By Julie Chernoff of Make-It-Better.
Chicago is Pizza Central, my friends. Grab a slice.
Just got back from a trip to NYC, and I must say, they’ve got nothing on Chicago pizza. Here, we embrace all styles, from Rome and Naples to Detroit and the Quad Cities. Whether square, round, oblong, deep-dish or thin-crusted, wood-fired or grilled, all forms of pizza are welcome — yes, even the famed NYC slice, folded down the middle and shoveled in your mouth while running to your next appointment to avoid telltale splatters of sauce and cheese on your blouse or necktie.
Listen, I’m all about the cheese, but for a truly great pizza, it all starts with the crust. Each style has its champions, but you just can’t beat the flavor of a dough with a long and slow fermentation process, which is, of course, a luxury that few high-volume places can afford. For true Italian-style pizza, 00 flour must be in the mix.
To top off the perfect crust, there are options. You’ve got your red (tomato sauce) and your white (no tomato sauce, often béchamel instead) pizzas, but add green (herb and nut pesto, puréed kale), orange (butternut squash or pumpkin), brown (truffle cream, duxelles) and yellow (puréed corn) to your list to create a rainbow of delicious.
Add a blanket of freshly shredded or hand-torn mozzarella, fontina, parmesan, pecorino, or basically any cheese, followed by a finely curated selection of toppings (artisanal pepperoni, sausage, pancetta, market-fresh veggies and herbs) strewn over the surface (or under the cheese, if that’s your thing), and your pizza is complete: It’s the food of the gods. No need to despair, vegans, because everyone deserves (and gets) the pizza they want in Chicago. Leave off the cheese. We don’t judge.
Choosing a favorite pizza is a fool’s errand. Given the strong opinions of our pizza-obsessed populace and the ubiquitous pizza greatness in our fair city — here’s looking at you, Spacca Napoli, Piece, Barnaby’s, Pequod’s and other longtime favorites — we’ve got to give it up for the sheer audacity of these 12 most notable new(er)comers, continually pushing boundaries and bringing the flavor. They’re playing with the big dogs and making their mark.
Neither thin nor thick, this pizza crust is just about perfect: a crispy, charred bottom with enough heft above to support the sauce, cheese and whatnot. And oh, there will be toppings, because industry vet and owner Zach Smith has got it going on in the palate department. The best news is that any pizza can be ordered half and half, which makes choosing a favorite that much easier. Lincoln Park never tasted so good.
Show-Stopper Pizza: Little Neck Clam ($16), with panna (cream sauce), garlic, clams, parsley, lemon and mozzarella. The New Haven pizza snob within me was in mollusk heaven.