Piece Brewery & Pizzeria [Map]
1927 W. North Ave.
CPC invaded Piece Brewery & Pizzeria on 10/28/08.
Bill Jacobs knows his breads. After the New Haven native and his brother sold their eponymous Jacobs Brothers Bagels, he started up a pizzeria based on the pies of his youth. And since the doors opened to Piece Brewery & Pizzeria, the place has been an unqualified success. Even now, the Wicker Park eatery does so well that they don't take reservations for groups of less than 10 and they take no reservations after 7 on Friday or 6 on Saturday.
Traditionally, New Haven pizza is cooked in a coal oven, has an oblong shape, and features a thick crust. Well, thick for a thin crust pizza; not nearly as thick as deep dish. Piece gets two out of three of those - there is no coal oven there. However, the rotating shelves in the gas oven get hot enough that there is actually some char on the crust, leaving a crisp and very chewy crust that is ready to hold up whatever toppings you choose to put on it. As I said, the man knows bread.
But before getting to the toppings, one must first choose what style of pizza they want. Piece serves up three distinct categories. Red is the most familiar - like most pizzas, it has tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. A white pizza also has mozzarella, but adds olive oil and garlic and eliminates the sauce. The plain pizza has tomato sauce, Parmesan and garlic and does not have mozzarella. Of course, the Chicago Pizza Club had to try them all.
Up first were a pair of red pies, one with sausage and one with bacon and onions. The sauce, which was plentiful, had a light sweetness and was full of small chunks of tomato. The juicy sausage had a strong garlic flavor; I didn't notice much fennel at all. The only criticism anyone had of the sausage pizza was that there was not enough sausage, a sentiment expressed by a few Pizza Clubbers in attendance. Quantity of toppings was definitely not a problem with the bacon and onion pizza. There were a lot of thinly sliced onions that appeared like they might overwhelm that pie. But the bacon had no problem standing up to the onions, and the thick, flavorful crust and generous helping of tomato sauce balanced it all out to make one very well-received pizza.
On our white pizza (mozzarella, olive oil and garlic), we opted for artichoke hearts. As was the case with the sausage, there was a noticeable lack of toppings on this pizza (at least by Chicago standards - East Coast pizzerias tend to focus more on the crust than the toppings). What wasn't lacking was the garlic - there was a whole lot of it on this pizza. Fortunately, the CPC has a good number of garlic fans, so there were no complaints at all about the garlic levels.
Finally, on our plain pizza (sauce, Parmesan and garlic), we honored Piece's Connecticut roots and ordered a pizza with clams. The white clam pie was invented at Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana in New Haven a little over 80 years ago. We opted to get the clams on a red pizza instead of a white one - not sure if that is a major cultural faux pas or not. I do know that judging by the pace the various pizzas disappeared, the clam pie was the least favorite of the four pizzas. That said, when the CPC went to La Madia a few weeks ago, the clam pizza there was also the consensus least favorite. Perhaps we just not a clam-loving bunch. And that's not to say we did not enjoy it - the CPC left nothing behind for starving children in Africa on this visit.
After polishing off four pizzas, we ordered pizza for dessert. Chocolate pizza! Allegedly inspired by Rachael Ray and Piece co-owner Rick Nielsen, the chocolate pizza consists of Piece's regular pizza crust topped with a homemade chocolate hazelnut sauce (think Nutella, only better) and a small amount of mascarpone cheese. Hot, chewy pizza crust covered in that sauce made for one very popular dessert.
No review of Piece Brewery & Pizzeria would be complete without mention of Piece's beer. Brewer Jonathan Cutler has been with Piece since the beginning and has piled up an impressive number of awards over the last few years, including the 2005 World Beer Cup Champion Small Brewery and Brewmaster Award.
Petey Pizza gives Piece a 7.81.
The Sausage Pizza...
White Pizza with Artichokes...
AJ digs in...
I guess they brew beer or something too...
The Mighty Oven...
The Chocolate Pizza!
Where it went down...
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Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Piece Brewery & Pizzeria [Map]
Thursday, October 23, 2008
Giordano's, probably the best known purveyor of stuffed pizza in the world, has been using largely the same recipe since it was started by the Boglio brothers in the mid-1970s. The man currently responsible for making sure Giordano's stays on top of its game is Leo Spizzirri, Executive Chef. I sat down with him recently at his office, which is Giordano's biggest location, on the corner of Rush and Superior. He filled me in on Giordano's, pizza history, and the World Pizza Champions.
The son of Italian immigrants, Leo grew up in the Chicago area. He learned how to make pizza in teglia (an Italian precursor of stuffed pizza) from his family and he learned how good stuffed pizza is thanks to the Nancy's that was across the street from his house.
Largely self-trained as a chef, Spizzirri has studied pizza-making under some Italian masters, including classes at Scuola Italiana Pizzaioli (Google-translated version is here), where he studied under Grazzaino Bertuzzo.
A little over a year ago, he came to Giordano's as Executive Chef. He filled me in on some of what makes Giordano's pizza so good. The crust features high gluten flower and is allowed to rise for 3-5 days (4 being ideal) before it is made into pizza. The cheese, toppings and sauce are all fresh. Giordano's gets its whole milk mozzarella in large chunks and shreds it themselves, ensuring the cheese has the proper moisture when cooked. The toppings are all fresh, as are the tomatoes that are used to make the sauce.
A number of Giordano's restaurants are franchisees, but none of those are in the City of Chicago. And even the franchises are subject to oversight from Spizzirri, who cites consistency of product as one of the most important functions of his job.
Spizzirri has done so well at Giordano's that Tony Gemignani, one of the founders of the World Pizza Champions, invited him to join the team. That team is the winningest team at the annual World Pizza Championships in Salsomaggiore Terme in Parma, Italy. As Leo put it, they are the Yankees of the World Pizza Championships. This April, thanks to lobbying by Spizzirri and his teammates, stuffed pizza will be allowed in the pizza in teglia category. Many at the competition are unhappy at this development since it's not a traditional pizza style, and Spizzirri has no expectations of winning the category. But once they get a taste of his Chicago pies, who knows what will happen?
I did learn one shocking piece of information about Leo Spizzirri. Despite his upbringing and his job, Leo's favorite place to grab pizza is Chi-Town Pizza, a New York-style pizzeria that I thought was primarily there to serve partiers leaving Division Street bars. Actually, that may its primary purpose, but Spizzirri swears they have great pizza. Of course, the pizza he eats most often is Giordano's, which he says he eats three times a day for "quality control."
Pizza D.O.C. [GoogleMaps]
2251 W Lawrence
CPC invaded Pizza D.O.C. on 10/15/08.
Pizza D.O.C. is now the grizzled veteran of Chicago's Neapolitan-style pizzerias. There are other Italian restaurants scattered throughout the city that also make pizza, but among those who are best known for their pizza, D.O.C. is the longest running. We originally came here 3 years ago and gave it largely mixed reviews. While we appreciated the quality of ingredients, there were complaints about soggy crusts and low quantity of toppings. Now, after having recently reviewed Coalfire, La Madia, and Spacca Napoli we return to our original Chicago Neapolitan destination.
We ordered 6 pizzas
- Quattro Formaggi (bleu, mozzarella, swiss, parmesan)
- Boscaiola (sausage)
- Fiorentina (salami and roasted peppers)
- Gustosa (egg, asparagus, ham, and parmesan cheese)
- Asparagi e Caprino (asparagus and goat cheese)
In general, I think we were fairly pleased with our pizza. The crust was not hard and dried out although they were a little too liberal with the dry flour they put on the plates to keep the pizza from sticking. I kept tasting it throughout the evening. The pizza was sliced for us, which seems like a mundane thing until you go to a restaurant that doesn't do it and you end up operating on your pizza with a dull blade. The sauce, when present, was again barely noticeable. The asparagus was great I think it works better when it's chopped up as opposed to the more aesthetically pleasing but less practical whole spears used at La Madia. And the prior complaints I logged about lack of toppings seems to now be satisfied; the sausage pizza in particular had a great sausage that completely covered the cheese canvas.
Maybe this place has improved somewhat from our last visit or, more likely, our tastes have opened up a bit. In any case, another successful meeting at a very good neighborhood pizzeria. While some consider this a destination pizzeria, with so many other options in town I don't think that's true. Certainly a good pizza, but no longer the only game in town.
Petey gives Pizza D.O.C. a 6.5
The Pizza Oven...
Waiting for some deliciousness...
The Fiorentina Pizza...
The Gustosa Pizza...
The Asparagus and Goat Cheese...
What a spread...
Where it went down...
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Marc Kelly Smith invented the poetry slam in Chicago in the 1980s.
In 2005, he married his craft to another one of Chicago's gifts to the world when he debuted his poem, "Deep Dish Pizza" at a press conference for Stirring Things Up in Chicago, a citywide culinary and arts festival.
Here it is:
Chicago: the deep dish city of deep dish peopleWhen I emailed Smith to ask for a copy of the poem he told me a couple of great stories:
Everybody’s juices bubblin’ & sizzlin’ & spittin’ inside.
And a crust that can be thick, when it needs to be thick
When it gets poked and fingered and belittled
And cast off as just another second-city helping,
a flatlander’s windy cheese.
But we know better, we who live this city and love its people,
know that it’s SECOND TO NONE when it comes to a slice
Of authenticity, genuine no BS … “Skip the pretense, pal.”
“Hey, you ain’t puttin’ that pomposity into my pizza pie, amigo!”
Second to none when it comes
To feeding a vision of “yes” to no small dreams
Of can do. Go for it. Make it happen.
And then, stand back and watch the worlds beyond our crust
Try to lay claim to the juices we cooked up,
That we brought to life, that we passed on as a gift of nutrition,
For those who hungered for a spirit like ours.
So here’s duh scoop: This deep dish of “do it” comes from us,
From our city and our people …
“Hey Lou, tell the poet, ‘Enough talk, let’s eat!’”
The Speak’Easy Ensemble provided back-up vocals to my front performance as they emerged from the back of the audience accenting and echoing sections of the poem, and causing a little stir amongst the dignitaries, politicians, and reporters not use to slam anarchy and in-audience poetic presentations. On the last lines, however, some of those same stone-faced politicians were teary eyed with civic pride and sentimentality … and when a Lou Malnati’s pizza was delivered at the cue line “Let’s eat!” a little roar of pleasure went up and we devoured the deep dish reality.
Following the ceremony and throughout the summer copies of the poem were delivered to about one hundred thousand people inside Lou Malnati pizza boxes. Not one person ever told me that they noticed the poem included with their pizza delivery, not even my son, Carl, who ordered pizzas from Malnati’s on a regular basis. Positive proof that pizza ranks higher than poems when Chicago’s appetites are considered.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
Fans of the original Spacca Napoli can rejoice. According to Chicago Magazine, Spacca Napoli's first pizzaiola is opening a new, 110-seat Neapolitan menu in Lincoln Park in January.
Nella Grassano and her husband Frank are joining forces with Scott Harris, owner of Mia Francesca, to open Nella Pizzeria Napoletana at 2423 N. Clark in the former home of Fiesta Mexicana.
This place is so serious about their pies that they are bringing in real live Italians to build the oven.
Sunday, October 12, 2008
On Tuesday, October 14 from noon to one, as part of the one-year anniversary of Jersey Boys in Chicago, Broadway in Chicago and TheatreDreams will be giving away 4,000 slices of Home Run Inn Pizza at four different downtown locations:
* Bank of America Theatre (18 W. Monroe St.)
* Couch Place – James M. Nederlander Way (State St. between Lake and Randolph)
* Pioneer Court (401 N Michigan Ave)
* Illinois Center Plaza (111 E. Wacker)
Since Home Run Inn slices are usually squares, it's unclear whether people will actually be getting slices, but that's the word the press release is using.
Folks who attend the Tuesday evening performance of Jersey Boys will also be treated to Home Run Inn Pizza, Eli's Cheesecake and Coke. That performance is not currently sold out and can be purchased here.