Stella Barra a Lettuce Entertain You pizza joint

Lincoln Park's new Stella Barra combines Neapolitan pizza thinness with a California perspective and some of the non-pizza items are just as good as the circular main attractions.
January 11, 2014 8:36:45 PM PST
A bit of aged, Italian balsamic vinegar is drizzled over some flash-fried Brussels sprouts. They get a bit of shredded Grana Padano cheese. Nothing revelatory, but certainly not what you'd expect at a pizza joint either. Stella Barra is a sequel of sorts. It's the third location for Lettuce Entertain You, after opening two in Los Angeles. Occupying the space next to the enormous Summer House Santa Monica in Lincoln Park, the open kitchen features a lot of slowly fermented dough for a pizza that is more personal.

"I never worked in a pizzeria before so I really didn't have this box to have these rules. It wasn't Neapolitan-style pizza, I didn't go to study in Italy, it was what I thought pizza was," said Chef Jeff Mahin.

Something as simple as soft, creamy burrata cheese arrives with grilled red grapes, olive oil and fresh, grilled bread. But for pizza, start with the baseline - a Margherita - which is simultaneously soft and crunchy, loaded with quite a bit of fresh mozzarella. But his kale and spinach version - which gets a bottom layer of parmesan cream sauce and some roasted garlic, also has pecorino romano as well as scallions and parsley.

"When we put the kale on there - and we were messing around, I wanted a spinach pizza - but the kale gets really crispy, like kale chips. But it's a different crispy than the dough. So you have this multiple-textured pizza," he said. "The reason I got into making pizza is I wanted to go back to why I started cooking was having fun in the kitchen."

So the nice thing about Stella Barra are all of the options: from the familiar - such as a margherita pizza or pepperoni - to the maybe not-so-familiar, such as the imports from California like the kale and spinach pizza; yes, it's delicious.

On your way out, be sure to stop by the dessert bar in the center of the entrance, for an amazing thin cookie (or two).

Stella Barra Pizzeria
1954 N. Halsted