Pat Bruno knows pizza. Dating his love of the pies back to Saturdays in upstate New York when his Calabrian mother would make pizza from scratch, he can talk toppings like you wouldn't believe.
Credentials-wise, the Chicago Sun-Times food critic has written two pizza books—The Great Chicago-Style Pizza Cookbook and The Ultimate Pizza—and that's just the ordinary stuff. The pizza guru has invented a baking stone for home ovens, writes a monthly column for Pizza Today and provides pizza consultations all over the globe.
Centerstage recently sat down with Bruno, hungry to hear his top five spots to grab a slice of a regional specialty. As a true die-hard, Bruno didn't bother with details like ambience and appetizers. Here, it's all about the pizza.
Those in the know get stuffed at Giordano's
Giordano's has been at the stuffed pizza game for 40 years, which is just about as long as I have been enjoying it. When you take a substantial amount of mozzarella cheese, sausage and vegetables and encase it between two layers of well-made pizza dough topped with a tangy pizza sauce, the pizza experience is raised to yet another level. Just be prepared to wait; it will take a good 30 minutes for your pizza to get to your table. Have the house salad instead of filling up on appetizers.
Craving Neapolitan? Get yourself to Spacca Napoli
Spacca Napoli is as close as I've had to places in Naples. The big secret when you're doing Neapolitan pizzas is the high temperature of the oven, which cooks the dough in just minutes and seals it. Spacca Napoli can bake that pizza in less than a couple minutes because they've put the toppings on very judiciously—they don't fall into the crazy trap of loading the crust down with tomatoes or a lot of cheese, which makes the dough soggy. There's always a line out the door on weekends so you're better off going during the week if you don't want to wait. I favor the margherita pizza here.
Looking for a classic deep dish? Head to Pizzeria Uno's
Uno's makes the best classic Chicago deep dish in town. It makes tomorrow's dough today, instead of every hour like some places do, so it has a chance to get a beautiful rise. Then the cooks press the fresh dough into the pan, followed by cheese then tomatoes then toppings. Uno's doesn't pre-bake the crust; it doesn't compromise. On a good day I can put away at least three slices. When you go, avoid the booths opposite the bar. The tables toward the back of the room are more out of the way of the constant comings and goings of customers.
New York-style reaches perfection at Cafe Luigi
Cafe Luigi has the best New York-style pizza in the city. For New York-style pizza, the crust is thin through the center and has got a little puff on the edge, and it has a chew to it. It's not overwhelmed with toppings, just a light smear of great tomatoes and a balance of cheese and sausage. In New York we call it a folder, in that you can take a slice and fold it and eat it without getting it all over you. It's mostly a take-out place, but there are several tables for sit-down, and though it's a bare bones atmosphere, it's always pleasant.
Italian bakery pizza finds a home at D'Amato's Bakery
Pizza first came to this country by way of New York. Italian bakeries would sell it by the piece, like D'Amato's does today. Zero in on the case with Italian cookies on the bottom and three or four pans of Italian bakery pizza. D'Amato's version has the thicker, breadier crust that I equate with Italian bakery pizza, with a nice soft chew to it. There are only two kinds, sausage or no sausage. It's take-out only, but the square slices are easy to eat in your car. Grab some Italian cookies—it has a great assortment—or a cannoli for dessert.
Each month Centerstage Chicago finds out the five favorites of a local expert. If you know someone whose brain we should pick, let us know.