Caponie's Trattoria [Map]
3350 N Harlem Ave
Chicago, IL 60634
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.
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Tuesday, January 06, 2009
Caponie's Trattoria [Map]