Italian cafe offers freshly made pizza, pasta

April 11, 2012 9:40:25 AM PDT
Anytime you mention lunch for $10 or less near the Loop, it must mean fast food. But we found the tiniest Italian cafe on the North Side of the River where pretty much everything is made from scratch -- and the prices are more than reasonable.

Chicago has no shortage of Italian restaurants, but most of them buy the pasta from elsewhere and use canned products. Not at Bongiorno's, a hidden away cafe next door to the Trump Hotel at the base of a condo building.

"We want to try to separate ourselves not only on the pasta side, but just the whole concept of freshly made to order," said Thomas Bongiorno, the store's owner.

They accomplish that by hiring an Italian cook, who really knows how to go old school. Take the gnocchi, for instance: potato dough is sealed around knobs of fresh ricotta and asiago cheeses, then boiled, and finally, finished in a vibrant pomodoro sauce with fresh basil. They are pillowy and yet dense with flavor.

Pizzas are also big with the River North lunch crowd. They have several varieties, including a standard margherita with fresh mozzarella and basil, but also a version featuring artichokes, cooked prosciutto, black olives and mushrooms.

"We do now give a ten and a half inch pizza, for $5.50 I may add which is a great price. Freshly made for you, so there's nothing laying around," Bongiorno said.

Then there are the sandwiches. Bursting with flavor and all well-made, they feature Italian ingredients - such as eggplant, arugula and tomato - put to good use between sturdy loaves. Bongiorno says the food is obviously what will bring people back, but his location, tucked away between high rises and right on the River, doesn't hurt either.

"The beauty of our location also is we also have seating outside for about twenty tables," he said.

And Bongiorno's is open seven days a week, lunch and dinner. You can also order ahead online.

405 N. Wabash