A Squared: Pizza 101 at Stella Barra Pizzeria

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Pizza 101 at Stella Barra Pizzeria

Alex and I had dinner at Stella Barra Pizzeria a few weeks ago and I have been meaning to tell you all about it. Shame on me for not getting around to it, but I am glad I waited because I just returned for a second visit that was even more fun than the first: I joined a few other lucky food bloggers for a private pizza making class with chef Jeff Mahin at the Lincoln Park restaurant.

photo c/o Stella Barra

Stella Barra is one of Lettuce Entertain You's newest restaurants and it is the third Stella Barra location in the US (with the first two in southern California), but it is quickly becoming a Chicago favorite. Chef Mahin and his partner Francis Brennan began working together at high end LEYE restaurant L2O and have gone on to open Stella Barra, of course, as well as Do-Rite Donuts in the Chicago Loop. They mutually found the inspiration to open a laidback pizza restaurant from their own great memories of their favorite no frills northern California pizza spot. These guys are passionate about food and it totally shows-- from the cool urban details of the restaurant to the unusual and creative combination of items on the menu.

We started pizza class with a lesson in dough and crust making-- and even the details that went into that were pretty remarkable. The chefs use a flour blend that has this great nutty flavor that is super unique in a pizza crust. And when each of us arrived we had a ball of dough to work with that had been prepped way in advance to allow the yeast to ferment properly. The chefs helped us stretch our dough and even gave us a lesson in tossing (which I find frightening) before we got to customize our own pizzas.

photo c/o The Kittchen

It was tough to decide how to top our pizzas because the Stella Barra staff laid out quite the spread of traditional and interesting ingredients. Ultimately, I topped mine with Stella Barra's tomato sauce, housemade Italian sausage, caramelized onions, taleggio, and purple kale.

My friend Kit from The Kittchen was also in attendance and-- a girl after my own heart-- she saw my pizza and went for something totally different on hers knowing that we would share our creations when we were done. Kit's pizza was topped with Stella Barra's white sauce, Pecorino Romano, butternut squash, and kale. Both were seriously delicious, if I can toot my own horn here!

As if serving us wine and then making and tasting our own pizza wasn't enough, the Stella Barra staff brought out a ton of other menu items for us to taste including smoked grapes and a super creamy burrata that they serve on their appetizer menu and a few of their signature pizzas. I was really excited to see my favorite Stella Barra pizza arrive at the table-- I ordered it for dinner when Alex and I first visited and couldn't get enough: butternut squashi, taleggio, fresh herbs, candied bacon, and fresno chiles. It's an amazing combination of sweet/salty/savory/spicy. I'm pretty sure it is the only pizza I will ever order at Stella Barra because it's just that good.

Chef Jeff also treated us to one of his favorite desserts: individual weck jars of butterscotch custard topped with homemade salted caramel. I have to be honest with you: if I saw the words butterscotch, custard, or caramel on a menu I likely wouldn't order it-- especially if they were all in the same dish. That's just not my thing. Well, I stand corrected because I was scraping the jar with this one. The custard was eggless, so it wasn't like a flan (thankfully, because I'm not a flan fan) and it was just super creamy almost like a creme brulee... and the salted caramel just makes it.

And if you stop into Stella Barra for dinner and don't have room for dessert, then you are in luck. In the vestibule that they share with Summer House Santa Monica, is an amazing little bakery counter where you can grab sweet treats to go on your way home! I am a huge fan of the oatmeal apple pie cookie, the fleur-de-sel chocolate chunk, and also the Rice Krispie treat chocolate chunk. All of the cookies are huge, soft, and rich... just what you want!

I was a huge fan of the food and the atmosphere after our first dinner at Stella Barra, but after this second visit I was totally sold. Really good food is one (very important) thing, but to also have an opportunity to meet the guys behind the restaurant and find out that they are just really nice fun guys made me love it even more. I can't wait to come back for another date night or for our next girls' night out!
Stella Barra Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Thanks so much for a great evening, Stella Barra Pizzeria!

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