After a particularly surprising (and enjoyable) pizza on Tuesday afternoon – and subsequently posting it on Twitter and Facebook – I realized that I had never done a Top 5 Neapolitan pizza list. Nearly two years ago, while blogging for WBEZ, I had compiled a list of my Top 5 pizzas in Chicago, but taking into account the various styles (pan, thin, tavern, etc.) I didn’t really get to explore the topic in-depth; especially as it related to the Neapolitan category.
The Neapolitan pizza – unlike feta cheese from Greece and champagne from France – is not itself a protected designation of origin (D.O.C.), but the cheese often associated with it is (that would be mozzarella di bufala - mozzarella that comes from a water buffalo). A proper pie is also make with type 0 or 00 flour, as well as San Marzano tomatoes, which grow on the volcanic plains near Mount Vesuvius.
According to the rules proposed by the Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana, the dough must be kneaded by hand or with a low-speed mixer. After the rising process, the dough must be formed by hand without the help of a rolling pin or other machine, and may be no more than 3 mm thick. The pizza must be baked for 60–90 seconds in a 905 °F stone oven with an oak-wood fire. The most basic version you’ll find in Chicago is typically the pizza Margherita, made with tomato, sliced mozzarella, basil and extra-virgin olive oil.
Not all of my five picks adhere to these rules religiously. Panino’s uses a deck oven, for example, but I loved the pie nonetheless, as its char and chew captured my attention from the start, forcing me to eat a few more slices than I had anticipated. I wouldn’t recommend getting any of these pizzas to go, incidentally. They are much better consumed on the premises, preferably within a few minutes of emerging from the oven. Note: there are some obvious omissions here. As much as I love what Spacca Napoli attempts, I think their pies are far too wet in the center (yes, I know they eat them that way in Naples, but I don’t feel like swimming in a watery mess). Pizza D.O.C. has always buried their pizzas in too much cheese, and as much as I love Great Lake, those pies are more artisan than Neapolitan.
1. Panino’s, 3702 N. Broadway, 773-472-6200
I can’t vouch for their Evanston or Park Ridge locations, but the version I had this week in Boystown was terrific.
2. Pizzeria da Nella Cucina Napoletana, 1443 W. Fullerton Ave., 773-281-6600
The namesake (Nella) used to work at Spacca Napoli, briefly partnered with Scott Harris in Lincoln Park, and now runs the show here. Pies are Neapolitan to the letter, but not as consistent as I would like. I wish they would leave them in the oven another 20 seconds or so.
3. Macello, 1235 W. Lake Street, 312-850-9870
A tad forgotten since they closed from a fire, they have reopened, and the pies are properly blistered, containing that wonderful mozzarella di bufala.
4. Antica Pizzeria, 5663 N. Clark St. , 773-944-1492
A shade more Sicilian than Neapolitan, but I still love the wood-fired char these pies exhibit, with a decent chew and right amount of salt.
5. Elio Pizza on Fire, 445 W. Lake St., Addison , 630-628-0088
Technically not in Chicago proper, but boy, does Elio Bartolotta make a fine pie; the man does everything himself, including chopping wood out back.