Cheese, sausage, pepperoni? Meh! When you’re craving a pie with unconventional ingredients and combinations from clams to ham, dial up one of these Chicago institutions for a crazy and memorable pizza experience.
Piece Brewery & Pizzeria
1927 W. North Ave.
Chicago, IL 60622
New Haven-style pizza (it’s called “apizza” back east) is an anomaly in Chicago so for that reason alone, Piece makes the list. That Piece’s pies are overwhelmingly scrumptious and perfectly imperfect in that New Haven way gets the popular Wicker Park spot another nudge towards “best.” The crust is sort of amoeba shaped and sports browned bubbles of goodness. Get the pie that put southern Connecticut on the pizza map – white clam – that’s crowned with olive oil, garlic, clams, oregano and cheese. Although Pepe’s in New Haven serves its white pie with clams sans mozzarella, Piece gives Midwesterners their mozz and encourages the addition of bacon. Another wonderfully weird one here tops a white pie with mashed spuds. Owner Bill Jacobs says, “With or without bacon, it is outstanding.” Also outstanding? Award-winning, hand-crafted brews from the seven-barrel brew house and killer karaoke.
59 W. Grand Ave.
Chicago, IL 60654
Named for an Italian cabinet used to knead dough and store bread, La Madia never disappoints, and its chefs labor over making pizza dough fresh daily. Topping combinations are inspired rather than gimmicky. Here are a few (let the salivation begin): white pizzas like Slagel Farm wood smoked pork belly, Tuscan kale, garlic, caramelized onion and caciocavallo cheese; carbonara with Slagel Farm guanciale, cracked organic egg and melted leeks; housemade lamb sausage, fresno peppers, caciocavallo cheese and mint pesto; and the sublime taleggio and three-hour roasted grapes. La Madia offers wine pairing suggestions for every pizza. The extensive wine list features more than 300 selections by the bottle and over 75 by the glass, including a red and white “wine of the week” for just $6 each.
3463 N. Clark St.
Chicago, IL 60657
You’ve probably taken a bite out of a barbecue chicken pizza but Dimo’s regulars go for the BBQ steak and fries: thinly sliced marinated steak with crinkle cut French fries, mozzarella and a heaping slathering of Sweet Baby Ray’s barbecue sauce. Non-meat eaters order the oddly named BB Fat that tops the pie with crumbled feta cheese, avocado slices and chopped tomatoes on a black bean base. Other interesting pizzas include the spicy chicken taco, lasagna marinara, the vegan naked veg and chicken n’ waffles (mozzarella, breaded chicken, melted butter and mini waffle bites on a crème fraiche base, topped with maple syrup). Since Dimo’s is close to Wrigley Field, it’s not surprising that the most popular choice is one that comforts after another loss. The Mac is a carb-laden disc consisting of macaroni noodles and cheddar cheese on a homemade crème fraiche base.
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Roots Handmade Pizza
1924 W. Chicago Ave.
Chicago, IL 60622
What sets a Quad Cities pie apart? First, its housemade pizza dough with a heavy dose of dark-roasted brewer’s malt that makes a darker, nuttier and slightly sweeter crust that’s hand stretched and tossed. A unique Quad Cities spice mix is worked into the dough and the sauce is thin, smooth and slightly spicy. Roots uses fresh Wisconsin mozzarella cheese with a specific fat and moisture content which means your pie won’t turn into a greasy meal. Per Quad Cities tradition, the pizza is hand-cut into strips using giant razor-sharp scissors. No matter what you order, you’re promised a unique pizza-eating experience, but if you’re looking for unusual, try Roots’ best seller, the taco pizza. It’s laden with taco-seasoned housemade crumbled sausage under mozzarella and cheddar cheese and then finished with shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes and taco-seasoned tortilla chips on top. To make it a true Quad Cities pizza, it is served with Heinz taco sauce packets on the side.
3028 W. Armitage Ave.
Chicago, IL 60647
Dante’s bakes huge pies boasting New York-style thin crust that beckon to be eaten straight from the fridge the next morning. The charon specialty pie is studded with shrimp, prosciutto di Parma, pineapple, jalapeno, red sauce and mozzarella while the minotaur successfully combines a NY crust with Chicago ingredients like garlic sauce, Italian beef, giardiniera, provolone, sweet peppers and mozzarella. The inferno specialty pie takes you back to high school or college when you were assigned to read Dante’s tome about the seven rings of hell. These rings are littered with Poblano peppers, pepperoni, giardiniera, bacon, fresh garlic, jalapeno, sausage, red onion, banana pepper, red sauce and mozzarella, paying you back for using cliff notes all those years ago. The signature pies take at least 30 minutes to bake and are priced the $27-$29 range.
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Jacky Runice has been a columnist with the Daily Herald Chicago since grunge music and flannel was the new black. Her fingers and gray matter have been busy as travel editor of Reunions Magazine; penning a column that was syndicated around the nation via Tribune Media Services. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.