Gruppo di Amici
1508 W Jarvis (map)
Chicago, IL 60626
CPC invaded Gruppo di Amici on 7/21/2010
As with any arbitrary ranking, there is debate and skepticism. Chicago Magazine recently ranked the top 25 pizzas in town. So, naturally, CPC decided to do some reconnaissance on some places we have not tried. Our second consecutive trip to a ranked pie shop took us way north to Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood and #19, Gruppo di Amici. Located twenty paces from the Jarvis Red Line stop and nestled on a quiet block that boasts a neighborhood pub and fine foods store, Gruppo immediately sticks out of the crowd with its classic white stone Uptown Chicago façade and spacious al fresco dining patio. Lori Alderete and Phaedra Divras opened Gruppo in June of 2006 and have since been offering, among other things, their own unique variety of “Roman-style” pizzas.
The restaurant space is lofty, clean, and modern. Prominently anchored in the rear of the space is the wood-burning brick oven. According to the bartender, the oven holds approximately 5-6 pies and burns wood at a relatively cool 500 degrees Fahrenheit. As such, the pies take about 2.5 to 4 minutes to cook (as opposed to 90 seconds in the typical hotter brick ovens). This is done to minimize the burnt crust that is endemic to this type of pizza. For the most part, Gruppo succeeded in that objective.
We ordered the following:
- Mare: Italian tuna in extra virgin olive oil with capers, olives, diced tomatoes and fresh parsley
- Funghi e Prosciutto: Fresh bufala mozzarella, mushrooms, prosciutto di parma and tomato sauce
- 4-Formaggi: Gorgonzola, Swiss, Fontina and Holland
- Salsiccia: Red bell pepper and mild Italian sausage and tomato sauce.
The mushroom and prosciutto pie was my choice and I was disappointed. I think the problem was a matter of proportion, as there were simply too many mushrooms. The mountains of mushrooms oversaturated the crust, which made it limp. Once the crust lost its texture, it lost its strength. The mushrooms also changed the character of the prosciutto, which became wet and lost its essential dry elasticity. Things got much better with the four-cheese pie, a white pie that had great contrast, which covered the entire flavor spectrum. The crust merely served as a mode of delivery for this delicious amalgam of fat, salt, and sharpness. As far as cheese pies go, this was pretty good.
However, my favorite of the evening was the sausage pie. This pie had all of the right stuff. The sauce had a noticeable tang, which was buttressed by the fresh red bell pepper. The mozzarella lumps were fluffy. The crust had great texture: firm and crispy, but not dry. The sausage was good, yet a little bland, as I would have preferred a little more spice. Why go with “mild” sausage, when you can have “spicy?”
In fact, I believe the sausage pie is the perfect summary of what Gruppo pies are all about: high quality, but safe. Even the temperature Gruppo bakes their pie is safe. The problem with offering brick oven pies in Chicago is that there are so many choices and unless your pie has a certain memorable quality, it will be forgotten. Risks must be taken!
Of all the pie shops CPC have tried in its over seven years of pizza gorging, this one falls somewhere in the middle. Gruppo may be a bit overrated at #19, but they certainly earned the spot by providing, for the most part, a well-balanced pie. Besides, every ranked team is going to have its critics.