Want to know more about pizza in Chicago?

If you want to know more about Chicago pizza you've come to the right place. This blog will provide tidbits & inside bites about the food Chicago is most known for. Feel free to check back often or better yet, follow us to stay informed about CHICAGO PIZZA.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

I-290, I think we should see other people

So it turns out that this whole I-290 construction project isn't an April Fools Day joke haha, no it is going to be years of misery for anyone wishing to head out to the western suburbs of Chicago.  I mean sure they said "it will take 2 years" at first then they said "oh no 7 to 8 months", anyone else think the original 2 years sounds more accurate???  Why would I say that?  HELLO they pulled the same blabber with the Dan Ryan project and that ended up finishing in October of 2007... $975 Million and 2 years after they started.  Which brings me to my next question, where are they getting the money for this project?

Ok the seriousness of this post needs to stop and I need to get to the point soon because we are well into the second paragraph of this post and there is no mention of pizza.  Ah yes, this is a pizza blog but the 290 construction is important to this review because the cafe we blaahg about today is called Labriola Bakery & Cafe and it is located in the western suburb of Oak Brook, IL.

This place first caught my eye one Sunday morning watching the show Game Time Dine before a Bears game last season.  As assumed I live in Chicago and I am a HUGE BEARS FAN so of course I watch all pre and post game programming including that food critic show in which DC Crenshaw and Israel Idonije visit restaurants in Chicagoland and give their reviews.  The show romanced the restaurant pretty good and gave us the basics of true Neapolitan Pizza the way it was intended in Naples.  Lets review those steps

  • Wood burning brick oven (preferably made in Italy)
  • Sauce is made with San Marzano tomatoes and applied in circular motion from the middle
  • Water Buffalo mozzarella is the only cheese allowed
  • Hit that with some basil after it comes out of the oven

So check that Italian made wood burning brick oven off the list, and according to Game Time Dine, Labriola is using Buffalo mozzarella and I saw them apply the sauce in a circular motion.  So there we have it, a true Neapolitan pizza being cooked in Oak Brook.  When I found this out I jumped at the chance to head out there and give it a try.  Dragging a college friend of mine there for a lunch meeting was no problem, he is an even bigger Bears fan than I and just the mere mention that we are getting pizza and that Israel pimped it was enough for him.  I don't have a problem admitting that someone else is a bigger Bears fan than I, especially when his father was one of the super fans selected by McDonalds to be featured in a "tailgating" commercial in the Cade McNown era.

From the moment I walk in, I get the feeling I am in a Panera and for good reason, we are dealing with the same format.  Go ahead on up to the register and place your order, find a seat wherever you'd like and put up your number so they know where to bring your food.  I guess at Panera you have to go up to the counter when it's ready but this isn't much different.  Did I mention that I HATE HATE HATE Panera?!  So already we are off to a shaky start but looks can be deceiving because with me, it is really all about the pizza!  I ordered the Labriola Specialty Buffalo Mozzarella and got a seat right by the oven.  

Carefully watching them cook up our pizza and exchanging the latest family info with my friend we sat and waited for our pizza.  I think that is where the problem came in.  They used the right ingredients and techniques but when you are dealing with a Neapolitan pizza timing is just as important if not more important!  While the pizza photographed well, it looked better than it tasted.

Crust had a good chew to it, the buff mozz was mild and complimented the unmistakable San Marzano tomatoes & that shredded basil helped spread that basil flavor without having an overpowering taste that an entire leaf can tend to have.  Unfortunately being the pizza king, I was well aware that this pizza was past its prime, kind of like when the White Sox finally got Ken Griffey Jr. in 2008.  Get it to my table 4 minutes quicker and this might be an A review, but the collection of people that have nothing to do but crowd Labriola cackling and taking their sweet time to order make it a bit chaotic during lunch and henceforth hurting my experience.  I give it a B- at best and don't plan on making the trip anytime soon see above 290 project to rate it again.  

Labriola works for what it is, and I am sure most suburban families love the opportunity to dine at an upscale strip mall in Oak Brook, but for this city guy I am going to stay within the city limits for a while here... maybe venture up north or south, but as far as west goes... Eisenhower (290) it's not you, it's me.

Labriola Bakery Cafe
3021 Butterfield Rd
Oak Brook, IL  60523
(630) 574-2008

Monday, March 22, 2010

Deep Dish Pizza Instructions

If you are reading this, chances are you saw the video of how to make your very own deep dish pizza, if not don't worry check it out here.

Ok, so in the video you might have thought "That looks pretty simple" well it's the truth!!!  Let's take it step by step, first thing... Inventory

  1. Oven that gets up to at least 450
  2. Deep dish pizza pan
  3. Ladle 
  4. Brush
  5. Pizza Cutter
  6. Spatula 
Inventory check!  Now let's take stock of ingredients you are going to need
  1. Lou To Go Dough purchased from Peapod (Search Lou Malnati's)
  2. 16oz can of crushed tomatoes in puree (go with a brand you trust)
  3. Two Tomatoes
  4. 1/2 a pound of sliced mozzarella (not too thin)
  5. Olive oil
  6. Oregano (2 Tbsp)
  7. Sea Salt (2 Tsp)
  8. Sausage, taken out of the casing and rolled into balls (Nottoli)
  9. Parmesan & Romano cheese grated and mixed together 
Alright, first thing you do is defrost the dough.  Take it out of the freezer and set it on top of your refrigerator 18-24 hours prior to when you are going to use it.  Next step, drizzle some olive oil onto the deep dish pan and brush it around to cover the entire bottom.  This oil is going to heat up and help sear the bottom of that crust for you later.  Now it is time to go ahead and slap the dough into the middle of your pan and press it down.  Press it down so that it is just a thin layer on the bottom with no holes, and work it to the sides of your pan.  Once you get it to the edge, go ahead and pull it up a little more than 1/2 way to the top (it will rise a little once it cooks).  Good news, the toughest part is over, moving on we cover the entire bottom with slices of mozzarella.  Spread out 1/2 pound evenly over the crust.  Let's grab the sausage that is already rolled into little balls (remember I told you up top to take out of sausage casing and roll into balls) and distribute them as you see best on top of the cheese.  Hmm we are almost there, pour that crushed tomato puree and 2 chopped up tomatoes into a bowl, mix in 2 teaspoons of sea salt and 2 tablespoons of oregano.  Stir that up good and grab a ladle, use that ladle you just grabbed to cover the pie with your sauce.  Try and do it in a circular motion and mush everything around so that it is all smoothed out.  Drizzle on your Parmesan/Romano mix on the pie & PUT IN OVEN!  
  • 600 - 32 minutes
  • 500 - 39 minutes
  • 450 - 42 minutes
Whichever one of those applies to your oven, equipment varies... my oven tells me I can set it to 500 but I have a thermometer in there that tells me differently.  So when the time is up, grab that pie out of the oven, set it down and chop it up.  I like to use a dough cutter but whatever you have that works will do.  Grab a spatula and don't be afraid to scoop as fast as you can onto that plate.  Now go ahead and Dig On It!

6 pieces of equipment
9 ingredients
1 authentic Chicago Style deep dish pizza
-amateur video courtesy of Chicago Pizza Tours

Thursday, March 18, 2010

My Pizza Travels

So, as recently posted I mentioned that I set out to visit the birthplace of pizza in America in the Little Italy neighborhood of Manhattan... Lombardi's Pizzeria.  A normal person would wait until they had a reason to go to NY, and once there would probably go visit the restaurant but normal I am not!  Nope my love for pizza runs a little deeper than most and I don't think sitting down there for an hour to eat pizza would suffice.  I booked a ticket with Scott's Pizza Tours and got the full blown tour of pizzerias that I knew started at Lombardi's!

I have wanted to take Scott's tour for a while now, and since I am setting up Chicago Pizza Tours (coming soon) what better than to take a research trip.  I did the right thing and let Scott know ahead of time, I had to laugh he even asked me to bring a Lou Malnati's for him.  I wasn't able to, but promised to send him Lou's Dough To Go this week.  So here is the story of how the pizza tour went

10:00 AM walking thru Midtown and stopped at a Magnolia Cupcake for breakfast
10:15 AM say bye to wife and kid, have fun shopping I'm going to eat pizza all day
10:45 AM show up at Lombardi's and take lots of pictures, I got the chills and it wasn't just the crisp temps on a March morning
11:00 AM shake hands with Scott after a quick intro and head in before Lombardi's is open to public

Brief review of the history of the restaurant & the different pizzerias throughout NY that have roots starting from Lombardi's, then............
Now that is an oven.  This oven is HUGE!!!  Fits about 18 pizzas in there and I think the temps got up to 1000 degrees at some parts.  They keep it on constantly and in fact only turn it off for maintenance 1 day a year (actually 2 'cause it takes an entire day to cool down).  So far tour is off to a great start, but I'm hungry.

11:30 - Dig on that!  Awesome Margherita Pizza from Lombardi's.  They used fresh mozzarella San Marzano tomatoes for their sauce and shredded basil on top (add that after the pizza is out).  Flavor was outstanding the crust was crispy on the outside but at the same time chewy on the inside.  Coal oven pizza is one of my favorites because the flavor just gets embedded in the crust from the coal, people try to argue that a wood burning can do the same thing but I am here to tell you "NO IT CAN'T".  Ok so first pizzeria down 3 to go and I can check off 1st pizzeria in America right off my list.

To my left we have Luzzo's, 2nd stop on Scott's tour.  Now this is pizza the way Italians intended it and here is why.  Mozzarella made from the milk of water buffalos once again the San Marzano tomatoes which I neglected to mention are grown in the volcanic plains to the south of Mt Vesuvius.  Your super fine 00 flour is used (only the best use this type of flour and Luzzo's is considered one of them by Rachel Ray name dropping...) and the oven used to cook these pies is a wood burning oven.  It was wood burning but the oven as Scott pointed out was really a hybrid coal/wood burning oven that was only burning wood on that day for our true Neapolitan Margherita.  The pizza once again was outstanding, the sauce was a little soupy and full of natural tomato flavor.  The cheese was very mild in comparison to cow made mozzarella, it really takes a back seat to the tomato sauce and I am quite certain that is what they are going for.  Don't just grab this slice and guide it in all nonchalant NO you had better do the fold or my technique the 1/2 fold to get this bad boy in and don't be afraid to make a mess.  Remember this started out as a peasant food and as such is eaten with your hands.  See below
12:20 - Bathroom break, next up the Bensonhurst neighborhood in Brooklyn.
1:00 - Made it over the Manhattan bridge, learned plenty about Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana and all their rules for making real Italian Pizza and we mostly came to the conclusion that it s just the Italians way of marketing to ensure that their economy profits when pizza is involved.  Pizza can be made just about any way, and if it tastes good, then go for it you don't need certifications and what not to make something that tastes awesome!  Where was I, oh yeah it is 1:00 and this is what I am greeted with in Bensonhurst.

 J&V's home of the Jo Jo sandwich and an oven I will tell you more about.  Feeling right at home in Brooklyn with this Grandma Style (Sicilian Style) slice.  What we are dealing with is a crispy yellow crust with a good amount of grease on it, some great sticky cheese on top of that crispy crust, and a layer of sweet pizza sauce on top that made me think of a heartier Aurelio's sauce.  Needless to say, I did not savor this slice one bit... I demolished it in about a minute and had the pleasure of talking to the owner while the rest of the tourists enjoyed.  The owner told me no pictures of him, and I got my first official fughettaboutit in the first sentence (actually I got 3 in the first sentence).  This is the kind of place I would frequent quite often if I lived in Brooklyn, loved the wood paneling/mirrored, counter & booths atmosphere coupled with the NY style of friendliness "You like the slice?  Good, go on Yelp and review us fughettaboutit!"  Now the oven, this slice doesn't just magically come out looking like that.  It looks like a normal pizza oven, but when you open the door it is not.  There are trays inside of the oven that rotate and cook the pizza in a rotisserie style.  Different heat is applied at different parts of the rotation, and that credits the way that sauce is simmered perfectly on top of the pizza.  At this point in the tour I have had a NY coal fired slice, a true Italian Neapolitan slice, and now a Sicilian Grandma styled slice and I am starting to feel a little sleepy and full... but we get back on the big yellow pizza bus because we have 1 more stop in Brooklyn to try.

2:00 - Sam's Restaurant, I think they just added that little pizzeria to the sign recently.  You would never know that this is an establishment serving up great NY Style Pizza from passing by on the sidewalk.

I really enjoyed this place, the pizza was good mind you I am stuffed at this point but the stories were even better.  Lou the son of Sam (hence Sam's Rest) no disrespect of course... wowed us with his many stories of his cop buddies up in Long Island, and people that tell him to put Wifi in his restaurant.  "What so people can take their shoes off and sit in here browsing the internet all day ordering 1 cup of coffee!"  I feel at this point I am rambling one of the longest blog posts in the history of blogs but I will tell you what stuck out for me on this slice was the crust.  I could have eaten nothing but crusts... Brooklyn tap water I hear is the secret.  I appreciated getting a chance to see a place like this because in my mind it was definitely a local gem with great stories/history.

3:00 - back on the pizza bus and headed to Lombardi's our starting point.  The tour is over but at this point we discussed on the bus what we liked about each place, maybe what we weren't so much a fan of, and all this traffic to get back to Manhattan.

3:45 - Back at Lombardi's and I gotta say I am wiped out.  Well not totally, still had enough time to grab a beer with Scott and talk pizza biz at Gatsby's a bar down the street which just so happened to be the original location of Lombardi's back in 1905 (that story is another blog post).  Then later on that night I took my wife and son out to Max Brenner's Restaurant in midtown where the dessert was none other than... you guessed it Chocolate Pizza.  I am serious about pizza, if you think you love pizza more than I do I am happy for you, but chances are you are probably wrong... but hey why not enjoy some slices together if you're up for it.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Pizza Class

So, as many of you know I recently took a pizza-cation which basically consists of me taking a mini vacation for the sole purpose of eating tons of pizza. To conclude the pizza-cation though was a final stop at Frasca Pizzeria & Wine Bar in Chicago’s Roscoe Village. I’ll go into more of my pizza-cation in the next post but for now let’s focus on the pizza class.

Frasca literally meaning "branch" the frasca was identified by a wreath of branches hanging over a farmhouse door signifying the sale of food and wine within.  Frasca does a tremendous job of getting pizza lovers in for a wine sampling/pizza making class and they do this about every 3 months or so (join their mailing list on their website if you want the inside scoop).

The experience is great, first of all the wine is poured and people unwind and start to relax. Then Josh Rutherford (chef & 1 of the owners) takes you through the entire process of making the dough for your pizza. In my opinion the dough is the hardest part; it isn’t as simple as just adding some ingredients into a bowl and whipping up. I am not going to dive into how it is done, sign up for the class if you are interested… seriously it is worth it. After a demonstration of how the dough is made, they go ahead and pass out a little ball of dough along with pizza ingredients on a plate for you. You go ahead and work that dough thinning it out and getting it ready on to add the sauce and toppings. At Frasca, I recommend pepperoni. I know where they get their pepperoni from and it is by far the best pepperoni on the planet!!!

So I got my dough ready, spread the sauce on (circular motion starting at the center), and now I come to a decision that needs to be made. Do I go pepperoni first or cheese first? I went pepperoni and I will explain why. When you put down the pepperoni first and then layer the cheese on top of it, it tends to stay moist when the pizza has been cooked. If you put down the cheese first and then the pepperoni it tends to heat up a little more and is crispier like bacon (a lady at my table did both and I was jealous I didn’t think of that idea).

Well it came out of the wood burning domed oven and I got a major fail for the way I worked my dough… yes I let to much air get in or didn’t thin it out evenly because it popped up a little to high but fortunately the taste was still there. The combinations of sauce, pepperoni, cheese, and that still chewy crust was amazing even with the way I rolled out that dough. I guess that even I can’t mess up a good thing here at Frasca. I would recommend this place to anyone for dinner & another reason why is that when I tell people I’m going there I always get the same response “That is one of my favorite places in Chicago!”. Check them out for yourselves… there is a good chance The Chicago Pizza King might even be there too.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Start Spreading The News...

...I'm leaving Saturday, I can't wait to take part of it... Scott's Pizza Tours in NEW YORK!

Seriously folks, this is like Christmas for The Pizza King and let me tell you why.  First off, I am going to the Bulls game tomorrow night, and when I make a trip to the UC it is usually preceded with a trip to my favorite Chicago neapolitan pizza maker Coalfire.  Yes they were mentioned in here earlier, I truly do have a deep admiration for the pies they churn out and I can't stress this enough to people who have not tried.  Anyways so there it is Thursday evening pizza followed by Bulls basketball.

Then Friday will be your typical meatless lent Friday for this guy, my brother actually walked by my desk Tuesday and dropped off a $2 coupon to Nancy's Pizza and asked me if I would be interested in getting a stuffed spinach for lunch Friday.  Um YESSSS!  (Here's a clue, if anyone out there asks me if I want to have pizza, EVER... I will always say yes).

So there we go, Thursday night pizza, Friday afternoon pizza, then what to do this weekend???  Oh yeah right like the title and first part of this post, I'm heading to New York!  That's right, going to where the Italians first brought over the food I hold dearest, New York City.  I have been a fan of Scott's Pizza Tours for some time now, I just couldn't believe that there is a guy out there that is earning a living doing what I consider one of my favorite things of all time, introducing to people the very best pizza his city has to offer.  http://www.scottspizzatours.com/

I will give my full review of his tour when I get back, but for now lets get back to focusing on my excitement on my upcoming Pizza-cation.  I know that we are going to hit up Lombardi's on the tour which is the first place in America to serve pizza and I hear that it is still quite good.  I know that Patsy's will be a stop as well and if you know your history with that place it involves a lot of family and a lot of ugly battling through lawyers.... Yikes!  I am excited to hit up the real original Ray's as there are countless of impersonators in the town and I am sure Scott has some other awesome ones lined up as well.

So after the tour naturally I am taking my wife out for pizza at Max Brenner Chocolate Restaurant... home of the dessert pizza.  Some sort of marshmallows with peanut butter and chocolate etc. hmm... I am already getting pictures of that in my head and it looks delicious.  Check the flickr account http://www.flickr.com/photos/chicagopizzatours for pictures of all these soon to be consumed pies!

After all that traveling, most people would like to relax but not me... this trip is going to be like energizing vitamins for my pizza passion.  Tuesday evening upon my return I can't wait to head up to Frasca Pizzeria and Wine Bar in Roscoe Village http://frascapizzeria.com/ and take a pizza cooking class hosted by none other than THE Josh Rutherford (could be a video on this, haven't planned it out yet though).  That will most likely conclude my pizza-cation Tuesday evening and I will get back to doing less tasting/research and work on more logistics for The Chicago Pizza Tours company that still is looking to ride in April 2010.

Until then, don't forget to follow me on twitter @chipizzatour