The pizza here is not New York–style or Chicago-style, nor is it exactly New Haven or Neapolitan. Beholden to no particular geographical bias, Coalfire takes the best elements of the most beloved traditional pizza styles and forges something more satisfying than any of them. The bubbly crust, almost ornate at the cornicione (the pizza’s outer edge), remains delectably thin and flexible in the center and comes up leopard-spotted underneath. It’s some kind of miracle, which the faithful clean-burning coal Valoriani brick oven manages in less than two minutes.
Opened in 2007, the airy, minimalist original spot in West Town is staffed by polished servers and patronized by Instagramming 20-somethings, drink-spilling toddlers, crust-flipping pizza geeks, and virtually every other subculture of Chicago. And they’re all giddy. Coalfire lost nary a step when chief pizza maker J. Spillane split in 2012 to open Armitage Pizzeria (which he recently closed).
You could probably pick any one of Bill Carroll and Dave Bonomi’s nine artisanal pies as best in show. But the pinnacle is their inspired lasagna pizza. Well-distributed mozzarella, a sprightly red sauce, and giant dollops of whipped ricotta give the dish its name; lumps of impeccable Berkshire fennel sausage, slices of sweet red peppers, and strips of fresh basil, all of which nestle into that dynamic savory crust, lend it an unforgettable character. Every bite is rich and generous, crisp and creamy, and tinged with a smoky char. Coalfire does not simply make pizzas; it crafts creative statements that stretch the bounds of the medium, reminding us all to focus less on classifying pizza and more on enjoying it. 1321 W. Grand Ave., 312-226-2625 and 3707 N. Southport Ave., 773-477-2625