But since his book came out a few months ago, our Hungry Hound has been trying to shift the conversation to tavern style, artisan and Neapolitan. His latest find is in Bridgeport, near the home of the White Sox, where a wood-fired oven is the star.
RELATED: Hungry Hound Steve Dolinsky's Pizza Quest
In the shadow of Guaranteed Rate Field, the Scalise family is now into pizza. Known in the neighborhood as the original family behind the well-loved Italian deli Gio's, they converted one of their buildings into two businesses.. one serving as an all-day cafe, the other, a wood-fired pizza operation that is not trying to be just another Neapolitan joint.
The dough is made each day in bulk, cut into portions and weighed, then formed into balls and left to proof overnight before baking. The process is familiar to most any Neapolitan pizza joint, but at Stix 'n Brix Wood Fired Pizza in Bridgeport, Neapolitan-style was only inspiration, not a requirement.
"On the South Side, it's pretty bare, not many options; there's obviously several on the North Side, some in the West Loop. We had this empty building, it's been in the family for many years, we're just kind of brainstorming, what could be there?" said Mario Scalise, the owner. "Our goal wasn't necessarily to come up with the best Neapolitan pizza, it was to come up with the best wood-fired pizza."
So while they use "00" flour, they don't use San Marzano tomatoes and rather than some other name brand fior di latte, they use Galbani mozzarella. A margherita is the baseline, but you can get more creative from there - add thin slices of prosciutto or maybe make the base from pesto, adding shards of parmesan and then topping with roasted tomatoes before taking it to the oven. And here's the biggest point of difference: rather than bake the pies in 90 seconds with a 900 degree oven, they take a bit longer, since the oven temp is a bit lower. That results in a crust with more even baking, like bread, but still a bit of open crumb on the edge and most important for folks who aren't fans of sloppy, wet Neapolitan pies: an undercarriage that's charred and evenly browned, with a middle that has some integrity and no tip sag.
"A nice, crunchy outside, not burnt, just slightly nice cooked outside, and then a chewy middle. Then the middle won't flop, it'll be a nice, steady pizza," Scalise said.
In Steve's Extra Course Video, he takes a look at the Red Line Café, right next door to the pizzeria, where they serve a lot of other dishes besides pizza - including some homemade Italian desserts.
EXTRA COURSE: Red Line Cafe
Stix n Brix Wood Fired Pizza
220 W. 33rd St.