It's been quite a while since a new place opened that serves quality deep dish pizza. Even as pizza artists have reached for the stars on the thin end of the spectrum (Reno, Balena, etc.), nobody has put forth a serious challenge to Lou Malnati's and Pizano's, both of which have added locations in recent years. But word coming out of Roscoe Village was that something pretty excellent was brewing at Bartoli's, a pizzeria with historical deep dish street cred. Kind of.
Bartoli's was founded by Brian Tondryk, who named the place after his grandfather, Fred Bartoli. Grandpa Bartoli was one of the founders of Gino's East, hence the claim to deep dish OG street cred. But neither Bartoli nor his Gino's East co-founders Sam Levine and George Loverde knew a thing about making pizza when they bought some property on East Superior Street downtown and decided to put a pizzeria in there. Instead, they simply hired Alice Mae Redmond away from Uno's.
Given that Fred Bartoli likely had nothing to do with the actual recipe at Gino's East, it's a bit curious that Bartoli's claims on its menu that "Bartoli's deep dish pizza crust is a 50-year old family recipe." I suppose family recipe could mean that the recipe was owned by the family or they could be referring to the Redmond family recipe, but those are not reasonable interpretations. Given that the current owners of Gino's East have consistently lowered their standards, it makes sense that Bartoli's explicitly declare they are carrying on the tradition of Gino's East rather than the current iteration. But to do without acknowledging Alice Mae Redmond is just not right.
So how was the food?
We tried one deep dish and one thin crust pizza. We also, thanks to a couple early arrivals hell-bent on breaking CPC protocol, tried "badger-style fried cheese balls."
Let's start with the badger-style fried cheese balls, which are basically fried cheese curds. Fried cheese is one of those things that's pretty tough to screw up and Bartoli's puts out a fine rendition. The breading is on the thicker side and had some nice seasoning. Some people opted to dip in the accompanying marinara sauce but I didn't think it was necessary.
For our deep dish selection, we opted for spinach. Bartoli's uses fresh spinach, which is always a plus, though there wasn't all that much of it on the pizza. The chunky sauce seemed fresh and was well-balanced between tangy and sweet. It was particularly good as compared to the processed sugary tomato paste Gino's East calls sauce these days. That alone makes this place leaps and bounds better than the current iteration of its inspiration.
All was not right with this pizza, however. Due to the weather, there was only one other occupied table in the place. Smart people all stayed in that night, so it's quite possible that there were a lot of deliveries going out. But whatever the reason, our pizza was significantly overcooked and had a crust that was way too firm. The taste was fine, but I couldn't get over the crunchy crust. Well, I suppose the fact that I happily ate my entire slice meant I could get over it, but it was a real flaw. I left thinking it was good enough that I should go back but it's been 5 months and that hasn't happened yet. Shame on me.
For our thin option, we went with a pizza that had mushrooms all the way across and sausage on half. Other than Pizano's, I've never been particularly impressed with the thin crust offerings from pizzerias that specialize in deep dish and Bartoli's version wasn't great. The problem, as it usually is, was that the crust was flavorless and way too dry. That said, everything else about the thin crust pie was very good.
The toppings, cheese and sauce were well-balanced. There was no skimping on the mushrooms and the sausage was very good, though a little more fennel would have been nice. All in all, a solid thin crust pizza but not one worth going out of your way for.
|Phred approves of Bartoli's!|