Great thin-crust pizza in Chicago area

May 30, 2008 10:46:17 AM PDT
When it comes to pizza, Chicago is known for its deep dish, but ABC7 Chicago's Hungry Hound says thin crust is more in vogue than ever. He's found two new, yet distinctive options worth checking out.South Siders swear by Vito and Nick's, while North Side gourmands claim Spacca Napoli takes the true Neapolitan form. A couple of new thin crust options, however, fall into different categories. One offers more of a cracker-thin crust with dynamite toppings. The other, quite simply, makes the Hungry Hound's favorite thin crust in the city.

Anytime you talk pizza in Chicago, there's going to be discussion and analysis. And yet, the thin crust pies the staff is cranking out at Pizzeria Via Stato in River North don't seem to be stirring much debate. Uniformly cracker-thin, they're the perfect snack with a glass of wine or a beer.

"It's all about the heat. It's all about the bricks. When you achieve that heat, and you have the bricks for the bottom heat, you get the same results," said Pizzeria Via Stato's David DiGregorio.

But it's also about the crust and the toppings. While the super-thin crust isn't for everyone, it's hard to argue with fresh San Marzano tomatoes spread evenly across the dough, plus hand-pulled chunks of fresh mozzarella placed randomly across the top. Into a gas-fired deck oven, the pizzas only take about three or four minutes to bake. Finished with some garlic oil and a few fresh shards of torn basil, it's the simplest of snacks.

Other good options include a "white" pizza, stacked with both smoked and fresh mozzarella, plus roasted fingerling potatoes and tiny cubes of pancetta. After the pie has baked to a golden brown and the edges are crisp and slightly blistered, fresh rosemary is scattered across the top.

"It's a very thin crust. So we want the right amount and high-quality toppings where it just pops. It tastes really good," DiGregorio said.

The opposite experience in terms of both neighborhood and budget is the quietly unassuming Great Lake in Andersonville. There, Nick Lessins makes just five types of pizza, but each one is an artisanal statement.

"I just wanted to not be distracted from trying to make the best pizza that I could," Lessins said.

He certainly succeeds. His basic margherita begins with a hand-formed, homemade dough. It's topped with the freshest layer of tomatoes, four discs of his homemade mozzarella, some sea salt, and a healthy drizzle of olive oil. His gas-fired oven hovers around 650 degrees, and it's clear when he removes the pies after just a few minutes, that his dough is homemade.

The crust is bubbly and blistered on both the outer rim and below. The interior maintains a good chew while not being overwhelmed by the toppings.

"As far as the pizza goes, the bulk of my time went into trying to start out with making the best bread that I could. So, to me, that was the foundation," said Lessins.

That foundation proudly supports Spanish goat cheese and mushrooms or a garden of fresh baby arugula or a German-inspired pie with creme fraiche, smoked bacon and onions.

Lessins says, like any good pizza, it all depends on your crust.

"If you have really good bread, then everything else is gonna be elevated that much more," he said.

Pizzeria Via Stato is open for lunch and dinner. Great Lake is only open for dinner, and a crucial note about them, they have only one table. However, their pizza reheats well.

Pizzeria Via Stato

620 N. State St.

312-337-6634

Great Lake

1477 W. Balmoral

773-334-9270


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