Rogers Park residents Lori Alderete and Phaedra Divras wanted to create an eatery where people could come together, socialize, and enjoy Roman-style Italian food. In 2006, they opened Gruppo di Amici, appropriately selecting a name that loosely translates to "circle of friends." From the fresh buffalo mozzarella found within the seared risotto cakes to the menu's thoughtfully suggested wine pairings, the duo—along with chef Hilario Irineo—has taken the utmost care with every detail. And their enthusiasm has caught the attention of major news media, including the New York Times. When Jeff Ruby added the eatery to Chicago magazine's list of the 25 Best Pizzas in Chicago in 2010, he described the thin-crust funghi e formaggi pizza—which, like all the restaurant's pies, is baked in a wood-fired oven—as "a crackery disk swarmed with wispy sautéed mushrooms and goat cheese as soft and supple as the crust was brittle."
Alderete and Divras also designed the dining space to be welcoming and communal. Swathes of fabric overhead recall the ambiance of an elegant Roman banquet, and an outdoor patio invites friends to gather, sip wine, and build ladyfinger replicas of the Colosseum.
Leonardo Toia “desperately discouraged” his kids from going into the family business, but their passion won him over, and now they help run numerous locations of the family-friendly neighborhood pizzeria. While adults peruse a menu of American and Italian favorites, such as half-pound burgers or housemade pastas smothered in tomato sauce or cheese and bacon, children 8 and younger pick anything from a free menu. Clients who wish to dine inside the comfort of their own home or submarine can have Leona’s food delivered within 60 minutes of ordering.
The dough wizards at Papa John's hand toss circular masterpieces with original and thin crusts made from high-protein flour to support warm bouquets of toppings. Hand-cut produce crowns all of Papa John's pizzas, mingling with the sun-soaked sweetness of sauce made from fresh, California-grown tomatoes. By adhering to its brand promise of "better ingredients, better pizza," Papa John's grew from a back-tavern pizzeria into more than 3,500 restaurants within three decades' time, or the amount of time it takes to grow a single pizzeria from a small seed.
Villa Palermo's catering experts have graced banquet halls and dinner tables with Italian-American classics and Delta eats for more than 40 years. Many of the dishes are easy to share, including pizzas that quell cravings with more than 22 toppings and crust styles ranging from crispy thin to cheese-stuffed. Chefs stew mouthwatering tomato, Marsala wine, and butter sauces to coat noodles and chicken before trips to the table and blanket themselves for chilly walks home. Barbecue and buckets of fried seafood reflect a different culinary tradition, but boast the same reputation as hearty crowd-pleasers. The staff of event planners attends to non-edible details for up to 300 guests.
The sounds of revelry drift across an outdoor patio, past Candlelite's martini-glass sign, which casts a soft, warm glow that hearkens back to the eatery's opening in 1950. Regulars in their fourth decade of patronage crowd around thin-crust pizzas, built upon dough made by hand each day, and cheer on athletes on 17 flat-screen televisions. Baskets of golden-brown hand-cut fries sing their cheerful sizzles out into the dining room, where five decades' worth of art and photos leave the exposed-brick walls barely visible. Bartenders slide mugs filled with sudsy caps of Oberon and Hoegaarden down the gleaming bar to thirsty diners and physicists skeptical of a third state of matter.
Once upon a time, in the long gone year of 1904, a roadhouse opened to serve travel-weary merchants and farmers on trips between farms and the city’s bustling markets. That space is now home to Fireside Restaurant & Lounge, which treats its customers to home-style food with a Cajun twist, as well as a selection of nearly 100 beers. The family-friendly eatery includes a casual dining room complete with the namesake fireplace, plus a multi-level patio and a pup-friendly front sidewalk seating area. On the weekends, hearty brunch dishes such as French toast, specialty eggs benedicts, or country fried steak and eggs pairs with mimosas or Bloody Mary’s from the popular 250-ingredient build-your-own bar.