Celebrating Italian pride on Columbus Day

Monday is Columbus Day, a time when Italian pride swells. Columbus is remembered for his ships: the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. Well, in terms of Italian food, there are few equals to the bread, the pasta and the dish of gelato.

The Hungry Hound found exquisite examples of each one where Italian tradition also happens to be delicious.

The second generation carries on a delicious tradition at D'Amato's Bakery in West Town, source of untold numbers of foccaccia, baguette and muffalatta.

Their slicer runs nearly non-stop, turning rustic loaves into instant sandwich material.

"It's cookin' on top of the bricks, so you get that nice crust on the bottom, of the bread too, instead of being a gas oven," said Victor D'Amato, D'Amato's Bakery.

An ancient, coal-fired oven means they bake at high temperatures creating one of the best examples of an Italian icon.

Someone say pasta? A handful of restaurants now make their own including Piccolo Sogno - also on the Near West Side - and boasting a menu where everything is made in-house.

"You have to make everything from scratch, the bread, the breadsticks, the gelato, you name it," said Tony Priolo, Piccolo Sogno.

Priolo's spaghetti begins as dough, which he rolls out, and then cuts on a chitarra, an old-fashioned cutter resembling a guitar. The narrow strands are tossed with semolina flour to keep them separate, then they're boiled ever-so-briefly, and tossed with local tomatoes, garlic and basil. Paglia e Fieno contains green and white ribbons buried in a veal ragu while a four-cheese ravioli immersed in pine nuts, marsala wine and parmesan is irresistible.

The iconic Italian dessert is gelato of course, and few make it better than the folks at Via Gelato, located in The Glen, a planned community of sorts in Glenview.

"We make true, artisan gelato. Each one of our pans is handmade individually, one at a time," said Denis Dean, Via Gelato. "We don't keep it stored in the back, when we run low, we make more."

Hazelnuts are chopped and blended into a small pot then poured into a single machine, where, after about 15 minutes, rich, creamy gelato emerges. They have about 20 flavors on-hand everyday. Highlights included cappucino, chocolate chip and Ferraro Rocher - a mix of chocolate, hazelnut, wafer cookies and crunch. Dean says plenty of Europeans have remarked how similar the flavors are to what they had growing up.

"It's so fun to watch their face, because it's like they're getting a taste back at home," said Dean.

The Hungry Hound would also add Freddy's Pizza in Cicero to that all-star gelato list. As for pasta, there are now a good half-dozen or so restaurants in Chicago making their own from scratch each day, a sign Columbus would have surely appreciated.

D'Amato's Bakery
1124 W. Grand Ave.
Chicago, IL 60622

Piccolo Sogno
464 N Halsted St.
Chicago, IL 60642
(312) 421-0077

Via Gelato
1853 Tower Drive
Glenview, IL 60026
(847) 729-7088

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