Until this summer, the Sicilian pizza scene in Chicago was pretty much nonexistent. You could grab a slice at Italian bakeries like D’Amato’s, but for the ideal version — a thick-crust, square-cut pizza with a crispy base and deceptively light texture — you had to get on a plane to New York City. The pandemic changed all that. In July, no less a culinary heavyweight than Noah Sandoval, who temporarily closed his two-Michelin-starred Oriole, teamed up with Bite Cafe’s Bruce Finkelman to transform that restaurant into a by-the-slice spot, Pizza Friendly Pizza (1039 N. Western Ave., Ukrainian Village). The pizza here is so ethereal and airy that I became deeply concerned on the drive home that the two slices I’d ordered for myself would not be sufficient. (The anchovy-loaded Caesar salad helped me make do.) You can get crowd pleasers like pepperoni and supreme, but this is Sandoval we’re talking about, so you’ll also see ingredients like Burrata, Castelvetrano olives, lemon oil, and smoked black pepper.
Mickey Neely of Ludlow Liquors (2959 N. California Ave., Avondale) is making an umami-bomb mushroom pizza that I’ve been thinking about pretty much every day since I first tried it. He starts with a base of green garlic and mushroom cream, then tops that with mozzarella, ricotta, beech and other mushrooms, and chives. The Alpine restaurant Table, Donkey and Stick (2728 W. Armitage Ave., Logan Square) started making Sicilian pies in March, and the toppings, like ’nduja or Italian sausage, draw on the restaurant’s excellent house charcuterie. Meanwhile, the immoderately tangy housemade red sauce is a major draw at Pizza Fried Chicken Ice Cream (964 W. 31st St., Bridgeport), where the slices come showered with Parm and fresh herbs.
Why are so many chefs going Sicilian? For one thing, the slow-and-low baking method doesn’t require a super-hot pizza oven, an amenity many small spots don’t have. For another, says Sandoval, square pizzas have a practical advantage: “I don’t have a lot of space, so stackable pans were important.”