Francesca's Pizzeria Napoletana | Lincoln Park | Pizza, Italian | Restaurant
This location has been flagged as "Closed".
CLOSED. Neopolitan-style pizza place from Mia Francesca jefe Scott Harris; pizzaiola Nella Grassano has left the building.

Our Review

In early 2006 Jonathan Goldsmith opened Ravenswood’s Spacca Napoli, introducing the city to authentic Neapolitan pizza and pretty much altering the landscape for pizza in Chicago in general. Goldsmith’s not-so-secret weapon was not his massive imported wood-burning brick oven but an import of another sort: Nella Grassano, a Naples native who’d started making pies at age eight in her family’s pizzeria. Spacca still turns out perfectly good pies, but after Grassano’s departure in 2007, the pizzagentsia began to grumble about a decline in consistency. Then she teamed up with Mia Francesca capo Scott Harris for the first of two projected pizzerias, Nella Pizzeria Napoletana, a bright, kitschily appointed Lincoln Park room featuring its own blue-tiled, volcanic rock oven (the planned Taylor Street location was scrapped). Sepia-toned prints of weathered hands working dough adorn the walls in the front, while near the rear hokey full-color shots of Grassano and Harris in a flour fight with a pair of toddlers suggest that their secret weapon is urchins who prep the dough with their bare feet. But the most enjoyable atmospheric feature in the place is the demo mirror angled over the marble work counter, which affords most seats in the house a view of the pie makers in action. My first pizzas--a classic margherita and a funghi-and-sausage combo made by chefs other than Nella--arrived somewhat elastic and lifeless, undercooked even by Neapolitan standards, where a bit of central soupiness is both expected and treasured. But subsequent pizzas, made by Grassano herself, were another story, with raised, lightly blackened crusts bordering underskirts stippled by constellations of tiny, crispy blisters. These were worthy, foldable delivery vehicles for high-quality toppings like the marinated tuna, olives, and sweet onion of the tonno e cipolla. A special of escarole with olives and capers was overdressed with a bit too much stewy greenery and fresh mozzarella—but still a capital pie. There are more than 20 varieties to choose from, including a handful of stuffed pizzas, along with a selection of forgettable antipasti. Among the pasta and rice specials, a four-cheese risotto may have been the most perfectly cooked example of the form I’ve ever come across in a Chicago restaurant—soupy, but not a bowl of mush, each grain distinct and al dente. Will Nella topple Spacca as the ultimate Neapolitan pizzeria in town? It was a contest only when la pizzaiola herself had her hands in the dough--and after a recent dustup, she's out.

Mike Sula

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