Union Pizzeria [Google Maps]
1245 Chicago Avenue
Evanston, Illinois 60202
CPC invaded Union Pizzeria on 7/9/09.
Review submitted by AJ
Haute pizza is the new “it” food and any self-respecting town with aspirations of legitimacy requires a vendor. For years, Evanstonians have been underserved in this critical respect and have been subjected to a variety of pizzamongers (with the exception of Lou Malnati’s), primarily catering to the college crowd. However, Executive Chef Vince DiBattista of Campagnola, Evanston’s rustically-elegant Italian comfort food spot, has overseen the “coming out” of its swanky-urbanite kid sister, Union Pizzeria. Originally dubbed Wild Geese, Union Pizzeria opened to much fanfare and praise in February 2008 and has been serving up Italian-style, oak-fired, thin-crust pizza ever since. On this mild summer’s evening, Chicago Pizza Club took the Purple Line north and took a look/see and taste for ourselves to determine if the “it” food had finally arrived in Evanston.
Upon entrance, CPC noticed the trendy ultra-lounge vibe, exemplified by its loft ceiling, artsy exposed brick walls, micro-lighting fixtures, large 25-seat bar and 25 tables. Welcoming patrons is a comfy lounge featuring low sofa sectionals and glass tables. The bar boasts a large selection of German and Belgian microbrews and 20-plus beers by the bottle, plus a diverse wine list of 50 bottles under $50. Inconspicuously tucked behind the bar is a lovingly-made, dome-shaped brick oven, which reminds one and all that kid sister may have some cool, but she knows her roots.
The brick oven deserves a mention as Union Pizzeria noted that it is the only true dome brick oven in the Chicagoland area. The oven burns oak, cooks at about 700 degrees and can hold 10 pizzas at a time. It also features a unique ventilation system that prevented the space from smelling of campfire … a definite plus for those looking for a date spot or a starting point for an evening out.
The service was very good. Water glasses were always full, drink orders always ready to be taken and the pizza delivered together without much wait. On peak evenings, CPC would suggest a few drinks at the bar to offset the 45-minute wait for a table.
We ordered all of the pizzas offered, but for the “mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce.”
In no particular order, the pizzas sampled:
- Pepperoni & Sausage - mozzarella & Sicilian oregano
- Sausage - sweet pepper, onion & Sicilian oregano
- Wild Mushroom - béchamel, fontina & sage
- Artichoke - Sweet peppers, Gaeta olives, fresh mozzarella & garlic
- Prosciutto & Arugula - béchamel & Parmesan
- Margherita - tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella & torn basil
- Lamb Sausage - Pinn-Oak lamb, eggplant, Gaeta & rosemary
- Asparagus - goat cheese, cherry tomatoes & scallions
- Quattro Formaggi - mozz., fontina, Parmesan & provolone
- Shrimp - Nueskes bacon, béchamel, basil & cilantro
In general, the sauce and cheese ratio was even. I never felt myself wanting more of one or the other, which is an admirable quality. Union Pizzeria uses locally-grown and organic products whenever available and we had no doubt. The toppings were all top-notch quality, with each piece obviously handled, whether it was flora or fauna, with the utmost care.
Moreover, the crust was well-executed, but lacked distinct flavor. Given the brick oven, the lack of burn on the crust was surprising. There was definitely some engineering involved in the baking process and we commend the chef and crew on that consistency. However, the inordinately high number of crusts left uneaten on CPC plates was the most telling criticism. This is not something that CPC does with any regularity.
In order to avoid pizza review ad nauseum, I will mention three pies that were particularly noteworthy:
- Lamb Sausage - The general consensus was that the lamb sausage pizza was the best of the evening. Upon delivery, I was presented with the glorious waft of wonderfully fragrant herbs. At first bite, the sausage tasted pleasantly rich, a good balance of fat and protein, which had excellent interplay with the cheese and sauce. I could have used a bit more kick in the sausage, perhaps even a merguez, but as is, it was safe, appropriate and pleasant.
- Proscuitto and Arugula – Skip the salad. Added post-bake, the arugula was refreshing and poignantly accented by strategically- placed parmesan shavings (near the center, noticeable on first bite). The prosciutto melted in my mouth and provided a nice hint of protein to the pie. For those not wanting the fatiness of sausage or the brashness of pepperoni, prosciutto is the definitely the way to go.
- Shrimp – The dark horse and this reviewer’s favorite of the evening. The béchamel, cheese, shrimp and bacon fat make a sublime quartet. The interplay between the shrimp juices and fats created a transparent seafood roux that I will not soon forget. This pizza only got better as it cooled, allowing the roux to settle over time.
The pizza was very good, the execution excellent, the attention to detail very admirable and the overall experience memorable. Union Pizzeria has done a wonderful job of combining old-world tradition with modern sophistication. Evanston … welcome to the “it” club.
CPC gives Union Pizzeria a score of 6.8