The Hungry Hound recently visited two new spots on the North Shore, both located along Green Bay Road. Each place uses a different heating source to cook their pies.
At SLYCE Coal Fired Pizza, the heat coming off the ovens is intense. Inside, coal is burning evenly and consistently at about 820 degrees. SLYCE just opened its second location in Highwood, while the first is in Wauconda.
Working with coal, rather than wood, has its challenges.
"Storing it is not the cleanest thing. Not many people use it, but I think it just brings a lot to the pizza we make," said SLYCE chef Mike McElwee. "There's just not a lot of smoke in the oven when we cook, so you're not gonna get overpowering wood flavor to the crust when you eat it."
And that's fine, especially if its a bianco, made with heavy cream, proscuitto, figs, plus sharp gorgonzola. The pizzaiolos monitor the level of charring.
"We usually judge our pizza based on the bottom of the pie," McElwee said.
Crusts are sturdy here, allowing them to hold up the toppings.
"The pattern of the char on the bottom is how we judge whether it's cooked or not basically," he said.
Just a few miles south, Grateful Bites Pizza Shoppe is a very personal little place. The dough is clearly the focus here, and is fermented for at least 72 hours.
"We're about three days. It's a sourdough starter so there's no commercial yeast. Literally the only thing that's in there is flour, water, salt," said owner Matt Halack.
A standard red with tomatoes, Pecorino Romano cheese and mozzarella can be topped with pepperoni; fired for about two minutes, it's finished with a hot honey to balance the flavors.
"If you have hot, you can add sweet to balance. Acid, sweet, it's always kind of yin and yang," he said.
The same principle applies to his elote pizza, topped with corn and then drizzled with Japanese kewpie mayo, cotija cheese, cilantro and a dusting of chili.
Chicago Italian beef fans will really dig the sausage with Halack's homemade giardiniera.
"I wish it traveled a little better, but they seem to have embraced it pretty well so far," he said.
There are always six red pizzas on the menu, and three white pizzas. You could certainly customize your own with your own ingredients, but if you like the taste of sausage, the version with the sausage and giardiniera is a true taste of Chicago.
In Steve's Extra Course video, he takes a closer look at one of the desserts from Grateful Bites, including a chocolate chip cookie baked in a cast iron skillet.
899 Green Bay Rd, Winnetka, IL 60093
SLYCE Coal Fired Pizza
254 Green Bay Rd, Highwood, IL 60040
127 North Main St., Wauconda