You can eat pizza at, where the golden crusts have a little puff to them and the chefs use sacrilegious ingredients like rhubarb to beautiful effect. You can eat pizza at , where the chefs are milling their own damn flour, and the pies are an interplay of crisp and soft and chewy. These are good pizza times for Chicago. Are these authentic pizza times? Not really.
That’s where Pizzeria da Nella comes in. Nella Grassano, the pizziaiola who has hopped fromto a partnership with Scott Harris to this shop, her own venture, is something more than a chef. She’s a master craftsman. Like anybody who is an expert in anything, she has done one thing—in her case, making pizza—over and over again, relentlessly, to the point that most other people would get bored (or arthritic). Hers is a philosophy that is unusual for pizza in modern times: that there’s a wrong way and a right way. And she has a distinctive crust to show for it.
Nella’s pizzas are distinguished from other Neapolitan pies in Chicago in that you can hold a slice and not have the tapered end slump over your hand. There is no wetness here, really. Nor is there a notable amount of crisp. If the perfect crust is one so perfectly balanced that it seems without textural inclinations, Nella’s crust indeed may be perfect.
It’s a simple pizza by design, as is the restaurant itself. The room is uninspiring. The big side patio is pleasant but also feels undecorated, a little barren even with people on it. Theburrata plate is a meal in itself, consisting of that creamy cheese, a big pile of prosciutto and two pieces of bruschetta topped with garlicky tomatoes. Marinated salmon is meaty and acidic to the point of tasting almost pickled. This is food that hinges on the quality of the ingredients and nothing more, and with the exception of the chain-restaurant-quality desserts, the ingredients are solid bordering on exemplary—and so, then, is each dish.
It’s not very exciting. There is nothing new here, no special technique or ingredient to grab your attention. You have to appreciate simplicity to appreciate this pizzeria. If you don’t, there are plenty of other places for you to go.