A Squared: Lakeview Neighborhood Guide: Coalfire Pizza (Coalfire Two)

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Lakeview Neighborhood Guide: Coalfire Pizza (Coalfire Two)

Coalfire Pizza is known to many Chicagoans as home to some of the best pizza in the city. It's not deep dish-- in fact, it's very thin Neopolitan-style crust. And it's not touristy or trendy-- in fact, their original location is located off the beaten path in the West Town neighborhood. That never stopped Coalfire from having a line out the door though. And lucky for us on the north side, they have just opened up a second location-- "Coalfire Two," on Southport in Lakeview. I'm ashamed to admit that I have never been to the West Town restaurant-- even during the 4+ years that I lived nearby. So when Coalfire Two opened just a few weeks ago, we made sure to visit as soon as possible... and now I understand the hype!

Coalfire doesn't take reservations and is known for having big crowds of hungry diners waiting during peak hours. With that in mind, we showed up at the beginning of the dinner rush on Friday and managed to snag two seats at the bar right away-- a great way to start our evening! We also started with a few drinks: a craft beer for Alex and a glass of summery rose for me. Like Coalfire's food menu, the drink selection is smaller and simpler than other restaurants, with a focus on the highest quality offerings-- like great wine and interesting domestic and imported beers (like an Italian Saison that caught both of our eyes), and craft cocktails like that night's featured Annie Clark: a combo of Prosecco, St. Germain, and Limonata soda.

For food, Coalfire offers a few signature pizzas along with the option to make your own. They're pretty serious about how a good pizza comes together: with rules about how many toppings should go on a pizza at one time (including the vegetable to meat ratio) and they don't offer substitutions on their signature pizzas. I learned this the hard way when I tried to order mine "light on the sausage." That said, they clearly know what they're doing because the pizzas are perfectly cooked, the flavors are amazing, and they've got loyal patrons (including Steve Wilkos, whom we passed coming in on our way out that night) lining up to eat here.

Coalfire serves a few appetizer and salad options and while the burrata sounded amazing, we opted to go straight for the pizzas: one for each of us. We also both happened to order pizzas that are unique to the Lakeview location that you won't find on the menu at Coalfire's West Town location. Alex loves spicy food, so he ordered the Stracciatella & Sausage pizza. Their signature crispy charred crust was topped with sweet traditional tomato sauce, a generous amount of melty stringy stracciatella and mozzarella, along with spicy calabrian chiles, thinly sliced red onions, Berkshire sausage, and a sprinkle of fresh basil.

Alex's pizza came out first, so I stole a slice of his while I waited for mine. The flavor combinations in this pizza were wonderful. It had great spicy flavor, but wasn't so overpowering that I couldn't enjoy it-- exactly the kind of heat that I like. The red onion and basil added a touch of sweetness along with the salty sausage. To my surprise, Alex-- a deep dish pizza lover who often refers to Neopolitan-style pizza as "cheese and crackers"-- loved this pizza. Thin, crispy charred crust and all.

I went in the opposite direction, ordering the Pesto pizza-- a sweeter flavor profile than Alex's spicy pie. This pizza was perfect... I don't even know what else to say. It was a super interesting combination of flavors and ingredients and textures that worked together so well. A base of traditional herbaceous pesto was topped with generous dollops of creamy burrata, toasted pistachios, and crumbled sausage, finished with a drizzle of honey. I loved this pizza and had to stop myself from eating all 14 inches of it at the restaurant. And I have to admit: While they didn't go light on the sausage like I wanted, it didn't even matter. This sausage was unlike any that I've had on (or picked off of) a pizza before: it was flavorful, fine, and crumbly, and not grisly like a traditional Italian sausage.

I'm already planning our next visit to Coalfire. It's reasonably priced, conveniently located, and some of the best thin crust pizza I have had since Italy. And I've had a lot of pizza.


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