From Too Many Chefs -

February 17, 2005
Restaurant review - Pizza D.O.C.

"D.O.C." in Italian is Denominazione di Origine Controllata. Similar to the French Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée or "A.O.C.", D.O.C. certifies the region a wine is from and generally can be taken by a wine ignoramus like myself as a good indicator that the wine is a full step up from a Vin de Pays or a box of Gallo.

On West Lawrence Avenue in Chicago, Pizza D.O.C. can be taken as an indicator of a restaurant that takes the quality of its pizza and its wines seriously.

Pizza D.O.C. is located at 2251 W. Lawrence Avenue in Chicago near the Western Avenue Brown Line stop in the Lincoln Square neighborhood. Lincoln Square is the home of young marrieds and new families, and the gaggle of families with young children at the restaurant one Friday night made that quite obvious.

The space itself is nondesript from the outside, but the owners have done a nice job of decorating the inside to get maximum table space with minimal table crowding. The bar area where we sampled good but not great Italian wines by the glass is a little small, and it does feel cramped, but I believe the space was sacificed for more tables.

On our first visit to Pizza D.O.C., we took a table near the door on a busy Friday night. Service didn't suffer, despite our tucked away location on the floor, and we were able to get prompt attention whenever it was necessary.

There are non-pizza entrees available, but why bother when the pizza here is among the best in the city. In Chicago, pizza is known as a deep multilayer pie that sits heavily on your belly. That's decidedly NOT the type of pizza they serve at Pizza D.O.C.

Rather, the owners have installed an Italian-style wood burning oven to bake authentically Italian pizzas. The ingredients are simple, the pies have a crispy thin crust, and the flavors are outstanding. I've had samples of the tuna pizza, the Neapolitan anchovy pie, and the fabulous porcini mushroom pizza and they were uniformly excellent.

When the individually sized pizza first arrives at your table, the torture begins. Your first instinct will be to dive right in, but the sauce made from authentic Italian full flavor low acid San Marzano tomatoes and the thin pasting of cheese on top are so hot from the showpiece oven that you essentially have a thin soup on a crust until the pizza cools a bit. Once that period passes, you are in for pizza unlike any you have sampled in America before.

My recommendation, once you become addicted, is to bring friends, order a bunch of pies, and share slices. You really can't go wrong no matter which pizzas you order.

In my praise for the pizza pies I don't want to short the rest of Pizza D.O.C.'s menu. We enjoyed a celery, apple, Parmesan, olive oil, and lemon juice salad on our first trip that surprised me with a light complexity of flavors. Lightly battered fried calamari is better than at most restaurants, but not quite up to the standards of the rest of the menu - though the marinara for dipping the calamari is excellent and seems to be made from the same amazing San Marzano tomatoes as the sauce for the pizza.

The desserts at Pizza D.O.C. are fully as outstanding as the pizza. I thought I'd found the best dessert on the menu when I sampled the croccantino, which I can only describe as tasting like a cross between sweetened light cold butter and vanilla ice cream with a ribbon of crisp carmel and walnuts running through it. I'm sure it requires scientific notation to poperly document the caloric content. I was floored when we went back and I sampled what I was sure to be an ordinary dessert - the tiramisu. I had appaently never had real tiramisu until I had this tiramisu. The alcohol, espresso, marscapone, and cocoa mixed perfectly with the moist lady fingers, accusing all the previous "tiramisu's" I'd had in the past as pale imposters. We also enjoyed on one trip a vanilla panna cotta that would be a star attraction at other restaurants.

Convince your group to share a bunch of desserts, but engineer it so the croccantino and the tiramisu end up next to you.

As for drinks, the wines by the glass at Pizza D.O.C. are pretty good if a bit expensive at $6-12 apiece. Instead, get a bottle from the wine menu for the best wines in the house at a reasonable price. We had a Torrefazione Rosso Conero 2002 from the Marche region of Italy for $36, a bargain when you consider we easily could have spent $9 each on vastly inferior wine by the glass.

I intend to make Pizza D.O.C. a regular stop on the restauant circuit in Chicago and encourage you to do the same. The food here has always been excellent, with the only knock on the place being the service, which in our experience seems to have improved quite a bit. Tip well and keep the good times rolling. Highly recommended.

Pizza D.O.C.
2251 W. Lawrence Avenue,
Chicago, Illinois
Tel: (773) 784-8777

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at February 17, 2005 7:14 AM | TrackBack

I've been wanting to try that place forever... I've heard so many things about it. I can't remember what your experience level is with Italian pizza, but do you have any sense of how faithful it is? They are, after all, making claims to authenticity with their name.

Also just to point out -- I don't know how it works in France, but DOC and DOCG aren't necessarily good indicators of quality. They just mean the wines have adhered to certain specifications laid down by the government -- specifications which frequently have more to do with political activism on the part of wine growers than anything else. Many of the greatest Italian wines, for example the famed Super Tuscans, are vino di tavola (the Italian equivalent of vin de pays).

Posted by paul on February 17, 2005 at 8:43 AM

i haven't been to Italy (later this year, I hope, that will change), but the pies look and seem to be built the same way that I have seen true Italian pizza made on television. As for the taste - it's amazing.

I'm surprised to hear that about the DOC and DOCG labels. I've had good luck picking those wines as opposed to non-DOC wines from Italy, but that may be reflective of the export market or even just the Chicago wine market.

When you decide you want to go, I'll be glad to go with you to make sure you don't lose your way there or anything.

Posted by barrett on February 17, 2005 at 9:07 AM

It sounds like we might be going next week sometime. Maybe you should email me about that...

Interesting about pizza in italy... there are two distinct styles I've encountered. One is an extremely thin and light crust that comes out very airy and a little crunchy -- this is topped with various things and usually served on a single plate, as an individual portion. Maybe it's 10-12 inches in diameter.

The other kind is found at your sweaty local pizzeria -- usually it has a thicker crust (like what we had the other night), but it's topped similarly and is sold by weight, with a napkin usually.

Anyway, it sounds like Pizza DOC probably serves the former -- that soup effect sounds familiar to me.

As far as the DOCs and DOCGs go, I'm not surprised that you're having good luck, because I do think that those wines will tend to reflect better winemaking practices, etc. I just think you're likely to miss some great wines that are classified lower for other reasons. Also, you have a situation where every chianti and chianti classico is a DOCG -- and yet there's some real crap out there. So you have to take a little care!

Posted by paul on February 17, 2005 at 10:56 AM

DOC AND DOCG are not necessarily indicators of quality. In fact, there are wineries like Castello delle Regine in Umbria that refuse to allow the DOC commission on their property! Like many other government agencies world wide, this one has created a bureaucy that makes many vitners shake their heads. The people at Castello della Regine obviously know what they're doing- they've won the tres biecheri award four out of the last five years!

Posted by muriel on January 4, 2006 at 7:59 PM