Rustic booths and black-linen tables greet customers as they walk into Touch of Italy, setting the stage for the fresh meal to come. Zesty meat and marinara sauces, pan-seared veal, and seafood pastas arrive at tables after chefs assemble them to order from fresh ingredients instead of prepackaged herbs or wax garlic cloves. Diners can calm hunger pangs with combination pasta platters, dishes of chicken marsala, or steamy baked eggplant lasagna during lunch meetings and relaxing dinner dates.
At Marzano's Wood Fired Italian, pizza is such a serious business that the chefs won't even entrust the cheese to an outsider. Instead, fresh mozzarella is made in house for the restaurant's authentic neopolitan pizzas. When a pizza maker certified by Italy's Associazione Pizzaiuoli Napoletani slides pies into the wood-fired oven, the creamy cheese bubbles atop sauce made from imported San Marzano tomatoes. On many of these pizzas, the mozzarella mingles with other traditional toppings, such as salami, arugula, or prosciutto di parma.
But the chefs are also aware that American pizza has become a class unto itself. Separate from the classically Italian pies are pizzas topped with barbecue chicken and onions, ham and pineapple, and italian beef and giardiniera. Make-your-own pizzas are also available, as are entrees like butternut-squash ravioli, seared scallops over mushroom risotto, and veal marsala. Echoing the kitchen's 1000-degree pizza oven is the dining room's large stone fireplace, which, like the server who inquires whether you ate your vegetables, gives Marzano's a homey atmosphere.
The chefs at Angie's Pizzeria are diligent scholars of Chicago's culinary traditions. In their bustling kitchen, they fill deep-dish pizzas with heaps of mozzarella, tomato sauce, and meaty toppings; adorn steamed franks with the canonical toppings of the Chicago-style hot dog; and sizzle up slices of Italian beef for pepper-laden sandwiches. But their expertise also makes for satisfying spin offs. The Grabber, for instance, stars a hot dog that's wrapped in bacon, deep fried, and slathered with cheese sauce, sport peppers, and celery salt. They also serve thin-crust and hand-tossed pizza varieties, which diners can order with any of their more than 20 toppings or with marshmallows, hot fudge, and peanuts—the ingredients atop their rocky-road dessert pizza.
Nicolino's chefs assemble fresh ingredients into hearty pizzas, pastas, and Italian entrees using decades-old family recipes while patrons wager on equestrians flashing across more than 60 plasma-screen TVs. The dining room beckons nongamblers and self-wagering competitive eaters alike with dishes topped in tangy tomato-cream sauces and imported prosciutto served amid chandelier lighting. Charbroiled steaks tempt landlubbing appetites, and rock shrimp, bay scallops, and fresh scrod lure taste buds out to sea. In the lounge, a candlelit bar hosts conversations and nine self-service terminals and a live mutuel teller field bets on horses at nearby Arlington Park as well as venues across the nation. Patrons flick 17 personal plasma TVs between races and other sporting events or search for insider commentary by Mister Ed on free WiFi.