six months later, he opened the first Punch Neapolitan Pizza. He clearly knew what he was doing as Punch's pizza was certified as authentic by Vera Pizza Napoleatana.
To people who are in love with Neapolitan pizza, that certification is important. More important to the long-term success of Punch is that in 2000, regular customer John Puckett bought into the company. That's the same John Puckett who started Caribou Coffee, sold it, and has a whole lot of money and entrepreneurial experience. There are now five locations in the Twin Cities and a new one is set to open this summer. I suspect there will be many more in the near future.
On to the pizza...
There are two basic pies at Punch: the Margherita which is made with basil, and the Napoli, which is made with oregano. They offer almost 20 different combinations of toppings as well as a build-it-yourself option. All of the pizzas are very thin and cook in an 800 degree wood-burning oven for 90 seconds. As is common with Neapolitan pizza, toppings are fairly sparse and my sausage margherita was no exception. The sausage, which is homemade, is excellent, but there is just not much of it. The sweet sauce, made from crushed San Marzano tomatoes was very good and there was more of it than I expected (but still not enough for my liking). I ordered mine Doppio, which means it has extra mozzarella di buffala. That was a wise decision as the cheese, which is flown in from Naples weekly, was outstanding. Someday I would love to try a stuffed pizza made with mozzarella di buffala. It would cost a fortune, but it would be good.
My cousin got a kid's size margherita with pepperoni which he liked a lot. From what I could tell, the pepperoni was higher in quality than the typical Hormel-style that most places use.
My only complaint about the pizza (aside from my standard gripes about Neapolitan style not having enough toppings or sauce or cheese) was that there was too much olive oil on it. The crust, which had a great taste, was soggy. To eat each piece, I folded the piece in half horizontally and again vertically. That was the easiest way to avoid a mess. And because the pizza is so thin, when I folded it twice, each bite was still smaller than a bite of deep dish or stuffed pizza.
For a Neapolitan pizza, I was very happy with Punch. It was every bit as good as Spacca Napoli, but lacked all of the pretension of the popular Ravenswood spot. Hopefully, the company will expand to Chicago soon.
And the Sausage Pizza...
Behold, the Oven!
Where it went down...
Monday, June 02, 2008
Mineo's Pizza House
2128 Murray Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA
A marital union of two pizza club members is always a special occasion, and on Saturday, May 31, El Presidente and Kate (hereinafter known as La Primera Dona) wed. On Sunday, a few Pizza Clubbers and their friends were to visit Mineo's, which is widely recognized as the best pizza in Pittsburgh. Because a number of Pizza Clubbers were much worse for wear on Sunday morning, only four people attended: Stu and I and our respective Pittsburgh friends/hosts, Joe and Alyssa. Alyssa's boyfriend, who was home recovering from the Penguins loss and a truly impressive amount of whiskey, received a share of pizza at home after the visit.
Mineo's offers three kinds of pizza: a regular thin crust, a white pizza and a Sicilian pizza. Of course, we got one of each. The ordering process was complicated as none of us speak Pittsburghese. When I inquired about the size of the pizzas, the answers were all about cuts as in, "you can order a six-cut Sicilian or a whole Sicilian." After much confusion on my part, I figured out that cut is used instead of slices. It was the first time I truly felt dumb ordering pizza.
Anyhow, we got a small meatball thin crust, a small white pizza with tomatoes and a whole sausage Sicilian (only $4 more than a six-cut). The crust on the meatball thin crust was a good, dense crust - almost like a french bread crust. It's unclear if the ground beef that was allegedly a meatball was ever actually shaped into a meatball, but by the time it was on the pizza, it consisted of pretty sparse small pieces of meat. The sauce was smooth and seemed a little pasty - a far stylistic cry from typical Chicago sauces which are much chunkier.
The white pizza was not a traditional white pizza - there was no ricotta cheese. Instead, there was a nice thick layer of provolone cheese. The crust was similar in texture to the thin crust, but had a significant amount of olive oil in it, giving it a yellowish color. We got tomatoes on the white pizza, which was recommended and they went over very well. There was also a decent amount of olive oil on top of the pizza. Or perhaps that was oil from the provolone cheese. Either way, the white pizza was the unanimous favorite at the table.
The Sicilian pizza had a fluffy crust that was about an inch and a half thick. The sauce on the Sicilian did not seem to be as pasty as the sauce on the thin crust pie. It actually seemed to have even less sauce. The sausage, which is homemade, was incredibly tender and, I thought, delicious.
In the end, we had about twice as much pizza as we needed, but we felt we did our duty by trying all three kinds of pizzas offered by the king of all Pittsburgh pizzerias. Although, by eating the pizzas in the restaurant, it seems we may have been in the minority. A lot of people go to Mineo's and get their pizzas "half-baked" and then take them home to cook it themselves.
One interesting Chicago connection: Before Giovanni (John) Mineo opened the place in 1958, he was planning on opening a bakery when he went to Chicago to visit a friend who owned a pizzeria. According to family legend, that friend convinced Mineo to open a pizzeria and taught him how to make pizza. I've never had anything in Chicago remotely similar to Mineo's, but I can't imagine they'd make this up. If anyone knows the name of the Chicago establishment where John learned how to make his pies, I'd love to know.
Trying to bring back the cup...
The crowd-pleasing White Pizza...
Meatball Thin Crust Pizza...
The mighty Sicilian...
Where it went down...