Jonathan Goldsmith’s pizza makes grown men cry. A few years ago, the owner of Spacca Napoli in Ravenswood got his mozzarella provider to sit down and try one of his Neapolitan pies. Of the experience, the provider wrote: “When I bit into it, it put tears into my eyes and I couldn’t help it. For the first time, food meant something much more to me than just curbing my appetite. In a fraction of a second, the best memories of my Neapolitan life went through my mind.” Advertisements
There was a time when Camaros were bitchin’ and neon was a primary color. If you didn’t live through that era, maybe you’ve seen the movie “Hot Tub Time Machine.” If neither of these things is true, there’s still a good chance you love Prince or Madonna and you have a thing for Shia LaBeouf’s “Transformers” work or Michael Bay’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” Without Pac-Man, there probably wouldn’t be an XBox or a PlayStation. Though the 1980s don’t have the same charm as the 1920s (think flappers and bathtub gin), the decade is responsible for some great things.
Blame it on a motorcycle. A 1972 Triumph Bonneville, to be exact. Tired of taking it to numerous gas-station mechanics to be fixed, marine engineer Robert Garvey took the bike apart—all the way down to the very last bolt—so he could understand how the thing worked. He put it back together and then drove the bike cross-country to visit an old friend in Colorado.
Welcome to the era of the bro-staurant. A bro-staurant is characterized by massive dining rooms, menus that rival the length of a “Harry Potter” novel, flocked wallpaper, brick and reclaimed wood elements, celebrity chefs, a hefty collection of vinyl records and at least one massive flat-screen TV at the bar so you don’t have to miss the Cubs when that pasta craving hits. Dineamic Group and its partners David Rekhson and Lucas Stoioff, founders of Siena Tavern, Prime & Provisions, Bull & Bear, Public House, Mercato and the defunct Stone Lotus, are Chicago’s masters of the form. Bar Siena, their newest project located in the West Loop, might be their greatest bro-sterpiece yet
Adolfo Garcia and Carmen Rossi have a knack for merging great food, design and nightlife culture. At Hubbard Inn, they found a way to build a stellar late-night lounge with high-quality food to match. At Barn & Company, they created a clubby, rustic bar that also serves top-notch barbecue. Their newest partnership, Heating & Cooling, is a rock ‘n’ roll-meets-motorcycle culture design fantasy fueled by beer and gourmet pizza. As Garcia put it, “Our philosophy is to do everything with integrity, to respect the community and to evaluate what a place or space needs.” He added, “The food has to be good. A lot of people think, you’re in Wrigleyville, you don’t even have to try, but we are serious about making pizza. We are seeking to create an experience that’s timeless and appealing to everyone, rich or blue collar.” I recently stopped in to see if Heating & Cooling would indeed be timeless or a flash in the pizza pan.
What do you get when you cross math references, an art gallery and wood-fired Neapolitan pizza? A place called Pi Gallery Bar in River North. Rising from the ashes of the now-defunct Gallery Bar, general manager Nick Martaus, beverage director Colin Haley and chef Donna Allers have teamed up to create a craft pizza- and cocktail-focused lounge. “Colin was here the whole time. I came in toward the end of Gallery Bar and Donna was a patron here and we struck up a conversation,” Martaus said. “I saw this opportunity to streamline things, to move the focus away from street food and small plates and create something that was fun and not pretentious,” Martaus said
Brendan Sodikoff is the man with the golden touch. The owner of Hogsalt Hospitality fed Chicago’s modern doughnut revolution with Doughnut Vault. He reinvented the Chicago steakhouse at Bavette’s. He dolled up the old-school diner at Au Cheval and built a better noodle bowl at High Five Ramen. The silky smoked chicken leg served at Green Street Smoked Meats, his glittery warehouse barbecue joint in the West Loop, is one of the very best things I ate this year. Given his track record, the fantasies of what magic he might conjure when he finally set his sights on pizza were almost unfathomable. With the launch of Roxie’s by the Slice in Wicker Park last month, I no longer had to imagine.
Despite their reputation for suburban blandness, strip malls in Chicago have managed to yield a handful of culinary gems. High-end dining destinations such as Goosefoot and Elizabeth make their home in mini-malls. Chef Bill Kim’s Urban Belly was born in a humble Avondale shopping complex. One of my favorite Filipino restaurants in the city, Isla Pilipina, is sandwiched between a Little Caesars and a convenience store in a plaza on the edge of Lincoln Square. When I heard Ciao Bella, a new wood-fired pizza parlor recently opened in an Albany Park strip mall, I stopped in to see if it would be a red sauce reverie or a Neapolitan nightmare.
Eventually, the club kids become restaurant owners. Jerry Kleiner parlayed his experiences at Cairo and Shelter into Marche and Carnivale. DineAmic, the group behind former late-night lounge Stone Lotus, opened Italian resto Siena Tavern and is working on a steakhouse called Prime & Provisions. And now, The LGN Group (which brought you once-bumping River North hangouts RiNo and Manor) is making a bid for culinary stardom with a West Loop pizzeria called Parlor. “At some point, clubs weren’t a challenge,” LGN managing partner Michael Bisbee said of his shift from clubs to restaurants. “You can only provide so much Ketel One, Cheetos and Miller Lite. People move on after a couple years,” he said. “We had great success at RiNo and Manor, but you put a lot more detail into creating a restaurant.” I stopped in recently to see if the Parlor crew could parlay nightlife sizzle into culinary supremacy by putting pizza before panache and breadsticks before bottle service.
There are a lot of pizzas in Chicago, but few them are served in swank hotels that offer members-only boxing rings and film-screening rooms. But that’s exactly what you get with the fourth location of Pizza East restaurant (the other three locations are located in the United Kingdom) in the new Soho House hotel. While you have to be a member or a Soho House guest to hit the heavy bag in the glamorous fight club on the second-floor gym or watch a fancy French flick in the fourth-floor screening room, in theory, anyone can partake of the offerings of Pizza East located on the first-floor mezzanine. I say “in theory,” because on a recent weekend, I couldn’t find a reservation available before 10 p.m. But scarcity produces yearning, so I persisted and snagged a 9 p.m. reservation that popped up on opentable.com at the last minute. Is the pizza quality befitting of the hotel’s exclusivity?