The website of the Chicago pizza joint Flour & Stone features the phrase “made with love in the windy city”. I’m pretty sure love doesn’t have a flavor, and even if it did, I’m guessing it would taste nothing like the experience at Flour & Stone. In fact if they were to be truly accurate, the restaurant might revise that tagline to read “made with some like and a touch of contempt.”
Let’s start with the contempt. On multiple visits, empty neighboring tables were littered with the remnants of crust and covered in sticky soda rings and were never cleaned during my meal. I can understand that the folks in the kitchen were so busy, they might not have a chance to make it out to the dining room to clean up as often as they’d like. However, even the bar seating which abuts the kitchen had crumbs on it when I placed my order.
And as for that ordering, when I’m paying $16 bucks for a smallish pie, I expect table service. Instead what I get is a nervous employee throwing a takeout menu down on my table telling me to come to the counter when I’m ready.
I also find that the orange soda from the fountain tastes mostly like carbon dioxide because the syrup ran out hours ago.
The pizza here is cooked in a gas-fired oven made to look like a cool old-school wood-fired brick oven. That isn’t always a deal-breaker. After all, some of the best pizzas in America, the pies from the now defunct Great Lake were fired on a gas deck oven.
But, at Flour & Stone the gas vs wood difference is like the one between those ironic faux- old school handsets you can plug in to your iPhone headphone jack and a real cool rotary handset, the kind that the curmudgeonly and defiant pizza maker Burt Katz still takes orders on for the fine Sicilian-style pies he cooks at his namesake Burt’s Pizza in Morton Grove. Devoid of wood (or coal), the pies atFlour & Stone are not nearly as blistered or smoky and seasoned as the stuff coming out of the ovens at Coalfire or Spacca Napoli.
That being said, this is still where my “like” comes in to play. The interior of the pizza crust at Flour & Stone has more airy pockets than a bubble wrap factory. The outside is crispy, occasionally blistered, and mostly golden. They’re a reasonable if sanitized facsimile of a Neapolitan pie. And for a neighborhood, due to its high rents, that has very little in the way of creative or high-quality food, that’s pretty good.
Though this observation may not sit well either, as the owners have billed these as Brooklyn, not Neapolitan, pizzas. But, real Brooklyn pizzas, whether the old-school artisan pies of Di Fara (Midwood section of Brooklyn) showered with fresh basil and parmesan featuring a foldable crust and a droopy tip sag, or the blistered gems they serve at Roberta’s in Williamsburg, have a much puffier edge than the sometimes thin-crispy lightly-leavened edges of the Flour & Stone pie.
Also, the acidic sauce here pounds you on the head and really could use a touch more salt and a bit of sugar to mellow things out. While this too tomatoey sauce fells the basic margherita pizza on offer, the mingle of earthy cremini and oyster mushrooms and the caramelized bits of onion and garlic on Flour & Stone “shroom” pizza do counteract the acidity of the sauce nicely.
Because of this sauce, it’s the white pizzas I prefer, especially the “Sicilian” topped with what feels like a pound of crispy bacon, and a fiery hail of red pepper tempered by sweet red onion.
Another thing that’s pretty perfect at Flour & Stone is the chopped salad an impeccable mix of crisp cool greens, tangy green apple, pungent, funky gorgonzola all drizzled with a sharp and sweet Italian vinaigrette. If there’s any love to be found in the food at Flour & Stone, it’s definitely in this bowl.
FLOUR & STONE 1/2*
355 E. Ohio; (312) 822-8998;www.flourandstone.com
This article first appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times in a different form.