Saturday, December 13, 2008

Another Disappointing Pizza Experience

I'm always pleased when someone makes the effort to open a new pizza joint (linguistic note: "joint" is Chicagoese for "place"). I keep hoping against hope that someone--a chain, an individual entrepreneur--will do things right. Alas, I remain convinced that a decent thin-crust pizza cannot be made south of Interstate 80, west of Interstate 39, north of the Illinois border, or east of the Ohio border. Is that a close enough range for you? Anyhow, there are several distinguishing characteristics of this style of pizza, which might help the casual browser in understanding what this particular writer qualifies as "decent."

  • A round pie, with cheese toppings that run to, or nearly to (but not exceptionally over), the edge.
  • Thin, crisp crust.
  • Slices cut in a grid pattern.
  • A salty-sweet tomato sauce that is prevalent and distinctive enough to make its presence known, but not so thick that messes are inevitable.
  • Mozzarella cheese from grain-fed Midwestern dairy cows.
  • Italian-seasoned sausage from grain-fed Midwestern hogs.
  • Light Italian seasonings scattered across the face of the cheese.
  • No "freaky" toppings. "Freaky," in this case, includes ham, pineapple, goat cheese, exotic or expensive mushrooms, capers, leafy-green vegetables, or anything that doesn't sound like "sausage" or "pepperoni." Cheese pizzas are acceptable, as long as the option is open to add toppings as the consumer sees fit.
  • (Ideally) made by actual Chicago Italians or by those who have been trained by them.

Your mileage may vary.

Anyhow, the latest restaurant not to meet the standards above is Noble Roman's Pizza on Madison Boulevard. Noble Roman's is a dual operation/store with Tuscano's(?) Deli, for folks who feel like an Italian sub instead of a pizza. I did not have a sub there, but might give it a try on some other day. Today I just went for an individual pizza with sausage and pepperoni. Usually I go for a straight-up cheese and sausage for callibration purposes--if they can't handle the basics, they don't get a second shot with me for any other flavor, but I was a bit hungry.

The meal also came with breadsticks and a choice of cheese, marinara, or garlic sauce on the side. I'm pretty sure I said garlic, but the guy gave me the cheese, which was more of a nacho cheese, heavy on the jalapenos. He fixed the sauce, and that was a bit better. The bread sticks had a dry, mottled texture, and didn't wow me.

I was there for the pizza, though, and here is where I hit my snags. The cheese was quite a bit from the edge of the crust, and the crust was pretzel brown. The pepperoni was fine, but the tomato sauce made no impression on me, and the sausage, on its own, was more like bits of breakfast sausage than Italian. I detected no spices on the cheese or the rest of the pizza, forcing me to add salt--something that should be unnecessary on a pizza with pepperoni on it.

On the plus side, the sweet tea in the place was decent, though both dispensers said only "iced tea," not indicating if one was sweet or not. That was a minor annoyance. The primary annoyance was simply that I still have yet to have a "just like home" pizza outside of the aforementioned geographic range. New York-style pizza, which I have had in NYC, translates (alas) easily across state or regional boundaries. "Chicago-style" thick-crust pizza also does fairly well outside the 312 area code, though Pizzeria Uno's standards have come down since the franchise expanded. Thin-crust pizza of the type described above does not travel well, for a variety of reasons I have yet to deduce. But my compliments to the folks in the Midwest who manage to work their magic. I don't get home very often, but when I do, I always make sure to include some of their product in my itinerary. Meanwhile, the quest for a good, thin-crust pizza continues.

Buon apetitto!

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