Pizzeria Due (part of Uno Chicago Grill) [GoogleMaps]
619 N. Wabash Ave.
Chicago, IL 60611
CPC invaded Pizzeria Due on 7/28/09.
Review submitted by Marla Collins' Husband
Given that Pizzeria Uno is the place that put Chicago on the global pizza map, the Chicago Pizza Club had to try it out in order to maintain our street cred. The obvious problem to meeting there is the same one that has rendered the original Uno's a destination dominated by tourists: the waits are ridiculous.
Twelve years after Pizzeria Uno opened in 1955, the owners opened a second location to satisfy their growing legion of fans. Uno's was actually originally called The Pizzeria, but when the second place opened a block away, they renamed the original Pizzeria Uno and the new place, Pizzeria Due. Much of the staff at Due's, including pizza legend Rudy Malnati, came from Uno's, and the two have been linked ever since. Still, because Uno's has the name, it is significantly more popular. Due's is also very popular, but tends to have shorter wait times than Uno's, so that's where the CPC went to examine the origins of deep dish pizza.
It is worth noting that Due's does take reservations Mondays through Thursdays, but they refuse to say how many. I was told that it varies depending how busy they are. I asked how they know how busy they're going to be weeks in advance of a particular night and was told that it's based on how many reservations they have. That response, of course, led me back to the question of how many reservations they accept, which the person I spoke with again refused to divulge. My hunch is that they only take a reservation or two per night from the public and that the rest come through hotel concierges with whom the restaurant has a relationship.
Anyhow, thanks to the generosity of Adam, the newest CPC member, who got there at 5:30 to place our order, the rest of us didn't have to wait too long after our 6:30 meeting time to be seated. We were at our table at 6:45 and were eating pizza less than 10 minutes later. How is it possible to get a pizza that takes 45 minutes to cook after just 10 minutes at the table? Easy: They require you to place your order when you put your name down to get a table. They then cook your pizzas most of the way, take them out of the oven, and then put them back in when you sit down.
They serve nothing but deep dish at Pizzeria Due and the 12 CPCers who showed up split three large pies. It is worth noting that the menu at Due's (and Uno's for that matter) is different from the menu on the Uno's website. Uno's Chicago Grill, which has over 200 locations spread across 31 states and DC, Puerto Rico, South Korea and the United Arab Emirates, has a very different menu from the original two pizzerias. At Uno's and Due's, pizza eaters can either build their pies or choose from six "Specialty Pizzas."
Because we are special people, we got three specialty pizzas. Up first was the Numero Uno, which has a whole lot of sausage along with pepperoni, mushrooms, onions and green pepper, along with extra mozzarella cheese and a chunky, tangy sweet sauce. I really liked this pizza and it seemed to go over well with the group. The sausage had really good amount of fat and chewiness, though no noticeable fennel. The pepperoni was a step above your typical Hormel-quality pepperoni that ruins pizzas all over the country. The crust, which was the same on all three pies, is really thick and really had an almost nutty taste to it. It looked like and kind of tasted like a wheat or whole grain crust, though the restaurant would surely advertise it if that was the case. It's been over a year since I had Uno's, but I remember the crust being a yellowish color there and having a corn mealish taste to it. I didn't love the crust, but I thought it was good enough. And the thickness allowed it to stand up to the varied and plentiful toppings on all three pies.
The second pizza was the BBQ Chicken pizza. Personally, I have never had a chicken pizza that I liked and I'm always surprised when restaurants sell it. But I know that barbecue chicken pizza put California Pizza Kitchen on the map, so clearly there are plenty who disagree with me. The pizza featured a blend of cheeses (mozzarella, Romano, and cheddar) and an inconsistent application of a citrus barbecue sauce. One CPC member liked the chicken pizza enough to eat two whole slices, but the rest of our reactions ranged from tolerating to revulsion.
The third pizza was the Spinoccoli, which features spinach and broccoli along with a the same three cheese from the chicken pizza and garlic and tomato sauce. I also really enjoyed this pizza, though I would have preferred a less grain-flavored crust with it. The menu lists the broccoli as fresh, but does not use the same adjective to describe the spinach. I'm not sure whether the spinach was fresh or not, but it definitely seemed like it was previously frozen and that is inexcusable. Despite the weak spinach, I enjoyed the Spinoccoli almost as much as the Numero Uno.
At the end of the day, Pizzeria Uno and Pizzeria Due are worth checking out at least once, but there are multiple pizzerias within a mile or two (Lou Malnati's, Giordano's, Pizano's, a lot of thin crust places) that are both better and do not require as long of a wait.
Petey Pizza gives Due's a 6.84.
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Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Pizzeria Due (part of Uno Chicago Grill) [GoogleMaps]
Sunday, July 12, 2009
On Saturday, Bacci Pizzeria, the 13-year-old, 19-restaurant jumbo slice purveyor, held its 7th Annual Pizza Fest, an eating competition where the contestants wolf down as many Bacci cheese slices as they can in 20 minutes. A couple of CPC members headed down to Taylor Street to view the competition.
While the event was not sanctioned by the International Federation of Competitive Eating, the cash prizes were actually more generous that some of that organization's events. The winner of the Pizza Fest was due $1,500, while the second and third place finishers would claim $750 and $250 respectively.
In order to qualify for the competition, all one had to do was go to a Bacci Pizzeria, buy two jumbo slices and get one free, and then eat all three slices in less than 20 minutes. Approximately 30 people made the cut and showed up for the competition.
With obnoxiously loud dance music being played in the background, the contestants all began the competition with a vengeance, stuffing as much in their mouths as fast as they could. It seemed that there were as many strategies as there were eaters; some folded, some stacked, some ripped their pizzas into bite sized chunks, and one guy even dipped his slices into a large cup of what looked like Kool-Aid, but may have been water colored by tomato sauce. An EMT stood by to make sure none of the overly exuberant eaters hurt themselves.
After just a few minutes of competition, it was clear that a majority of people had no change as they slowed considerably before getting through their first slice. But to my eyes, about 10 people were keeping up with one another for at least the first half of the competition. As the eating continued, the chewing slowed but people continued to give their all.
At the end, there was a clear winner - a guy named Peter, the man who dipped his slices in liquid, had polished off 5 1/2 slices, blowing away the competition. Surprisingly, he was not one of the particularly large contestants. However, there were three very big men who had each eaten exactly four slices, so a one-minute eat-off was called. Those three struggled mightily but at the end of the minute, the final two winners were set, each having gotten through less than half of a slice.
Thursday, July 09, 2009
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