CHICAGO - Neapolitan pizza joints have been cropping up all over Chicago the past few years, but none had opened in Hyde Park, until recently. Our Hungry Hound says one of Lincoln Park's best pizza makers closed her shop a few months ago, re-opening in a brand new dorm on the University of Chicago campus, where they've expanded their menu.
The pizzaiolo works quickly, stretching dough, adding toppings and navigating the 900 degree wood-burning oven at the new Nella Pizza e Pasta, at the base of a new dorm on East 55th Street. Nella herself splits her time between the pizzas and the pasta.
"I was six years old, when my father started to teach me how make pizza. Because my grandfather and great grandfather were pizza makers," said Nella Grassano.
She's trained her staff well. Not only does the dough emerge with the trademark leopard spotting, most of her meticulously-sourced toppings come from Italy.
"Fresh mozzarella, fresh basil, fresh mushroom. Salami from Naples, smoked mozzarella from Naples. My tomatoes come from Naples," she said.
The pies are cooked in about a minute-and-a-half.
"Because the dough is so soft, it's gotta raise in 90 seconds it's got to be ready," she said.
But there's more than just pizza. Antipasti platters groan with castelvetrano olives, tiny arancini, cured meats and cheeses. Mussels are the stars of a few pastas, like the homemade pappardelle with bits of imported black truffle. In fact, most of her pastas are made on-site, by hand.
"I make gnocchi, pappardelle, scialatielli, homemade," said Grassano.
Grassano also brings in unique Italian beers, offers some sturdy cocktails, like a negroni, and prides herself on being the first Neapolitan-focused restaurant in the neighborhood, if not on the South Side entirely.
"I'm the pioneer," she said.
So the restaurant scene here in Hyde Park has been making improvements the last couple of years, albeit slowly, but the fact that Nella is here now, doing authentic Neapolitan-style pizza, well, you gotta be pretty excited if you're a college student.
In Steve's Extra Course video, he takes a look at the Vesuvio, a type of covered pizza that resembles a gigantic calzone.
Nella Pizza e Pasta
Extra Course: Vesuvio pizza at Nella Pizza e Pasta
1125 E 55th St.