Thin-crust Neapolitan pies at Spacca Napoli, Elio Pizza on Fire, Panino's Pizzaiolo

May 17, 2013 (CHICAGO)

In fact, there's an entire governing body dedicated to promoting the exact art of true, Neapolitan pies.

There have been nearly a dozen openings over the past five or six years.

Here are my top three.

The finished margherita pizza at Panino's Pizzaiolo - which has locations in Park Ridge, Evanston and Lake View - is impressive. Good crust, the result of a fantastic yeast starter and longer fermentation, plus San Marzano tomatoes, a bit of pecorino and parmesan; a generous sprinkle of fresh mozzarella - that is, fior di latte - and a drizzle of olive oil.

"They're made with a flour that comes from Italy, the tomatoes that we use - the San Marzano tomatoes - are also from Italy," said Bruno Brunetti, the owner of Panino's.

But Neapolitan purists would scoff at the fact they don't have a wood-burning oven here; rather, a natural gas fired deck oven. Still, when it emerges, slightly blistered, with a good chew and an extra helping of fresh basil, it tastes wonderful.

Those purists can rest easy at Elio Pizza on Fire in Addison. That's because owner Elio Bartolotta chops his own wood and uses it to blast an oven that consistently churns out puffy, slightly blistered pies that have a great chew and just enough salt, topped, of course, with those Italian tomatoes and creamy fior di latte.

Then there is Spacca Napoli, a Ravenswood pizzeria that has evolved over the last six years. The center of the dough used to be wetter, that is, more Neapolitan. But after playing with fermentation times, I have fallen back in love with them. In terms of Neapolitan rules, nothing has changed.

"The cook time should be somewhere between 60 to 90 seconds, the dough itself would always be standard in terms of flour, water, salt and yeast," said Spacca Napoli owner Jonathan Goldsmith.

And Goldsmith uses an unnamed Italian tomato, adding to it a few torn basil leaves, a generous handful of fior di latte and a bit of grated pecorino. A final drizzle of oil, then it's into the oven for a minute or so.

"In Chicago, as well as around the country, there are a number of Neapolitan pizzerias. But around the country there are incredible, wonderful artisanal pizzerias that also are incorporating a lighter dough with a longer rise with wonderful ingredients," he said.

One bit of advice: don't get them delivered or for take-out. These are high-quality, fragile pizzas that are best enjoyed hot, right out of the oven.

Spacca Napoli
1769 W. Sunnyside

Elio Pizza on Fire
445 W. Lake St., Addison

Panino's Pizzaiolo
3702 N. Broadway
(note, entrance is on Waveland)

28 S. Fairview, Park Ridge

1968 Dempster Ave., Evanston

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