Rene G | May 14, 200302:47 PM     34

Before pizzerias became common in Chicago, pizza--usually baked in large rectangular pans and sold by the square--was a specialty of Italian bakeries. Most of the old places are long gone but a few are still with us, turning out sheet pizzas. I would consider this to be a distinct style in Chicago, in addition to thin crust, pan, and stuffed. The sheet pizzas usually have a moderately thick, bready crust, and a thin layer of tomato sauce topped with cheese. Sometimes additional toppings are available and only sometimes is the slice reheated after purchase. Some of the more traditional places cut the pizza with large shears.

Here are some comments on places on or around Taylor Street (and a couple nowhere near). I’ve listed them more or less in order of my preference.

Not on Taylor, one of the classic Chicago bakeries that serves an excellent sheet pizza is D'Amato's. The uneven, inch-thick crust has a fairly light, springy texture but still offers a bit of resistance to the tooth. Both tomato sauce and cheese are fairly lightly applied and there is a dusting of oregano. This pizza has a remarkable amount of flavor--as well as a remarkable amount of oil--and is clearly among the best in the city. D'Amato's also offers a sausage pizza that is even better. A few free-form chunks of fennel scented sausage are scattered over the top before baking and these provide another level of flavor.

Masi's Italian Superior Bakery, at Western & Taylor since 1933, also makes an excellent sheet pizza that is rather different than D'Amato's. The crust is thinner, maybe a half inch, and has a bit more density and chew to it (a major plus in my book). The tomato sauce is sweeter and more heavily applied. The good quality mozzarella is also a little thicker than at D'Amato's but it melds very well with the other ingredients. From what I can tell it's cheese only at Masi's. The large slice ($2) is cut into two with large shears before it is wrapped. Be aware that Masi's often sells out of pizza very early, usually well before noon. It's tough for me to decide which I like more, D'Amato's or Masi's. They're both excellent but different. I hope to write a bit more about Masi's soon.

Ferrara Bakery has been a fixture on Taylor Street for many years. I think pizza is only available weekdays and can sell out early. It's fairly similar to D’Amato’s but with less oil and chunkier tomatoes. Thick, slightly chewy, bready crust. Sparse but flavorful cheese and excellent fennel-intensive sausage. A veggie option of spinach and ricotta would have been good except the toppings contributed a bit too much moisture. All slices are $1.95 regardless of toppings. If you like D'Amato's but prefer less oil, this might be a good choice.

Scafuri Bakery is another oldtimer. I was a little wary to see that the pizzas are cooked in thin disposable aluminum pans. The medium thick crust is tender and a bit oily. The abundant tomato sauce has good flavor with lots of garlic and herbs. I wasn't fond of the cheese; it just seemed to sit inertly on top of everything. Slices (cheese only, $2) are pretty large and are cut with scissors. A decent slice, middle of the road in many respects.

Pompei Bakery began just off Taylor Street in 1909 and has now expanded to several stores. The main store has morphed into a large informal restaurant offering much beyond basic pizza. Within the realm of pizza there is a huge choice both of styles (lots of strudel-like things) and toppings/fillings. Some of the combinations are really quite nice and they are one of the few places to offer a pizza topped with bread crumbs. For this exercise I stuck with a good old square of cheese pizza and one of sausage. Flat, uniform crust was one of the less interesting ones. Cheese was heavily applied and was very, very salty. Sausage was just okay and was applied in rows so neat it must have been done by machine. The dusting of oregano was nice. Cheese is $2.25 and some slices can cost nearly $5. Certainly edible but not one of my favorites.

Pizza Metro is a newcomer that serves a somewhat different style of pizza so it may not be fair to include it here. The pizza, with a thin coating of tomato sauce, is pre-baked then a handful of cheese and desired toppings are added and the slice is heated to melt the cheese. I tried only a plain cheese slice and was fairly disappointed. The crust is quite light and uniform, without much character. Sauce is apparently more for looks than taste and the cheese is mediocre. The overriding flavor of my bland slice was stale cooking oil. I ate some hot out of the oven and the rest at room temperature a few hours later. They offer a wide variety of toppings that are probably essential for making an enjoyable slice. I give them credit for offering potato pizza, one that I'll probably try next time. I wanted to like this place but can't say much positive about my one piece of pizza. It was also the most expensive and smallest portion.

D'Amato's Bakery
1124 W Grand Av

Masi's Italian Superior Bakery
933 S Western Av

Ferrara Original
2210 W Taylor St

Scafuri Bakery
1337 W Taylor St

Pompei Bakery
1531 W Taylor St

Pizza Metro
1701 W Division St

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