Sacramento, CA 95816
If I told you that there’s a new restaurant in Midtown that doesn’t have a television, would you believe me? What if I told you it was a casual but clubby pizza joint that also serves wings, making it otherwise a natural destination for watching a big game? Well, it’s true. At least, I couldn’t find one.
I know, it’s hard to believe; it seems like even high-end, fine-dining places now consider a TV or 12 de rigueur, but at Chicago Fire—Midtown’s new branch of the Old Folsom standby—you can enjoy your deep-dish in relative peace. Well, if you consider the buzzing din of restaurant conversations bouncing off plentiful brick peaceful, anyway. Chicago Fire’s space is big and bold, like their pizzas, with great big black-leathery booths, all that brick and exposed wood beams, high ceilings and hard floors. Even when the tables are sparsely populated, as they were early on the night we visited, it’s loud.
It is a pizza joint, though, and it references a loud city. The menu is short: pizza, pizza, more pizza, some wings, some fries and some salads. You’ve got your beers, of the slightly upscale but run-of-the-mill sort (Sierra Nevada, Fat Tire) in pints and pitchers, and your wines—a short list, chardonnay-heavy in the whites, but branching out to include several varietals in the reds. It’s not going to appear in Wine Spectator any time soon, but with barbera, sangiovese, and syrah, for instance, they’re making a bit more effort than your average pizzeria.
The deep-dish pizzas are said to take 35 minutes, so while you wait, those appetizers sound pretty good. There’s a baked artichoke (with Caesar dressing and lemon), but with a kid in tow we opted for the Greek fries. They’re thin and light, your average golden fries, but topped with finely grated parmesan (feta seems like it would have been more on point, but whatever) and a lot—really a lot—of minced fresh garlic, oregano and olive oil, plus some lemon. This pungent mixture was applied with a bit of a heavier hand than seemed necessary—I preferred the fries that got just a hint of it—but the dusky oregano and bright lemon flavor did make a nice counterpoint to the crisp fries. Ranch dressing and ketchup for dipping were superfluous, it turned out.
I was less pleased with the spinach salad. It sounded and looked promising: a pile of fresh, bright-green leaves topped with bacon bits, thin-shaved red onions, crumbled hard-boiled egg and house-made croutons. All of those things were tasty enough (though the bacon bits tasted pretty mass-produced), but the salad as a whole was marred by a candy-sweet, characterless dressing, too heavily applied. I do like the fact that you can get a small, medium or large salad, and the latter two options are good sharing sizes for bigger tables; small plates are brought out for splitting, so it’s a friendly, cost-effective option.
Despite the promised 35-minute wait, my husband’s small deep-dish pizza arrived after only about 20 minutes. That was nice, but it was slightly under-baked, I thought, which was less nice. Oddly, my personal-size thin-crust pizza lagged behind the ostensibly longer-baking deep dish by another 10 or 15 minutes.
This all raises the question of deep-dish versus thin-crust. Chicago Fire’s menu claims that a distinctively Windy City style of thin crust—with no rolled edge, a crisp bottom crust, and a cutting pattern in squares—actually reigns supreme in Chicago, implying that deep-dish, while a specialty, is less dominant than the hype would tell you. A quick troll on the Internet supported their story, and so did a little e-mail fact-checking with a friend who’s a Chicago native. He replied: “Yes, it is indeed true that Chicago’s ‘everyday’ pizza is the square-cut, thin-crust variety. The deep-dish variety is more the ‘special occasion’ pizza, in part because it’s so damn filling, in part because they usually take almost an hour to come out of the oven at a restaurant.” He then followed it up with two paragraphs of pizza philosophizing—which is what I get for asking a Chicago native about pizza.
Anyway, if the lower crust of the deep-dish hadn’t been a little soft and pallid, I’d probably have preferred that pie. The thick, strand-pulling cheese was yummy, and I liked the fresh tang of the chunky tomato topping. My husband ordered the vegetarian version, and the vegetables made it not too heavy, but added some good flavor. The yeasty crust was a little too fluffy and bready in spots, I thought, but where it was crunchy at the edges it was very pleasing, with a subtle buttery flavor.
That said, I mostly enjoyed the thin-crust pie as well—especially the smaller edge pieces, where you got a blistered, tapered, toasty and cracker-like edge of the crust. It had a thin coating of cheese, just a hint of sauce, and some very good Italian sausage on top, as well as a few slices of pepperoni and some vegetables—but the sausage was the best thing about the pie. Cutting the round pie into squares led to unevenly shaped pieces, as you might imagine, and the middle piece and the ones with less crust were unpleasantly floppy. Despite the “personal” size, though, the pizza was big enough for two.
I’m not here to settle any Chicago pizza debates, but I can say that both thick- and thin-crust make a fine breakfast. Nobody needs Chicago-style pizza every day, but Chicago Fire seems like it will make a popular addition to the Midtown scene—even without TVs.