There are so many cliches I could use to lead off a story about a new pizza joint in Chicago that it’s easier just to skip to the point: chef Steve Chiappetti is opening a new Sicilian-style pizza spot, The Archive Lounge, and he wants to welcome you in with a glass of wine and tell you all about his favorite pie.
When Chiappetti, the executive chef at The Albert in Streeterville, talks about his experiences in the streets of Palermo, you can almost smell the tomatoes and feel the sun on your face. His family is originally from Sicily and Calabria, and during his visits, he enjoyed this particular style of pizza. “It’s a different pizza from what you see in the rest of Italy,” Chiappetti explains. “People compare it to Detroit style, but that’s not quite right.” Like Detroit-style pizza, Sicilian-style pizza is rectangular and baked in a pan with a thick crust. However, unlike Detroit-style, which tends to be dense, Sicilian-style is light and full of air bubbles, almost like a focaccia. It’s also made with different toppings. As Chiappetti points out, there aren’t a ton of cows in Sicily, so their pizza has much less cheese, and it tends to be goat cheese. The tomato sauce is a simple, fresh one, made with garlic, tomatoes, basil, salt and pepper — not, Chiappetti insists, a marinara sauce.
The end product is a pizza that’s satisfying, but not going to put you into a food coma. “It’s very easy to eat,” says Chiappetti. “Some pizzas — and I’m not complaining about Chicago pizza, I’m from the South Side — you eat half a piece and it hurts your stomach. This you can eat all day long.” Toppings range from smoked duck with toasted pine nuts to balsamic glazed mushrooms with roasted garlic. I’m intrigued by the one with roasted potatoes, truffle cream sauce, and rosemary, which sounds perfect for a cold day.
The Archive Lounge is an extension of The Albert — there was an unused loft space on the second floor of the restaurant, which seemed ideal for a casual, 50-seat lounge. In addition to the pizzas, expect classic Italian dishes inspired by Chiappetti’s travels. “One of my favorite places in Sicily outside of Palermo has a 600-year-old oven, and everything the chef made came out of it.” Likewise, everything at the Archive Lounge comes from the oven, including dishes like baked shrimp scampi with garlic and Calabrian chiles, or housemade Italian sausage baked with roasted peppers and tomatoes. The wine list is small, with everything available by the glass. A super-cute option for dessert is a cookie cart, filled with Italian-style biscotti, meringues, cookies, and candies.
Chiappetti isn’t interested in creating a destination restaurant; he just wants to curate a space where people can have a great pizza, a glass of wine, and meet friends. “People forget what restaurants are all about,” says Chiappetti. “I’m not downplaying the fine dining places of the world, but that’s not how we live life. You’re going to do that once a year. I want someone to come to my place once a week.”
The Archive Lounge (228 E. Ontario St., Streeterville) opens for dinner on Friday.