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Sorry Italy, Greek Pizza Rules

Jealous much?
Thursday Feb 24, 2005.     By Misty Tosh
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

The best pizza I've ever tasted was hand slung by a chain-smoking Frenchman in a tiny village on the outskirts of Paris. He was perched in a tin can of a truck just outside the town grocery store, and I'd watched in awe as he tore down the side alley, squealed to a terrifying stop, whipped open the rolling window, fired up the wood burning oven and promptly proceeded to take orders from the line that magically appeared, their groceries long forgotten. All with cig dangling and brow sweatin', of course.

I'd ordered a veggie pie and when I finally got home (trust me, I was running like a little school girl), I ripped into the heavy paper bag it was encased in and dove into pizza heaven. The crust was thin, crunchy and chewy. The olive oil was peppery and soaked deep into the dough. He'd slathered the crust with creamy, wet goat cheese and sprinkled the top with little strips of baby mushrooms, patty pan squash, heirloom tomatoes and loads of gigantic basil leaves. Pure bliss. Nothing has ever compared until I was introduced to Greek-style pizza at a gem of a bakery/restaurant called Artopolis, in Greektown.

Forget finding this at Pizza Hut. Artopolis (standing for "bread town") is a popular Greektown haunt, and deservedly so. Set up like a market, with tables littered throughout, it's usually a packed house any time of the day. The main feature in the exposed kitchen is a beautiful wood-burning oven, and hundreds of wood fired pizzas pour out its confines every day. When my favorite, the margherita pizza, finally arrived, it looked just like any standard pie. But just one bite and my mouth literally fell open. A sublime mix of crunchy, tender dough (made from an old world recipe) with oregano baked right into a crust that's doused in the finest imported extra virgin olive oil, it's covered with thinly sliced (not mealy) roma tomatoes, fresh mozzarella cheese, sliver thin basil and what has to be the secret ingredient, Manouri cheese (a tangy Greek cheese made from 100 percent sheep's milk, with a hint of citrus throughout.)

My buddy Lisa and I couldn't stop eating that friggin' pizza, even though we were stuffed to the gills. I'd already slammed down a delicious Mediterranean salad, freshly baked hearth bread with warm butter and a superb rendition of French pommes frites done up Greek-style. (A whole other rave is needed for this awesome appetizer; they served the slim, crunchy French fries with tiny dishes of tart Dijon mustard and fresh crumbled feta cheese and when you grab a fistful of fries, dip 'em in the mustard and then squish 'em into the bowl of feta, watch out!)

I rarely come across a place where the entire restaurant deserves a rave, but I guess there is a first time for everything. All I am wondering is, what up Italy?

The Final Rave: Don't even try to skip all the baked goods. They hand-make everything in the huge basement kitchen and the chewy amaretto almond cookies are insanely addictive.


Read It: Trader Joe's
TJ's has a big blob of raw pizza dough that they sell for less than a buck in the refrigerated case. Grab one, read the back and cook yourself silly by creating your own pizza masterpiece.

Eat It: BoJono's
Looking for your pizza the way the New Yorker's love it? This standing-room-only pizza joint not only has the huge cheese wedge down pat: It rocks out NYC cheesecake like nobody else.

Drink It: Pizza D.O.C.
Slap down a whole Italian style pizza, made to order and baked in their wood-burning oven. Just make sure to wash it down with a bottle of their house vino; they claim it's the real thing.

Get Crazy With It: Start your own Pizza Empire
If you've got your own take on the perfect pie, go wild, make like a true chef and rent this professional kitchen. For $25 per hour, you could be the next Mario slinging your wares on the Food Network.


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