1935 W. Chicago Ave. (Map)
CPC invaded Cleos on 1/22/09.
Cleo's is a great Ukrainian Village bar with a nice selection of beer. A Bucktown location also opened a couple of years ago and it does a fine job of duplicating the original. Overall, both locations offer an above-average food menu, and their regular specials on drinks and food beat most deals in West Town.
And they serve pizza. On Thursday nights, they offer a deal on $4.99 12" pizzas. But don't go there just for the pizza. Go there, and if you get hungry while you are already there, and you're kind of in the mood for pizza, then maybe order a pizza. I followed this blueprint several times in the past, and always enjoyed both food and drink.
But you know what happens when the CPC busts into a joint with twelve members and eleven 12" pizza options on sale? We order them all. And then Cleo's pizza gets very redundant. The crust is dry and flavorless. The sauce is barely there, and when you do bite into it all you get is an unseasoned paste that sticks to your tongue. The cheese is bland and a bit rubbery once it starts to cool. Because these three foundational elements of the pizza are so banal, the relative success of each pie hinges on the tastiness of the toppings. In this respect, the only selection that utterly failed was the Shrimp and Pesto pizza, with the gummy, flavorless bits of shrimp. By contrast the Flamin' Chorizo was quite nice with its crumbled chorizo given a good kick by the sliced jalapenos. The milder the toppings, the less exciting the pizza.
This may sound like a harsh review of the pizza, but Cleo's is not a pizzeria. It is a great bar that wants to satisfy its hungry customers, and they have a good range of other menu items. They also have a free buffet at 11:00 p.m. on Saturday nights and a brunch on Sunday that features an excellent bloody mary bar. All this can be enjoyed in their dark, colorful space with a variety of seating that includes bar stools, high-top and regular tables, and some booths in the back. The candles and xmas lights gently reveal the vibrant murals and other colourful decor. When the weather is warm, there is also ample seating in the large beer garden at the Chicago Avenue location.
I should also add that Cleo's does not take reservations, but their managers were really friendly and accommodating when I called to ask about getting a table for our large group. The server and bouncer were a little less helpful about actually making that table available when we arrived as scheduled, but we eventually got enough tables and chairs together. Be warned that there is often only one server responsible for the entire restaurant, so the service can be spotty, but they are friendly and helpful whenever they do get to you.
Overall, I'll be back at Cleo's soon to order an Alpha King on tap and a grilled cheese with herbed shallot aioli.
Petey gives Cleo's 3.4/10.
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Friday, January 23, 2009