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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Restaurant Week

Usually I spend Chicago Restaurant Week out and about getting a steak at Smith & Wollensky or grabbing a nice upscale pork dish from Frontera Grill.  Well not this year, I appreciate the deals, honestly restaurants... thanks for going out of your way to make sure that 2 people can enjoy a great meal for just under $100 as long as they limit their drinking.  However it is 2010 and may I remind you, I'm not looking to spend another Benjamin on a Tuesday night in Feb.

No this year, I even made that rez for S&W but canceled it today because I have something else in mind.  Da da da Daaaaaa!  Vito & Nick's Pizzeria!  What was I high when I made that reservation at S&W?!?!  Like any good citizen of Chicago when it comes tax season, I make an apointment to see my guy who happens to be the south side of Chicago.

How you know you are getting your taxes done by a true south sider
-he refers to your wife or his wife or any wife in general as "da bride"
-office is a little bigger than my closet and it is in the basement in the corner
-no one talking to me about the off season moves the Cubs have made
-his signature on the bottom of your form looks like this -----_
-you may hear "I gotta guy that does..." and it is usually some sort of cousin or inlaw of their kid

Ok, we got off track there for a little bit... I am heading to the south side, perfect afternoon trip to see how much taxes I paid last year and grab some of the best tavern style south side crispy cracker thin crust pizza.  That's right after my meeting, I will be grabbing Vito & Nick's and racing back home to dive in.  Who needs all the glitz and glam of a restaurant when you have the flavor of a pizzeria available for around $20.  All Picked up from a location that looks like this


Family owned, Vito & Nick's has been in business for almost 90 years, and just one crunchy bite and you will know why!  They were recently featured on Guy Fieri's show Diners Drive-Ins and Dives and then even brought back on an hour long special of Guy's favorites.  They have 2 locations, but for all intents and purposes I will be talking about the one located at 84th pl and Pulaski (please note, that 84th pl is different from 84th st).  Menu isn't much to look at and I love love love that, get in there and make a decision and don't weigh me down with questions like "should I get pineapple and ham, or tofu and chicken".  No when you go there you get cheese, pep, saus, beef, stuff like that...  They do however have 1 that steps a little outside the box, it is egg and that is only available on Friday so I don't even have to worry about that one.

Alright, taxes prepared heading North on Pulaski and pull over to this.  From the moment I walk in, I head right to the counter and order a small Italian beef and a small sausage.  I'm told it will take 30 minutes and I am fine with that kind of wait (pretty fast for a place that makes that many pizzas).  I belly up to the bar and observe the locals, White Sox hats and Miller Lites flow as people unwind after a tough day of work.  The juke box is playing some classic CD's including Blues Bros soundtrack and Journey.  30 minutes go by like that and I realize I had better get these pies home asap if I want to enjoy them as they intended here.  I may live in the south loop but I was surprised at how quickly I was able to make it back home even at 4:30 in the afternoon on a Tuesday.  

Ok, take a look and tell me what you think... Here is the sausage and it is fresh out the oven, cut in squares and bubbling hot cheese.  First thing I notice when I bite into this one is how crispy that crust is.  Next thing I notice is how much seasoning has gone into the sausage, I can literally see nice chunks of oregano and other spices that just infuse the pie with maximum flavor.  They take the time to make sure the cheese is well done but not overdone and it is a gooey mess on top of a cracker crust.  Definitely in my top 5 of Chicago Tavern Style and such a treat for anyone that lives nearby or has the time to make the trip.  THEY DO NOT DELIVER, THEY DO NOT TAKE CREDIT CARDS OR CHECKS... BRING YOURSELF AND CASH!

Ok, so while my favorite pizza usually involves sausage or maybe green pepper with sausage (I really love sausage), to our left we have my new favorite pizza on the south side.  Yes this is it, the Italian beef pizza.  You are getting the same great crust, sauce and cheese that you would from any other pizza here at Vito & Nick's BUT... you are also getting extreme saltiness and flavor from Italian beef.  I saw how they make it on Diners Drive-Ins and Dives and they keep true to any other Italian beef maker in Chicago.  It is excellent, the only way I can really describe this is... it as if you are taking a bite of a Portillos beef at the same time you are taking a bite of V&N pizza.  The combination of those two flavors are beyond words and what ends up happening is that you just end up eating way too much of this.  Since it is cut into snack like squares that are extremely tiny you lose track very quickly how many slices you have had and you don't really seem to mind.  Did I have 10 slices?  12?  Whatever who cares this stuff is awesome and I have to continue.

Bottom line is that I can sit here and try to write up in this blog all these adjectives that highlight this pizza and its taste, but here is the cliff notes version - Cheese is prepared perfectly, sauce is well seasoned with great favor, the crust is extremely crispy even after a 20 minute ride (somehow the steam didn't soggy it), and the Italian beef and sausage keep true to the way they should taste in Chicago.  I can't give you any more advice to help you understand this pizza, the Pizza King recommends you just go there and give it a try!


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Fat Tuesday

  Only one thing comes to my mind when I think of Fat Tuesday... Stuffed pizza from Edwardo's!  It is the fattest pizza in a city known for fat pizza.  I'm not kidding people, I think of pizza on Fat Tuesday, that's just the kind of guy I am.  I mean sure getting some paczkis (polish doughnuts - trust me they are awesome) in Chicago is a pretty good and solid tradition but honestly the sweets aren't the way I roll and I'm not Polish so back to pizza we will go.

Edwardo's History - Started in 1978, hit it big when United Airlines decided to serve personal pan sizes on their domestic first class, coach and some select international flights.  They are well known for their stuffed spinach and their pizzas are made of all natural ingredients.  I've heard that they even used to grown their own vegetables back in the 70s and 80s.  Bored yet???


Seriously this is a picture of the stuffed pizza, this has not been enhanced in any way shape or form, people this is a type of pie that you should have before you fast... hence Fat Tuesday at Edwardo's.  This pizza takes over you the second you dig on it, seriously I don't care how macho you are.  You take your first bite and that gooey cheese slows you down and smacks you with the reality that the pie is in charge.  I love it, on this day I surrendered to the Stuffed Spinach (their specialty) it is unusually good and here are a few reasons why.

1.  It is all natural and honestly you can tell when eating it that these ingredients aren't enriched or refined
2.  Stuffed so full of veggies and cheese, the combo (great Chicago word Kahm-Bow) is awesome
3.  Golden crust... umm, laced with garlic flavor, seriously better than the best garlic breadstick ever
4.  Sauce doesn't over power the pizza the way, this is probably another nod back to the fresh ingredients
5.  You always have leftovers when you get a pie like this
6.  Look at that table cloth!  It should be a rule that whenever you eat stellar pizza it has to be served on the red & white checkered table cloth (when do I blog about the rules???)

All these reasons coupled with the fact that Edwardo's is just blocks away from my condo in the historic Printer's Row neighborhood makes this place a shoo-in for my dinner routine oh and my pizza tour company Chicago Pizza Tours.  I can't wait to see the look on people's face when they sit down and are served their first Stuffed Pizza from Edwardo's.  This place I have been enjoying since my high school days (yes after swim practice) and I plan on continuing to be a loyal customer for years to come.  Cheers to Edwardo's, the home of The Chicago Pizza King's favorite stuffed pizza!
Edwardo's has several locations in Chicago and suburbs so you can locate the closest one using

Monday, February 15, 2010

Presidents Day

We are in the midst of another celebrated federal holiday in the United States (although I suspect quite a few of you are at the office today)… Presidents Day! Yes Presidents day is observed on the 3rd Monday in February and is a tribute to our 1st president George Washington’s birthday. Why does this pertain to a Chicago Pizza Blog?...?...? Because Chicago’s very own Barack Obama 44th President of the United States is a huge fan of Chicago Style Pizza and most notably the Thin Crust Tavern Style from Italian Fiesta Pizzeria.

To get a better understanding of this hidden gem in Hyde Park, let’s review how their pizza got the presidential seal of approval. Growing up on the south side of Chicago, Michelle Obama (Robinson) was introduced to Italian Fiesta Pizzeria by her family. They used it as an incentive for her getting good grades. I of all people can appreciate a pizza reward. Now let’s fast forward to the Obama’s living in Hyde Park with their daughters using the same report card incentive program.

11/4/08 Tuesday night in Chicago’s Grant Park the world witnesses Senator Barack Obama win the role of President of the United States and parties follow! Of all the parties, none are more important to Italian Fiesta Pizzeria than that of the inauguration which took place 1/21/09. Why was that so important to Italian Fiesta??? Because they had a delivery to make in Washington DC!!! That’s right, Patti Harris-Tubbs (co-owner) and her husband flew their ingredients out to Washington and set up with the Ritz Carlton to prepare their Presidential Pizza.

Now, you don’t have to go all the way to the White House to enjoy this Chicago Thin Crust Tavern Style Pie… just Hyde Park for pickup (they do have other locations as well). I sure did and I have been a fan ever since I made the short trip.

Italian Fiesta Pizzeria
1400 E. 47th Street
Chicago, IL 60653

Friday, February 12, 2010

Chicago Auto Show, it's all about Pizza in this town

Well it is official, the Chicago Auto Show at McCormick Place has kicked off and is now open to the public, the opening ceremonies for the winter olympics will take place tonight, and guys everywhere will be scrambling to get their last minute gift ideas finalized (Valentines Day).  In the midst of all this, I can't help but think of some awesome Chicago pizza.

With all the guests in town, be they from the suburbs to enjoy the show or out of town auto industry workers setting up and promoting their cars there will be a surge for Chicago pizza and here is why.  HELLO it's 2010 and everyone is feeling the affects of the recession.  No longer are the $1000+ dinners for a party of 4 at Joe's Stone Crab House, Keefers or The Chop House.  I'm sorry I love these places, but that is a terrific waste of money and can be spent better elsewhere.  Now while those types of places can provide an outstanding meal and experience, this is Chicago and you don't have to spend a lot to get the same enjoyable restaurant experience (listen up auto execs, spend smarter).

Gino's East... if you need to spend $1000+ on a meal for your corporate account (I get the whole use it or lose it concept) then take more than 3 clients out.  Get the group together and make it an experience, get down to talking business the Chicago way over a couple of pizzas and some vino.  While you are at it go ahead and leave your mark on the wall at Gino's East (I recommend using a sharpie).  Your money will go a lot further and because the atmosphere is relaxed, I find you get more real business done.

If deep dish isn't your thing and you are looking for a smaller more intimate gathering, well then I would recommend either Coalfire (neapolitan coal burning pizza) in the west town neighborhood or Frasca Pizzeria & Wine Bar (neapolitan wood burning pizza) in Roscoe Village.  Yes get out of the downtown area and visit a neighborhood!  These places do a fantastic job with the pizza and create an upscale but still casual atmosphere.

Families coming down for the show, please don't read above and think this is directed solely for the business men and women of the show, when I was a kid I loved that after a trip downtown, before we headed back, we stopped off for true Chicago pizza whether it was deep dish or thin crust.  It really is an experience and for a family to get out of the city spending under $75 on dinner these days is priceless.  Remember, bring a sharpie and leave your mark at Gino's... look for it the next time you go back, I can't stress this enough.

Bottom line, you don't have to spend a fortune to get that great Chicago experience, get out there and devour the best food that Chicago has to offer.  Pizza Pizza Pizza and enjoy your time here this weekend!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Blizzards & Earthquakes & Pizza... OH MY!

The snow ended earlier this morning totaling in the ballpark of 14" over a span of 24 hours, in Chicago that is normal... what isn't normal is that there was an earthquake that capped off the storm last night about 3:00 AM!  Originally thought to be a 4.3, it was later downgraded to 3.8 and originated about 40 Miles NW of Chicago.  No it wasn't just a slice of Stuffed Spinach from Edwardo's (which can be massive) falling to the ground, it was a real earthquake in the midwest!
To the left we have previously talked about snowy day in Chicago while to the right we are looking at one of my top 5 thin crust tavern style pizzas.  JC's Pub & Ristorante in Mc Cook featuring just a straight up thin sausage pie.  Their wood paneled decor with dim lighting and Christmas lights on the bar set the scene nicely.

Where to begin with this one, well lets start with what we are looking at, first off this is the finished product seconds after it is set down on my table.  Notice how perfect this cheese is cooked.  In my preferences I go for a slightly burnt cheese on my thin crust pizzas.  JC's knocks that one out of the park! That slightly burnt cheese paired with their amazing sauce gives it the beautiful hues of orange and red all mixed together.  Did I just mention amazing sauce, I sure did... my all time favorite sauce in Chicago land pizza is Aurelio's.

There is no denying it, when ordering from Aurelio's, extra sauce and well done are as automatic as my email signature popping up on new emails.  JC's has a scaled down version of the Aurelio's sauce with just a slight hint of sweetness in their tomatoes.  For this reason I feel JC's appeals to die hard Aurelio's sauce lovers but also doesn't go over board for those who are expecting zero sweetness from their tomato sauce.

That brings us to the crust.  I love how when this pizza is taken out of the oven and sliced, it is put on a "cooling rack" on top of the pan (see pic below).

This helps to give the pizza a nice crispy cracker crunch on the outside pieces but those tiny squares in the middle as the pie is disapearing fall into the category of what I like to call "Fold & Pop".  It's almost as if we enjoy the pieces on the outside as our warm up and then as we start to get full we decide to kill this pizza with an all out attack making each slice just 1 bite.  So there you have it, a pizza with amazing cheese & sauce, and a crust that is both crispy on the outer rim and foldable on the inner rim.

The group I brought to this establishment enjoyed the pizza and all gave it their thumbs up on the spot, but what is so special about this pizza is that as we were heading back to Chicago more comments started to fly, I kept hearing "You know what, that was really a good pie" or "Man I can still sort of taste that sauce" and I truly believe that when a pizza makes you think and talk about it after you have left and are already full, then that is the sign of a top 5 thin crust pizza joint of the Chicago Pizza King.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Saints win! But this is a pizza blog...

Congratulations to the Saints, their fans and everyone else who was pulling for them!  According to my twitter & facebook accounts it seemed as if most of the country was in their corner.  Was it the under dog syndrome???  If so, where were you all year as the Saints destroyed pretty much everyone they played?

As a fan of 1 NFL team and 1 team only (DA BEARS) I could have cared less and just watched for a good game and enjoyed the food that accompanies a Super Bowl Party.  Since I was hosting the party I was in charge of the food and you know where this is going... Pizano's thin crust and deep dish pizza.  Why did I choose this place?  Well besides being awesome with such a buttery crust I happened to have stumbled upon another blog last week www.chitownpizza.blogspot.com in which they reviewed this place.  I read it and was inspired to grab some pies from Pizano's which I hadn't had in a couple of years.

Pizano's was opened in 1991 by Rudy Malnati Jr.  Yes Rudy Malnati Jr. of the Malnati family which are MAJOR players in the Chicago Pizza World.  That being said there are little differences between Lou Malnati's and Pizano's.  One difference noticeable to the eye is their sauce that covers the deep dish.  Sure they have the nice delicious chunks of tomatoes, but they have a little more liquidity in their sauce.  They both have the amazing high rising buttery crust (the best part of a Malnati pizza) and for those 2 reasons I prefer Pizano's to Malnati's.

Now of course when you think Chicago you think Deep Dish ahhhh Stuffed ahhhh.  Well really if you are going to just eat those massive pies then you aren't going to get a whole lot of pieces down.  My favorite way to indulge in a pizzeria that serves both deep dish and thin crust is to use their thin crust as my appetizer and finish it off with the deep dish.  My ratio usually goes around 4-5 thin crust squares and 1-2 deep dish triangles.  On Super Bowl Sunday it was more like 6 thin crust squares and 2 deep dish triangles!

Pizano's thin crust is unique in Chicago, plenty of places have thin crust Tavern Style, but Pizano's is really the only one I know of that takes that buttery crust fro their deep dish and incorporates it into their thin.  If you notice the top left corner of my thin crust picture, that crust looks just like the deep dish crust.  This not only makes it unique but makes it an amazing compliment to the deep dish.

The main point I am trying to get across in this post is that you can experience 2 kinds of awesome Chicago Style Pizza in 1 restaurant that isn't necessarily packed.  Most people seeking this buttery type of pizza will flock to Lou Malnati's which can be packed at just about any time you are thinking of going where as Pizano's delivers similar, enjoyable, convenient pizza.


Tuesday, February 2, 2010


Located in the West Town neighborhood of Chicago at 1321 W. Grand Ave is a nice little joint called Coalfire.  This is a pizzeria in Chicago that serves pizza far from what most would call "Chicago Style".  They serve a traditional neapolitan style pizza cooked in an 800 degree coal burning oven.  THE ONLY COAL BURNING OVEN IN CHICAGO... for now at least.

J Spillane (pizza chef & owner) is extremely passionate about the way Coalfire's pizzas are made.  When you are using a coal oven that is that hot, it is a quick process... but much care is needed as well.  They will only put in 3 pizzas at a time (don't worry they only take about 5 mins to cook) and they have to be tended to and carefully rotated to achieve the perfect result.  Not to worry, I consider Spillane a master when it comes to that!

Some of my favorites there include the White Pizza (mozzarella, ricotta & romano cheeses, fresh basil, garlic infused oil, oregano & fresh ground pepper), the Margherita Pizza (tomato sauce topped with fresh mozzarella, grated romano, olive oil and fresh basil), and the Meat Pizza (mozzarella topped with tomato sauce, layered with hot calabrese salami, Italian sausage & pepperoni).  Pizzas are inexpensive and are paired well with wine or beer.  Also, they get their salami from Molinari's in San Fran and if you are unfamiliar with them, may I suggest getting salami on your pizza!

Cheat sheet
  • White - Hast the salty taste with fresh cheeses and EVOO
  • Margherita - Their take on a cheese pizza with tomato sauce (when I test a pizzeria I go for the cheese pizza, if they can't do that right, then I don't care what else they have to offer)
  • Meat - almost an overload of meat but in Chicago that is expected, the part that sticks out to me most is the salami which if I'm not mistaken comes from an extra special supplier in San Fran, sausage is local (as it should be!!!)
The best part of Coalfire is that their pizzas are inexpensive, cooked quickly and on your table seconds out of the oven, and they're not too filling so if you want to try more than 1 with your group feel free to have a couple of pies and dig on some slices from each.

Check them out at http://www.coalfirechicago.com/