Linda: Today we are off to sample pizzas. Since there are so many styles of pizzas and we only have limited stomach capacity, we needed to focus. And what better focus than on the classic, neopolitan-style pizza? I know we're in Chicago and Chicago is the home of deep dish pizza, but we'll save that crawl for another day.
Naples, Italy is justifiably proud of its pizza traditions. They bake their pies in wood-fired ovens, at high temps, using flour especially designed to make a pliable, light crust: strong enough to hold the toppings and not get soggy, but light enough so the pizza crust doesn't sit in your stomach like a rock. Gluten content and gluten development in the flour are the keys to a chewy, tasty pizza crust.
We hit four pizzerias to sample their pies and came away with two favorites: Spacca Napoli and Coalfire Pizza. What made them stand out was their combination of a tasty crust and the balance of the toppings.
Spacca Napoli, 1769 W. Sunnyside
Linda: This was my favorite spot of the day. The pizza was "to die for ". We sampled the Bianca con Bufala e Rucola (mozzarella di Bufala, Arugula, and Basil). The crust was heavenly – chewy, elastic, light. The toppings were very simple but perfectly balanced. The sweetness of the mozzarella di Bufala is balanced by the peppery arugula. I am not a big fan of mounds of cheese on a pizza – its gets greasy and makes the crust soggy. So this pizza spoke to me.
Spacca Napoli uses a wood-fired oven built in Naples; Caputo 00 pizza flour; and a slow fermentation process for its dough, which results in an elastic, light crust. Because of the high temperature of the oven, it only takes 90 seconds to cook the pizza.
Sharon: I couldn't agree more although it is tough to pick my "favorite" pizza or favorite spot. And that is only because we sampled different pizzas at different restaurants. This was the lightest crust of all and maybe also the one with the greatest aesthetic value. It is also the only pizza that I could enjoy all by myself. That being said, I would love to go back and enjoy every pizza on their menu.
Coalfire, 1321 W. Grand
Sharon: Of the four establishments we visited my top pick was Coalfire. As advertised, their pizzas are "Neopolitan-American" cooked in a coal oven (as opposed to wood). The oven temp is between 700 and 800F and the pies only need about 2 minutes to become perfection. Our pie of choice was a pesto, mozzarella, ricotta, olive oil and kalamata olive delight. I am wary of pesto because many times the garlic is so overwhelming that the rest of the ingredients are lost. But not this one. It was the perfect balance of basil and garlic. That coupled with just the right amount of olives and ricotta made for the best pesto pie I have ever eaten. The crust was thin and a little chewy but substantial enough to hold the toppings in place. Had it been the first stop of the day I would surely have made it my meal for the day.
So what began as an even playing field of four top pizza spots in the city, I would only re-visit two.
Linda: I completely agree with everything you say. The balance of the toppings made for a fantastic eating experience. The pesto was completely delicious and the olives gave it a nice bite. The only reason I preferred Spacca Napoli over Coalfire was that I liked the Spacca Napoli crust better; it wasn't as tough as Coalfire's crust. Coalfire does use 00 artisanal Italian flour, just like Spacca Napoli. Both of these places are head and shoulders above the many standard pizza joints that dot the Chicago landscape.