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Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Caponie's Trattoria [Meeting #73]

Caponie's Trattoria [Map]
3350 N Harlem Ave
Chicago, IL 60634
773.804.9024

CPC invaded Caponie's Trattoria on 1/6/09.

When most people think of Little Italy in Chicago, they think of the Tri-Taylor area around UIC, which is where the greatest numbers of Italian immigrants settled in the decades around the turn of the 20th century. Around World War II, a second, smaller Little Italy developed along a 2-mile stretch of Harlem Avenue that starts in Elmwood Park and goes north on the eastern edge of Belmont Heights in the heart of the Dunning Community Area on the northwest (emphasis on west) side of the city.

The Chicago Pizza Club kicked off 2009 in Littler Italy at Caponie's, which is home to one of the first wood-burning pizza ovens in Chicago (at least among current restaurants - presumably some turn of the century places in the original Little Italy were serving up some wood-oven pizzas). Established in 1996, Caponie's also sells deep dish and stuffed pies as well as panzerottis, which they describe as pizza turnovers.

As usual, the CPC tried every style of pizza on the menu. Up first were two thin-crust pies, one regular and one extra thin (the latter is not on the menu, but judging from our waitress' reaction, is not an uncommon request). For the regular thin crust, we got the Carne Innamorati, which features Italian sausage, bacon, pepperoni, and Canadian bacon. It came with a significant amount of mozzarella and a thin sauce that stood up pretty well to the salty meat. There was meat all over this pizza and no one dominated the others. The amount of toppings, cheese and sauce were a little more than the crust could comfortably handle, particularly those pieces from the middle of the pizza.

For the extra thin crust, we went with the White Pizza, which has mozzarella, fontina, ricotta, parmesan and pecorino romano cheeses, along with garlic and fresh (according to the menu) sauteed spinach. The menu suggests adding applewood smoked bacon to the White Pizza and we were happy to follow that direction. Other than the ricotta, there were very modest amounts of each cheese on the White Pizza. There was a very noticeable amount of garlic and more than one member noted that the spinach lacked flavor (a couple of people were convinced that it was previously frozen). The cracker crust held up this sauceless pie easily. Pizza Clubbers were divided as to whether the thin or extra thin crust was preferable, and the consensus was that both were good.

Up next were the two plain panzerottis, which are very similar to pizza puffs. They consisted of a thick circle of dough, folded in half and filled with mozzarella and a lightly sweetened marinara sauce. The whole thing is then deep fried (baked was an option, but when the CPC gets to pick between baked and fried, the choice is clear). We waited a few minutes after the panzerottis arrived before cutting into them, but that did not stop all of the flow of melted cheese out of the crust. The cheese on all of the pizzas was noticeably stringy. There were differing opinions as to whether the cheese was too tough, but it was unquestionably stretchy. Nowhere was that more noticeable than the panzerottis.

The stuffed pizza with spinach and eggplant was unique in a couple of ways. First, the eggplant topping was new to most of us and was very well-received. Second, the top crust was noticeably thicker than is common on a stuffed pizza. Usually, the top layer of crust on a stuffed pizza is so thin and soft that most people don't notice it's there. This one was thin, but it has some substance and chew to it. The chunky sauce was normal stuffed pizza sauce. This was one salty pizza, though there was some disagreement as to whether the extra salt was in the sauce, the crust or the cheese.

The deep dish sausage pizza had a higher cheese:crust ratio than is common among traditional deep dish sausage pizzas. There was a generous amount of fatty, crumbly sausage on there, but the cheese definitely dominated that pizza as well (though I may be biased as I ended up with a slice that inexplicably had no sauce on it at all). The thick crust was a bit softer than it standard on deep dish pizzas, but it was certainly sturdy enough to hold up the rest of the pie.

No review of Caponie's would be complete without mentioning the decor of the place. From the tagline ("The pizza you can't refuse") to the walls that are covered with pictures and posters from the first two Godfather movies and the Sopranos as well as virtually every well-known Italian-American entertainer, Caponie's is either having some fun playing with stereotypes or is a parody of an Italian restaurant. Either way, it is definitely some of the more eye-catching decor of any pizzeria the CPC has visited.

Petey Pizza gives Caponie's Trattoria a 6.4833.



Caponies Trattoria on Urbanspoon

9 comments:

  1. So, 2009 for the Chicago Pizza Club kicked off as we sat down under the watchful eyes of Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro, James Gandolfini and Dean Martin to sample our first pizzas of the year. The consensus seemed to be that the thin crust pizzas were the best—with some argument as to which thin crust has the edge—and I'm inclined to agreee, though i enjoyed the extra thin crust just a little bit more. The extra thin had a nice crispness to it, and while I didn't notice the other four cheeses beyond the ricotta the spinach and bacon toppings made for an enjoyable pizza. I found both the deep dish and the stuffed pizza to be a bit too salty for my tastes but I did like the chunkier tomato sauce that they used on both of those pies. The sausage on the deep dish I'd say was above average, and had a heavy fennel flavor that stood out on some of the larger chunks I tasted. The cheese was consistently tough and stringy on all the pies, but I kind of liked that, and I thought it had a decent flavor. Where the stringy cheese stood out/worked the best was in the panzerotti.

    So the first meeting of 2009 was far from a disaster, but also not quite the mind-blowing start to the year that a modest, young Pizza Clubber would hope for. Did I enjoy the pizzas I had? Yeah, for the most part. Would I hop in my car and drive way out to this place to eat again? Fahgeddaboudit . 6.5

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  2. This place had a fun decor and pleasant waft from the wood-burning oven. The thin crust's texture was above average to me-- crispy and slightly chewy. The bacon, four cheese and spinach toppings was an excellent combo. I was pretty full by the time the pans came out. However, I never had a spinach and eggplant combo, and I am pleased to report it worked well. The panzerotti's crust reminded me of a pastry. While the toppings were flavorful, I felt the sauce could've been more so. Back to the decor: Caponie's were squinting at you everywhere--Tony Soprano peers over you while you eat, and when you go to the bathroom. Ay maron!

    6.0

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  3. There was a vast difference in quality between the thin pizzas as the stuffed and deep dish pies. The crusts on the thin pies were both cooked well and had a great flavor from the wood-burning oven. I preferred the crispier extra thin crust but the regular thin crust was also very good. The meat on the Carne Innamorati was not so exciting and a little too salty. The sausage, which was crumbled had a nice chewiness from the fat and a nice flavor but not enough to stand out in the face of the other saltier meats. I liked the cheese, spinach and garlic on the white pizza, but would have preferred less ricotta and more of the other cheeses. There was about as much ricotta as there was of the other four cheeses combined.

    The crust on the stuffed and deep dish pizzas were fine and I liked the sauce and toppings. The cheese certainly could have been better, but it was good enough. They were both decidedly average.

    I was pleasantly surprised by the panzerottis. The crust was chewier than I expected and the sweet marinara sauce was really good. I think the pleasant chewiness of the fried bread offset the unpleasant stringiness of the cheese.

    I give Caponie's a 6.25. Good enough, but not worth a second trip.

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  4. My score is a 6.5

    Caponie's should quit selling the deep-dish and stuffed. Then I would have given them over an 8 for their thin crust and haute-cuisine pizza puffs.

    Alas.

    Instead of the meat of the eggplant, I got a few strips of the peel. The peel is quite tough and usually not served. While it was good roughage for the GI tract, I was unhappy to find it in my pizza while other members had the better parts of the fruit. Points off.

    The sausage was fatty and juicy. I liked that very much. The pepperoni also had some grease on it. I liked that also. Medals all around!

    Non-thin crust pies had a good, bready crust, salty and chunky sauce, but I really disliked the cheese. I liken it to a cheese stick someone on a diet might eat. Points off.

    The thin crust was my favorite, although the extra-thin was good as well. I would eat this pizza again. In fact, I will eat it again since this is only a 20 minute drive for me. Again, the crust was like a delicious piece of bread and while the toppings were for the most part fair, I think they were adequate. The crust is a big winner here. Medals all around!

    Panzerotti, next time I am going to put pepperoni in you so we can be better friends.

    El Prez, out.

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  5. I really enjoyed Caponie's. As everyone else has commented, the thin crust is where it's at. Frankly, we've gotten really into the rhythm of ordering every variety of pizza offered at each establishment, and Caponie's is a shining example of why we should move away from that. I would have given this pizza an 8 or 8.5 if we had not ordered the deep dish or stuffed. It is obvious from their setup and their menu that their primary focus is the thin crust coming out of their wood-fired oven. At the same time, the other styles were still good enough that I certainly don't fault Caponie's for offering their customers such variety. But I think we would have gotten the picture if we had just ordered either the deep dish or stuffed, and had an extra thin crust. Anyway, I guess that's a matter to be discussed at the next annual State of the Pizza Club meeting, but I just want to explain why I'm giving a modest score to a place that has great wood-fired thin crust pizza.

    And what a treat the thin crust was. The whole restaurant has a smoky aroma, but it is not too strong in the crust. I liked the thin and extra thin. The crust was light and airy. The sauce was well balanced with modest seasoning. The cheese was pretty standard, not very gooey. I really liked all the toppings. The meat toppings were all well-seasoned and perfectly cooked. I particularly appreciate that with the bacon, as it was perfectly crispy and not greasy, as you often find at places offering bacon as a topping. The meaty delight was probably my favorite of the evening. I liked the white pizza, but my slice had too giant gobs of ricotta that kind of disrupted the other flavors.

    The panzerotti was nice. We got the fried variation, but it was not too bready or heavy.

    I liked the deep dish and stuffed just fine. The chunky sauce was key to my enjoyment. There was too much dense cheese plopped on top, but I cleaned my plate. I liked the spinach and eggplant combination.

    As I said above, I was ready to give this place over an 8 but if I have to factor in the deep dish and stuffed, which were good but not fantastic, I give it a 7. I will definitely be back to try more of the thin crust, because Caponie's is actually very accessible for those of us close to Grand Ave, which will take you NW and have you there in about 20 minutes.

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  6. Caponie's Trattoria is now on my list for favorite thin crust pizzas in Chicago. Who would think ricotta cheese on a pizza would be so good? I sure didn't. When the extra thin crust white pizza with spinach, multiple cheeses and bacon arrived, I initially thought it was going be too thin and crispy. Boy was I suprised! The ricotta gave the pizza a fresh, mild taste, and when combined with the spinach, garlic and bacon, created pure bliss. Although the crust was very thin, it was an excellent chewy piece of italian bread that held all of the toppings wonderfully. I must mention that I enjoyed the regular thin crust pizza as well, but wasn't as thrilled with the toppings. The crust had more substance as one would expect due to its thickness, but still maintained great chew and crunch qualities.

    The remaining three pizzas were my least favorite of the evening. I disliked the panzerotti mostly because of the fried factor. Perhaps if we tried the baked version I would've been drawn to have more than half of a slice. The exterior shell tasted sugar coated and fried, while cheese and sauce oozed out. Lastly, the stuffed spinach and eggplant pizza was good. While cutting my slice, I found the eggplant to be quite tough. However, when I ate it, I enjoyed the flavor it added...knocking out some of the spinach intensity. The crust was also very good. It was similar if not the same to that of the thin crust. I generally notice a sweet dense crust on the thicker pies, so this was a nice change. One quick note on the deep dish with sausage - way too salty! I had one bite and couldn't finish it. Something was out of sync.

    Go to Caponie's for some delicious thin crust pizza. You'll be wowed.

    Caponie's Trattoria gets a 6.5.

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  7. 6.0

    The wood fire oven made a pretty darn good thin crust pizza. The extra thin (not listed on the menu, but apparently a pretty frequent request) was our favorite. They really should make all their thin crust extra thin in our opinion. The white pizza really shined especially with the addition of apple wood smoked bacon on top. Some thought the ricotta overwhelmed the rest of the cheese, but that all depends on how much you like ricotta. The meaty toppings we had on the regular thin crust were delicious but may have been too much for the crust to handle since the middle pieces were so droopy they were difficult to keep together. We were generally disappointed by the deep and stuffed crusts. The one high point was the yummy eggplant topping which we wouldn’t think to order but enjoyed. If you love Totino’s pizza rolls, order the panzerotti. I will pass on it next time. If you’re in the ‘hood, give it a shot.
    -Hui and Stephanie

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  8. The two thin crust pizzas were superb. I usually do not like thin crusts, but these pizzas were fantastic. You could taste each of the meats which were evenly distruibuted and seemed of good quality on the Carne Inomoblahblah pizza. I was a little disappointed that I didn't get more sense of the applewood smoked bacon on the cheese and spinach paper thin crust (I think the waitress said paper thin under that thick accent), and I would have preferred a little less ricotta and more of the other cheeses. Somehow the combo still worked as it is tied with the meat pizza for my fav of the night.

    Panzarotti is probably a winner every time at this place. I don't know if it's even possible not to like fried dough stuffed with cheese. I think that's all I'll say about that one.

    As for the thicker crust pizzas, I did love the actual crusts (tastes much like the bread served before dinner), but the pizzas didn't quite tickle my taste buds as well as the others. Of the two, the eggplant spinach was definitely my favorite, possibly just for the novelty of having eggplant on my pizza. It was a welcome surprise in my slice, having forgotten we ordered it. As for the sausage, I really liked the chunky tomato sauce that was spread all over the top of it. The cheese was a little too much for me as each bite was heavy and chewy and just simply hard to digest.

    I think I'll throw Caponies a 6.85. I'm fairly certain the score would be much higher if we hadn't gotten the thick crust pies. But, I loved all of their toppings and could eat there again if ever out that way shopping for a wedding dress in one of the 2000 strip malls lining that street.

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  9. The Carne Innamorati was by far my absolute favorite of our selections. I found the crust to be a perfect thickness; cheese, sauce and bread were all in a perfect balance. Every bite was pleasing, with multiple meats in every mouthful. As much as I adored the meat, the sauce also really stood out for me. The tomato flavor was very fresh and I loved the extra bite of garlic. If it weren't for the other 3 pizzas I had to try, and the panzerotti, I would have happily stuffed myself on this pizza.

    Though the Carne Innamorati had plenty, the garlic really stood out on the white pie. I appreciated the crispness of the crust, and as other reviewers have mentioned, how well it stood up to the toppings. It might have been my favorite crust of the evening, and I would be
    interested to taste the toppings of the first pizza on this crust. I didn't taste all four cheeses, but noticed the mozzarella, as well as
    pleasing pockets of ricotta. Some people talked about the spinach being frozen, and it probably was, but still lent good flavor
    to the slice and didn't make the pizza a soggy mess as spinach sometimes can.

    The thick crust slice wasn't so exciting to me, but it could very well be because thick crust just isn't my preferred type of pizza. Its
    elements certainly weren't bad -- the sauce was tasty, the cheese was good -- but it just didn't really blow me away, especially in comparison to the other slices.

    On the stuffed slice, the real surprise for me was the eggplant. I guess with its frequent use in Italian cooking, it does make sense to toss it on a pizza, but I hadn't thought about doing so before. The outcome, in combination with the spinach and the incredible sauce, turned out to be pretty darn tasty.

    I really did enjoy eating at Caponie's Trattoria. Judging by the pizza alone, I would give it a 6.75. I found it to be good, and the
    meat slice was certainly delicious, but there was nothing really mind blowing, and I probably won't go there again unless I'm in that 'hood. The restaurant itself was very cute. It was tiny, the service was great, and as mentioned, the décor was good kitsch. The pizza oven was my favorite feature of the restaurant. It created a pretty good crust, but even better yet, it sent me away smelling like I'd been eating pizza over a campfire. My major complaints about Caponie's would probably be the location (it takes about an hour to get from the north side of the city to there via transit), and the wine list.

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