On August 15, the first U.S. location of Rome-based Bonci Pizzeria fires up its ovens in the West Loop (161 N. Sangamon St.).
The 14-year-old chain serves artisanal pies with daily changing toppings and light, crisp crust cut by the slice, Roman-style, with scissors. Chef-owner Gabriele Bonci tells Chicago (via a translator) the Bonci backstory, dishes details on the famed ’za, and explains why Chicago landed his first location outside of Italy.
How did Bonci get started?
In 2003, I opened the first location of Bonci Pizzeria. It was in the center of Rome, near St. Peters Cathedral. It was very tiny, like a kiosk. No seating. [You] eat standing up, like many places in Rome.
Everyone loved the pizza: children, families, tourists, locals, Italians on holiday. Everybody. After four years, the place was well-known worldwide. In the Prati District, it was numero uno.
Now, Bonci has grown to six pizzerias and two bakeries. On its list of the top 50 pizzas in the world, Food & Wine says Bonci pizza is number two. [On the same list] Spacca Napoli is number 20. Bonci is the only pizza-by-the-piece place to make the list.
Tell us about this type of pizza.
The pizza is baked in sheet pans and cut into bite-sized squares. So it’s not anything like by-the-slice New York-style pizza. It’s not Neapolitan-style pizza. It’s like focaccia, but not soft in the middle. The crust has one consistency throughout—a one-of-a-kind consistency. It is white pizza, with many cheese options—including mozzarella and fiore di latte—and toppings such as tomatoes, salume, zucchini, and spinach. Toppings totally cover each pizza. From edge to edge, evenly distributed toppings. All the pieces are the same. No crusts and no middles.
There are 12 to 15 varieties daily. We switch them up throughout the day, but [there are] always about eight staples available. Pizza is priced by the pound and costs $8.99 to $18.99 per pound [depending on the type].
What else can we order?
Also on the menu are arancini, frittatas, and a couple of salads and sandwiches. For the porchetta sandwich, we make our own porchetta and bread. The flour [for the bread] is made from ancient grains and is a proprietary blend created in Italy for Bonci.
This will be your first American location. Why Chicago?
The first Bonci is located near the Vatican—an urban area with high foot traffic. [The Chicago location is] very similar. It’s a good match with Rome.