Pizza D.O.C. in Ravenswood and Follia in the West Loop came first with Neapolitan-style, thin-crust pizzas. Nearly a decade later, boutique pizzerias serving the svelte version have popped up everywhere. Based on traditional pizzas in Italy, the new wave hasn’t overtaken deep-dish, but the back-to-basics pies have a fierce following. The best are thin, tender, and wet in the middle from olive oil, with a blistered crust, a trademark of Neapolitan wood-burning ovens. Here, we’ve put eight Margherita pizzas head-to-head, and crowned one the champ.
OVEN: coal-fired; from Reggello, Italy COOKING: 800 degrees for roughly 2 minutes VERDICT: J. Spillane, a Massachusetts native, turns out picture-perfect coal-dusted pies. “Finally,” sigh displaced East Coasters. Addictive, but by Neapolitan standards these pizzas are too dry-not that the long lines seem to mind. BYO. 1321 W. Grand Ave.; 312-226-2625
OVEN: wood-fired; from Faenza, Italy COOKING: 650 degrees for “a few” minutes VERDICT: Michael Altenberg’s flatbread pizza (we know: the nation’s first certified organic pizza) also happens to taste terrific. Our oblong Basilico pie was slightly underdone, though the béchamel made it pleasantly gooey. 2056 W. Division St.; 773-235-5511
OVEN: wood-fired; from California COOKING: 700 degrees for about 2 minutes VERDICT: The gorgeous blistered pizzas are properly chewy in the center, but could use more basil. And what’s with the grape tomatoes? They melt in the oven. 3358 N. Paulina St.; 773-248-5222
Gruppo di Amici
OVEN: wood-fired; from Modena, Italy COOKING: 500 degrees for 3 to 4 minutes VERDICT: It’s Roman-style, more crackery and less doughy than Neapolitan. Nice, balanced pie. Wish the lightly charred crust had more oomph. 1508 W. Jarvis Ave.; 773-508-5565
Sapore Di Napoli
OVEN: electric/refractory brick oven; from Italy COOKING: 650 degrees for 2 to 2-1/2 minutes VERDICT: This tiny BYO imports fresh mozzarella di bufala, and its crust has telltale charred patches, but something’s missing. Could be the smokiness that a wood-burning oven imparts. 1406 W. Belmont Ave.; 773-935-1212
BEST: Spacca Napoli (pictured)
OVEN: wood-fired; from Naples COOKING: 950 to 1,200 degrees for 1 to 1-1/2 minutes VERDICT: Owner Jonathan Goldsmith should change his name to Goldstandard. Everything is in alignment, and the slender, smoky, bubbled crust has the patented soft center that makes purists salivate and the uninitiated turn up their noses. 1769 W. Sunnyside Ave.; 773-878-2420
Stop 50 Wood Fired Pizzeria
OVEN: wood-fired; from Washington State COOKING: 900 to 1,000 degrees for 1 to 1-1/2 minutes VERDICT: Out in Harbor Country, pizza geek Chris Bardol has mimicked Phoenix’s Pizzeria Bianco. Stop 50’s pizza is thinner than, say, Spacca’s, more garlicky and salty. Worth a drive-if you can find it. 500 S. El Portal Dr., Michiana Shores, Indiana; 219-879-8777
OVEN: wood-fired; from Tuscany COOKING: 800 degrees for 2 to 3 minutes VERDICT: Lucia Mazzocchetti and Mark Butler learned the craft at Pizza D.O.C., and they do a good rendition with properly wet centers. More basil, less mozzarella, and a blistered crust would make their pies even better. 706 Main St., Evanston; 847-475-1111
*Crust doesn’t serve a Margherita pizza, so we went with the closest approximation, a Basilico: melted tomatoes, béchamel, mozzarella, and basil.
Photograph: Grant Kessler