In 1966, taxi drivers Sam Levine and Fred Bartoli finally became fed up with their stop-and-go lives full of honking horns and rush-hour traffic. So they shut off their engines, handed in their keys, and took root. Along with pal George Loverde, they invested in property just off the bustling Magnificent Mile, but then didn?t know what to do with it. According to a 2004 profile in the Chicago Tribune, they got their direction when someone finally said, ?Put pizza in it.?
Though the rest is history, it wasn?t quite easy. Bartoli and Loverde came from Italian and Sicilian backgrounds, but neither knew the key to a good pizza. It wasn?t until they hired Alice Mae Redmond, the woman responsible for the dough at Pizzeria Uno, that the Gino's East Chicagoans know and love was truly born. Although Alice Mae retired back in 1989, the recipe for her flaky, golden deep-dish pizza crust lives on.
Today, Gino?s still stands at its original spot on Michigan and Superior but has also stretched to 10 other city and suburban locations. Whether dining downtown or in St. Charles, customers find Alice Mae?s signature crust piled with mounds of cheese, sauce made from vine-ripened tomatoes, and plenty of fresh toppings?from sausage and pepperoni to jalape?os and ground beef. Hot from the oven, pizzas arrive at tables snuggled inside seasoned deep-dish pans, ready to welcome a fork and knife. Thin-crust varieties are also available for those who don?t know how to work silverware, as is a bounty of sandwiches.
Entering family-owned and operated ZaZa's Tavola Italiana feels like stepping back in time. The black-and-white family photos lining the walls give the restaurant a homey feel, while live singers covering famed crooners such as Frank Sinatra lend the scene a warm, nostalgic glow. And as they sink into the comfort of yesteryear, guests are treated to plates straight from the Italian Old World: homemade veal meatballs in house marinara sauce, chicken parmesan with linguine, and fettuccine tossed with scallops, clams, and shrimp. Martinis provide appropriately vintage complements to the entrees. The restaurant also hosts wine dinners with fixed courses and paired glasses, freeing patrons from attempting to match the color of the wine with the color of the sauce.
The chefs at Ciao Baby create hearty Italian-American dishes in their Barrington kitchen. Flecks of parsley decorate spaghetti tossed in a simple marinara sauce. Hefty chopped salads easily serve two, and come laden with gorgonzola cheese, bite-sized pasta, and butter toffee nuts. The chefs also transform cannoli into a pistachio-crusted cake for dessert. A chalkboard hangs on the dining room's yellow walls, where it announces the day's specials in multi-colored chalk or leftover alfredo sauce.
Inside Gianni’s Cafe, guests can don chef caps and create their own dish. They start the culinary adventure with a selection of nine pastas, and build their creation with the addition of one of 14 sauces such as spicy arrabiata with crushed red peppers. Finally, they top off their creations with their choice from a slew of ingredients, including peas, crabmeat, and ricotta cheese. Diners who’d rather let the house chefs take the wheel, dinner-wise, can dine on delicious recipes including chicken marsala, baked shrimp, and eggplant parmigiana. No matte which path they choose, diners enjoy their meals on the restaurant’s linen-topped tables while tucked away in horseshoe-shaped booths. The faux-marble walls and ceiling along with statues of muscled men evoke an Italian air that befits the dishes’ Italian roots.
In true Chicago form, Slice of Chicago serves a hot italian beef pizza that’s layered with spoonfuls of giardiniera. It’s one of their specialty pies, which just might be the crown jewels of Slice’s menu—other varieties include the Western with barbecue sauce, sausage, bacon, and onion, and a taco pizza with ground beef, jalapeños, and sour cream. The pizzeria goes beyond its culinary namesake to strike a tasty balance between American and Italian favorites with dishes as varied as pork ribs, eggplant parmesan, cajun chicken sandwiches, and tiramisu. Guests can also build custom pasta plates by getting a permit from their local pasta-building commissioner, and then selecting a noodle, sauce, and optional ingredients such as calamari or sun-dried tomatoes.