This is the blog and public record of the Chicago Pizza Club. We eat a lot of pizza and share our thoughts on it as well as post any relevant pizza news we come across.

We invite you to post any comments on anywhere you have eaten under our review of that establishment. If you have any questions, please read the FAQs on the sidebar first to see if it has already been answered. Please note that we are at capacity and are not seeking new members. And finally, if you have a place you think we should try, have some other inquiry, or want to send us love/hatemail then please contact us at:


Thursday, May 28, 2009

Chicago Pizza Club FAQ

Somehow, our small website has started to get more and more traffic that isn't composed of just our friends. I'm really happy if we can be a Chicago pizza resource for the public. There are a lot of pizzerias out there and we've got so many to try!

We do get a fair amount of email these days and so I thought I'd write this Frequently Answered Questions post to eliminate some of the emails that have easily answered and repetitive questions. If your question is answered here, please don't let that stop you from emailing us to let us know what you like and don't like about the web page or what we do. Suggestions are highly valued.

1. What is the best pizza in Chicago?

  • Easily the most emailed question. I don't have an answer for this, nor will I ever. Don't ask this. It depends on the style, the toppings, how much cash I have, how far away from my current location I am willing to go, how long I will wait for a pizza, the phases of the moon, the current White Sox winning streak, the price of gas, and the number of Illinois governors under suspicion of corruption. It's hard enough for me to narrow it down to ten places. I do promise to sometime soon create a list of 10-20 places that we consider the best in town. The list will not be in any order or anything, but it will consist of places that will leave you happy and satisfied.
2. Does "X" pizzeria deliver to me in "X" state?
  • Sadly, this is a frequently asked question. How should I know if Uno's will ship you pizza in Idaho? I don't mean to be rude here, but seriously, don't you think contacting the particular pizzeria to ask them this question makes much more sense?
3. Have you tried "X" pizzeria?
  • Without exception, if you don't see it on the blog then we haven't eaten there as a group. That doesn't mean some members haven't tried it on their own. Usually this question is a lead-in to suggesting a place for us to try, however. I LOVE suggestions. I can't know what a small place in your neighborhood is making. But if you say it's very good, rest assured I will put it on my Magic List of places to try. Please note that it may take us a while to get to it.
4. I'm coming into Chicago for vacation/business/to visit relatives and want to know where to eat.
  • A clever form of question #1. Same answer. The creation of our list will help answer this question.
5. Do you know the nutritional value of these pizzerias?
  • I did get one question about this, but since people care more and more about what they shove in their mouths I figured I'd include it here. The short and long answer are that we have no idea what the caloric distribution is for any pizza nor do we know the amount of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats contained inside any pizza.
6. Can I join?
  • We have had some members join now after emailing us. We're looking for people that are dedicated to eating pizza with us on a regular basis and are able to put those thoughts into legible comments. Email us for further information. We have slowed down our intake of new members for now, but email me anyway and when we're ready for new members I will send out an email. If you're not into coming out with us 2-3x/month, then don't bother.
7. I work for a pizzeria or a food company and would like for you to try our pizza. Will you do it?
  • Yes we will, but we will be completely transparent in our review. We will let people know whatever we might have gotten for free and we will judge it the same as any other pizza. Furthermore, if it's a negative review we will not can it or edit it in any way. So don't ask unless you have a good product.
8. Would you be interested in X event?
  • We've gotten a few interesting event invites. It's hard to say what any of the members would be interested in doing, but we're a pretty fun-loving crowd. So send away. I'm sure at least someone will be interested in participating in your event.
9. Can we do a link exchange?
  • Probably, provided your blog has some relevance to food, pizza, or Chicago.
10. How do you grade your pizzas? Why did my favorite pizzeria only get a 6.5 from you guys?
  • Here is a link, also featured on our sidebar, about how we grade pizza. Please rid yourself of the notion that a 6 is D-grade pizza. Our pizza scale is different from that. I would say anything above a 6 is a good pizza, anything above an 8 is great pizza, and anything that might get above a 9 is exceptional. Of course, with the grade being an average of our members' scores, it can be very hard for a place to get above an 8.
Am I missing any? Leave it in the comments please and I'll answer it.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

John's Pizzeria Ristorante & Lounge [Meeting #81]

John's Pizzeria Ristorante & Lounge [GoogleMaps]
2104 N. Western Ave.
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 384-1755

CPC invaded John's on 5/27/09.

Review submitted by Chand.

John (who according to the manager didn't give his last name out) immigrated from Sicily bringing with him his family's secret recipes. This formed the basis of the pizzeria he established in the West Bucktown area in 1957. His sons Tony & Larry continue the tradition since John's passing, operating the sole establishment for 15 years now.

You can spot John's driving down Western by the large green and white sign. Walk inside and welcome back to 1957. The interior is truly lounge-style, replete with vinyl seating and table coverings and nostalgic posters of Italy. Low, worn tulip lights add to the time-warp atmosphere. To your left there's a diner-counter and on the right a small dining area. The main dining room is in the next room along with a small bar in back. They also provide cute puzzle paper place mats that even so-called adults are drawn too.

The menu is extensive with classic appetizers such as onion rings and an assortment of garlic bread. There is just about every type of pasta, "tasty" sandwich and random stuff you can imagine (click on the website link to peruse their full menu).

This is my first time at John's, and since I had come across a 2007 Timeout list ranking it top 5 thin crust bar pies in Chicago, we chose the following:

  • Roman Pizza (Sausage, Onion, Garlic, Basil & Tomato)
  • Meat-zza Pizza (Bacon, Sausage, Hamburger & Pepperoni)
  • Taco Pizza (Lettuce, Tomato, Hamburger, Onion, Taco Seasoning & Jalepenos on the side)
  • Veggie Pizza (Mushroom, Onion, Bell pepper & Black Olive)
  • Margherita Pizza (Tomato, Basil & Mozzarella)
John's mostly uses fresh ingredients, including sausage delivered daily. The thin crusts came out with a fair amount of carmelization and generous toppings. Greasiness was above average, however according to reviews on yelp and other sites, this is what's expected when you're ordering from Johns. While the outside crust was crispy, it definitely got soggier as you worked your way toward the center. The cheese was chewy, but not overly so. Perhaps I waited too long for my slices, but I felt they were lukewarm too. Most people enjoyed the Meat-zza, which meshed together well without losing the distinct flavors. The taco pizza had stronger taco seasonings, which prevented it from the usual devolution into a salad pizza. The Roman was a pleasant variation of a frequent CPC combo of sausage, onion and garlic, with added basil and tomato to mellow it out. My impressions of the Veggie and Margherita were positive, but neither particularly stood out, however I heard a few people say they liked the Margherita. A football 14"x22" pizza is also trumpeted, but we elected not to try that. One note about the service: even though we had a large 15 person group, it still was rather lackadaisical. Nobody greeting you at the door, among other things like having to track down the waitress to get the check. That being said, perhaps what makes up for that was the bill being a recession-friendly $7 per person. People were enjoying themselves, and the locals consistently give it high marks on review websites. Overall, John's is a decent place if you're wandering down Western Avenue, looking for solid value.

Chicago Pizza Club gives John's Pizzeria a 6.6

John's Pizzeria Ristorante and Lounge on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

[Chicago Pizza News] GQ's Alan Richman Says Great Lake Offers Country's Best Pizza

Submitted by Marla Collins' Husband.

When I reviewed Andersonville's Great Lake for Slice, I was blown away by the quality of the ingredients and the crust. A combination of the restaurant's size (small) and the Pizza Club's reviewing process (we are rotating review-writing much more than in the past), we haven't held a meeting at Great Lake yet, though I know at least a couple of other members have been.

Well, it's now going to be even more difficult to get a table at Great Lake, which already demanded notoriously long waits. GQ's food critic, Alan Richman, just came out with a very thorough review of his top 25 pizzas in the United States. In conducting his research, Richman went to 109 pizzerias and sampled 386 pizzas.

Chicagoans should be skeptical of Richman's opinions on food after he wrote this asinine drivel about Chicago hot dogs last September, but the pizza article differs from the hot dog one considerably in that he clearly put a lot of thought into his work this time. Of course, like so many critics from outside of Chicago, Richman entirely dismisses deep dish and stuffed pizza, but that's so common among East Coast critics that it's not even worth getting worked up over. Still, when I read Richman's rankings of his top ten pizza cities and see that Chicago is fourth behind New York, San Francisco and Detroit, I have to question the man's sanity.

Monday, May 18, 2009

[Chicago Pizza News] Gino's East is Expanding to South Bend

Indiana is going to get its second Gino's East when Holladay Properties opens its second franchise in the state. Holladay already has a Gino's in Highland.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Traverso's [Meeting #80]

Traverso's [GoogleMaps]
15601 S Harlem Ave
Orland Park, IL 60660

CPC invaded Traverso's on 5/13/09.

Review submitted by Jen

The Traverso brothers, John and George, have been Chicago suburb restaurant owners since 1962 when they purchased a tavern in Roseland. Within the next few years they opened two pizza restaurants in Mount Greenwood, the second in response to overwhelming demand for their pizza. With the opening of the restaurants, they also employed their mother, Mama T, a veteran to the food industry and holder of Traverso's “famous homemade recipes” from Italy (where she grew up). AND, only a few years after that, they opened their first Travero's in Orland park, eventually closing the Mount Greenwood restaurants in order to focus their attention on it. It seems to have paid off. They had to expand it to meet demand and in 1993 George's sons Mike and Paul carried on the family tradition and opened a location in Naperville.

We had a small group, so ordered only 2 of the pizzas, both large and thin crust. It was plenty for four people and leftovers. We ordered:

  • Bacon and Mushroom
  • Sausage, Onion and Green Pepper
There was an option for double crust, but since it appeared to be an afterthought -- (it was itemized along with the extra cheese charge) -- we opted to just do both as single, thin crusts. Both pizzas came out about 20 minutes after ordering, piping (mouth singeing) hot -- but a good temperature after a few minutes. Overall, I think the pizzas went over really well. The first thing we all noticed was the crust, which was very thin, but held up well under the toppings. The sauce was thick and plentiful, and tasted heavily of oregano and thyme. The sausage was made at the restaurant, with good quality meat; it had a great texture and none of the chewy weirdness you sometimes encounter with lower grades. The cheese was standard, and a few of us thought that it might have been the source of saltiness in the slices, (although I think it was mostly the bacon that was responsible for that). The toppings were in good proportions; almost every bite had all ingredients and the right amount of cheese.

One thing that should be mentioned is that we went on a Wednesday night, which has karaoke starting at 8pm. This has to be the best karaoke night I've ever been to -- all of the performers were obviously regulars, (we were told that they would show up even during a tornado watch, and it turns out that there was one that night), and they sang wonderfully. They were an older crowd and sang mostly standards while some couples danced and others mingled at the bar. Also of note, the service was impeccable, truly outstanding.

As a group, we seemed to have similar opinions about the pizza. We liked the crispiness of the thin crust and the quality of the meat but thought that the cheese and mushrooms were mediocre and would have liked the pizza to be less salty.

Overall, I think Traverso's is a gem in the southwest suburbs, and it is certainly worth going to for the pizza, (and the overall experience), if you are in the area and have a car.

Chicago Pizza Club gives Traverso's a 6.2

Traverso's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Friday, May 08, 2009

[Pizza Club News] ZOMG! We're Famous!

I was contacted a while back by one of the guys that was doing the Outside The Loop radio show on Loyola's WLUW (88.7) about being a part of his show one day. We could never figure out a time and I think we both sort of forgot about it. Recently, I was contacted by Mike Stephens (now the solo host) and we finally got together and had a conversation over some pizza at Coalfire, which we also reviewed shortly after it opened. Briefly, I think I like it much more now than I did at the time of our original review. As for the interview, Jennifer and I ended up participating. I don't think we say anything too insightful (or embarassing), but for people that don't know we exist it should be a nice introduction. It was fun and I want to thank Mike for trying to make us not sound like fools.

I hadn't heard of their show until they contacted me last year, but I listened to it to see what they talk it. It's pretty much a Chicago-centric audio blog. There is a lot of interesting stuff they talk about (Chicago Baconfest 2009, for one) and it's one of my two podcasts I download onto my iPhone. The other one is about video games (I have to keep my street cred). The show airs live Fridays at 6pm and you can listen to it on the radio or online. If you miss it, they offer the option to either stream or download the shows after the fact from their website. Check it out - they are also featuring some tips from the Parking Meter Geek on this show and he is a personal hero of mine.

If you listen to it, let me know how nasal and retarded I sound.

[Chicago Pizza News] What Happens When You Hand-Toss Pizza Dough?

In case you've ever wondered, there's apparently a lot going on when your pizza dough is flying through the air under the control of a well-trained pizza chef. Some Australian physicists studied the matter and it seems our down-under friends what to apply what they've learned towards ultrasonic motors. Sound complicated? Read for yourself here.

Monday, May 04, 2009

[Meet the Members] Neil

Screen Name: Neil

Real Name: Neil

Came out of the Oven: Springfield, IL

Favorite toppings: Sausage and garlic are usually on my baseline pizza. Once I've gotten to know a place a bit I'll branch out with artichoke, meatballs and tomatoes to try to find the perfect combination. There are a few pizzerias I've been to that had roasted duck which I found unbelievably delicious.

First Pizza Club Meeting: March 25, 2008 at Armand's.

Favorite Deep Dish Pizza: Art of Pizza for a stuffed pie and Gino's North for a pan pizza. Can't get the memory out of my head of picking up a 10" stuffed from Art of Pizza and thinking there had to be a brick in the box.

Favorite Thin Crust Pizza: I never thought I'd like chicken on a pie, but I dream of the chicken, artichoke and garlic pizza with red sauce from Piece. Simply outstanding!

Favorite Pizza outside of Chicago: Gallina's Pizza in Springfield, IL. There are 3 Gallina's Pizza restaurants in the Springfield area, the one on Dirksen Pkwy is the only one in my book. Vito makes the best New York style pizza I've ever had.

Had Pizza in the Motherland? Italy, yes. Naples, no. Had some wonderful pizza in Rome that was wrapped in butcher paper so you could eat it on the run. The closest I got to a Naples pizza was in Venice at Aqua Pazza, a spot run by a former resident of Naples and cooked in a traditional wood fired oven.

What Do You Do When Not Eating Pizza? Work in Information Technology for a non-profit and ride my bicycle.

Personal Pizza Statement: A perfect pizza isn't about the crust or toppings, it's about bring them together in perfect harmony.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

[Second Helping] Pizzeria Bianco

I was recently in Phoenix for a conference. When I was told I was invited to present something, my first thought was that I would finally get a chance to try the famed Pizzeria Bianco. Marla Collins' Husband did an excellent job reviewing it for our website after his trip last year, so I don't think there is any need for me to repeat information on the background of the restaurant. This merely serves as a second opinion on the place. Also, I forgot my camera during this trip, but I ordered one of the same pizzas he did so you can salivate over his pictures.

My friend and I ordered 2 pizzas:

  • The Wiseguy, which is a white pizza with mozzarella, sausage, and roasted onions
  • The Margherita, which was tomato sauce, mozzarella, and basil
Pizzeria Bianco cooks their pizzas with white oak and pecan wood. The oak surprised me a bit, because it is usually a strong flavor. However, given that our pizzas were cooked in less than 2 minutes, I suppose it doesn't have time to be overwhelmed by the strong oak flavor. I was unable to really get a hint of the pecan wood in my meal but the oak smell escaped the oven (we sat next to it) and I was able to smell/taste it a bit in my pizza. I think he probably uses these hardwoods more for their heat qualities than for any flavor they impart due to the short time the pizzas are exposed to it. That, however, is just a guess.

My wait was shorter than MCH's because I came after spring training. I showed up at 4:30 pm and was seated at 6:30 pm. If I had shown up 10 minutes earlier I would have been seated when they opened at 5:00 pm. I still don't know why I had to wait so long to sit down. I was out of the restaurant in less than 20 minutes after sitting down. The pizzas are small, they cook very quickly, and they get your bill right away. I guess people must enjoy finally getting a seat at this bustling restaurant and they want to make it last.

So, on to the pizza. Everything on the pizza was top-grade. The sausage was cut lengthwise in an oblique cut. I was surprised to find that the casing was still on the sausage, but I ended up really liking this. The snap it gave the pizza was a great textural addition. Flavor-wise, this was outstanding sausage. It was just well-balanced and had a very mild flavor, playing nicely with the other ingredients. It is different from most pizza sausage in that it doesn't have a strong flavor; it is subtle and uses the condiments to bring out the flavor in the free-range pork. Usually the cheese gets ignored in pizzas, but this was fresh mozzarella. It had that chewy texture of good cheese and had a fresh dairy flavor. The onions were also well cooked because they were sweet, but not yet a mushy pile. The crust had nice chew and was baked perfectly so the outside was crisp. I didn't notice a strong smoke flavor on my pies as I previously mentioned, but because I was next to the oven I did get a hint of it from the smell. I also was happy to see that the center was crisp and not soggy. My biggest complaint is that I really wanted tomato sauce on this pie. In fact, 3 out of the 6 pizzas that they recommend are white pies. I think a little acid on this pie would have brought out the flavors more.

The margherita was my favorite. There was nothing revolutionary here, just good ingredients. The sauce was very basic, but the flavor in the small tomato pieces was sweet with a hint of acid and I was very, very happy with it. One of the ways in which Bianco distinguishes himself is with small touches like adding sweet onions instead of regular onions and by adding his basil after the margherita has cooked. A lot of people do that, but their basil isn't as flavorful or fragrant as this one.

Best pizza ever? No, not at all. Not even close. I have no doubt it is the best pizza in Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Nevada, Utah, and maybe somewhere else in the Southwest. I think what he has essentially done is take his very good pizza and put in a pizza dessert where its already good qualities are amplified by terrible competition. It is an excellent example of this style with great attention to small details. I admire his craftsmanship. I could have gone every night I was in Phoenix, but the thought of waiting even 45 minutes for this pizza deterred me. If I am in Phoenix again, I won't go back and wait for it. I can't even begin to imagine waiting 5.5 hours for it like some people do. This is not my favorite style of pizza, but I do enjoy it in some of the restaurants here in town. But when given a choice between this and a good tavern-style thin, a deep dish or even a good stuffed pizza, I vote Chicago.