CHICAGO (WLS) -- The West Loop continues to be the Wild West when it comes to restaurant development. Our Hungry Hound says there are new concepts from out-of-town, right alongside local brands that continue to expand in the area.
But one of those out-of-towners is truly special. He says it's well-known in Rome, but only recently decided to open its first location in the United States. And where did they decide to plant their flag in America? Chicago, of course.
It's a pizza unlike any you've ever had in Chicago. It's not thin or deep; not Sicilian or stuffed; not even tavern-style or Neapolitan. It is pizza al Taglio, and the Romans have been enjoying it for years.
Now the same team behind one of Rome's most beloved pizzas has brought their unique flavors to our city, and I, for one, am over the moon about it.
The only pans you'll see at Bonci - the latest pizza place to open in the city - are long and rectangular. They form the base for the hundreds of creations that stem from the mind of Gabriele Bonci, a legendary Italian cook who has come to Chicago to introduce his style of pizza to the town that created deep dish.
"Our group went over there, met him, spoke with him, promised him that we would never mess with his product. Knew we could help him facilitate the move here," said Rick Tasman, whose company helped bring him here, and now manages the Chicago store. "Roman-style pizza - pizza al taglio - is pizza that's sold by the weight and by cut."
It's also unlike anything you've ever tasted, beginning with the dough.
"It's a long fermentation process - 48 hours - we use it from 48 to 72 hours, the dough comes out, it looks thick, like a focaccia, but it's very airy and as you said, gotta nice crunch to it," said Tasman.
The crunch is a result of the custom Italian ovens, which independently heat on the ceiling as well as the deck. The dough is supple and yet crispy, and Bonci tops it literally hundreds of ways: with zucchini and sheep's milk cheese; eggplant and herb oil, mushrooms; mortadella or kale over a base shmear of hummus; even pancetta and egg for a tongue-in-cheek breakfast pizza. There's potato and mozzarella - a truly Roman creation - and locally-made 'nduja, the spicy, spreadable Calabrian sausage with fresh ricotta.
You simply tell the servers how much you'd like of each.
"We cut it, we weigh it, we finish it in the oven then we sell it or give it to you in tapas-sized pieces," he said.
There's definitely a learning curve to ordering pizza this way, but Chicagoans know their way around cheese, dough and sauce, and a little education never hurt anyone. Besides, the payoff in this case is worth it.
"They figure it out quickly, then they end up bringing their friends in and their friends, they explain it to their friends, so its been kind of fun to watch," said Tasman.
In Steve's extra course, he talks about the tiny, fried balls of rice known as "suppli" - which most people in Chicago would refer to as arancini. They offer a trio of flavors at Bonci, and he'll show off two of his favorites.
161 N. Sangamon