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.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Pizza Art Cafe [Meeting #87]

Pizza Art Cafe
4658 N. Rockwell St. [GoogleMaps]
Chicago, IL 60625
(773) 539-0645

CPC invaded Pizza Art Cafe on 10/28/09.

Pizza Art Cafe is tucked into a quiet block of Rockwell Street in Ravenswood, just north of the Brown Line el tracks. The first thing you see when you walk inside is the wood-burning oven to the left. The air is thick with a pleasant garlic aroma, and the dim overhead lighting and candle-lit tables create a warm atmosphere. Some sections of the wall are brick, some wood panels, some drywall, and there are a few curious pieces of three-dimensional art featuring things like high heels, jewelry, and what looked like dried meat. The service is friendly, but can be a bit slow.

In addition to 24 gourmet pizza offerings, the menu includes a variety of Italian and other Mediterranean dishes. There are also a few Bosnian dishes such as cevapcici to reflect the owner's Bosnian roots. One key feature of the menu to note before making plans to eat here is the invitation to BYOB.

The pizza is of the Neapolitan variety, with each thin pie quickly cooked and (usually) lightly charred in the wood-burning oven. The pizzas are each about 12" across, and they range in price from $8 to $13 depending on the toppings. We tried the following six pizzas, which seemed sufficient to sate the eight pizza clubbers in attendance:

  • Margherita - tomato sauce, mozzarella, fresh basil
  • Funghi - tomato sauce, mozzarella, sliced mushrooms, parsley, garlic
  • Siciliana - tomato sauce, mozzarella, sliced assorted roasted peppers, house-cured smoked beef, mushrooms
  • Diavola - tomato sauce, mozzarella, salame, hot green peppers
  • Pizza Lasagna - tomato sauce, mozzarella, ricotta cheese, ham
  • Pizza Art - shrimp topped with homemade cheese sauce and parsley
We found the crust to be very inconsistent from pizza to pizza. Some were crisp and a little too burnt, and some were thick and chewy. The sauce tasted fresh and simple. Pizza Art can be heavy-handed with the cheese, which is a good or bad thing depending on your preferences. The toppings really stand out because they are fresh, they include high-quality cuts of meat such as ham and salame, and they offer lesser found seafood options such as smoked salmon. The Margherita really captured the essence of what Pizza Art Cafe is striving for, though some members found the cheese too plentiful. The Funghi was interesting because the mushrooms and garlic were almost raw, which was nice to try with respect to the mushrooms but a little overwhelming with respect to the garlic. The meat toppings were well-received for the most part, though the signature house-cured smoked beef was quite dry and too smoky for some. The Pizza Art, the restaurant's namesake, was probably the least popular pizza because some folks just don't like shrimp on their pizza, and because others found the cheesy/yogurty sauce off-putting.

Overall, Pizza Art Cafe offers some inventive Italian cooking in a cozy, date-friendly space. But some of us could have done with a little less invention and a little more consistency.

The CPC gives Pizza Art Cafe an average score of 5.6.

Pizza Art Cafe on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Frasca Pizzeria & Wine Bar [Meeting #86]

Frasca Pizzeria & Wine Bar [Google Maps]
3358 N. Paulina St.
Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 248-5222

CPC invaded Frasca Pizzeria & Wine Bar on 10/07/09.

Frasca Pizzeria and Wine Bar is a self-described "contemporary Italian" restaurant, located in Roscoe Village just a block off the Paulina Brown Line stop. It is brought to us by the same people who gave us Dunlays and Smoke Daddy, but both the menu and the ambiance of the restaurant differ greatly from both. Although the word "pizzeria" is in the name of this establishment, the menu contains a variety of Italian-inspired dinner items beyond pizza, along with brunch on Saturday and Sunday. Frasca takes great pride in its wines, with a long list offering by the bottle, glass or flight; it is also worth taking note that on Tuesdays they offer 1/2-price bottles.

For the Chicago Pizza Club Meeting #86, we chose to go to Frasca on a Wednesday, to take advantage of their 2-for-1 pizza deal.

The following are the pizza combinations we tried -- all were from the menu except for the sausage & goat cheese:

  • prosciutto - olive oil, mozzarella, arugula, prosciutto
  • capone - tomato sauce, wood roasted onions, fennel sausage, fresh mozzarella
  • caponata - tomato sauce, eggplant, goat cheese, mozzarella, red peppers, mushrooms, artichokes
  • rustica - diced prosciutto, oven dried tomatoes, mozzarella, basil pesto
  • shrimp + bacon - bechamel sauce with mozzarella, wood fired onions, evoo
  • margherita - tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, sliced tomatoes basil
  • soprano - hot capicola, sausage, pepperoni, sopressata, mozzarella and red peppers
  • pepperoni - tomato sauce, oregano, mozzarella
  • quattro formaggi - mozzarella, gorgonzola,ricotta, provolone
  • sausage and goat cheese

Having never patronized Frasca's 2-for-1 night, it was a surprise for me to see the restaurant as busy as it was, and I am glad that we made reservations for our large group. But while it was busy, our pizzas started coming out in a timely manner, about 20 minutes after we'd sat down. And the temperature was perfect on all the pies -- I didn't have a cold slice the entire night, and no one scorched the roof of their mouth.

As is often the case, my favorite pizzas were the ones with sausage. The sausage itself had an abundance of flavor without being overly fatty, and I especially loved it paired with the sweet wood-roasted onions of the Capone. What really stood out for me, though, were those pizzas whose ingredients I otherwise usually dislike on pizza. Until having it at Frasca, I had never had an arugula pizza I liked. It's just personal preference, but I think salad greens should stay in salad, and away from pizza. However, Frasca did an excellent job with the combination of prosciutto and arugula. There was just the right amount of prosciutto to not be overwhelmed by the arugula, and the arugula was sauteed, which I think took a lot of the harshness out of its flavor, and helped it to complement the other ingredients. The other unexpected delight of the night for me was the Rustica, most notably its pesto. Other pizzerias could learn a lot from the use of pesto at Frasca. It was fresh, bursting with flavor -- (you can really taste the sharpness of the basil and get a good crunch from the nuts) -- and it was distributed in delicious dollops, without making the pizza a greasy mess.

As mentioned in the reviews (see comments), the pizzas' biggest let-down was the crust. In Chicago we are spoiled with our wood-fired thin crusts, and have come to expect some high quality dough when we see an oven like the one at Frasca. Most people didn't like how chewy it was, but what most disappointed me was the inconsistency of the crust from pizza to pizza. Some of the pizzas had the nice dough bubbles that delight me, but some were over-cooked. The pepperoni especially had been in the oven for too long. I like a little bit of burn on the crust, but at a certain point you are just eating burned pizza and that's not really a good thing.

Overall, Frasca offers decent pizza, especially when it's 1/2-price. Besides the crust, I enjoyed all of their ingredients, notably how fresh they were and how well thought-out were the combinations.

Frasca Pizzeria and Wine Bar on Urbanspoon