Saturday, March 23, 2013

Slice Review: Armitage Pizzeria (Chicago)

Armitage Pizzeria is a small, cash only, two-employee operation located at 711 Armitage Avenue in Lincoln Park. If you don't watch out closely for it, Armitage's understated black awning is easy to walk past. The founder and driving force is former Coalfire owner J. Spillane. Despite the fact that Spillane is a Boston-transplant, Armitage is surely the best example of a New York style street pizzeria that I have visited in Chicago (fyi - two and three are Gigio's and Santullo's).

Spillane was the one person in the shop on the afternoon of my visit, and he was kind enough to share his sage pizza-wisdom with a couple other visiting pizza aficionados and me. Armitage's pizzas only come in a 8-slice 14" size, reasonably priced at $11 for a cheese pizza and $2 for a cheese slice. As a general rule, I usually don’t review a pizzeria based on just one slice. Pizza by the slice can have a few disadvantages – most significantly it sometimes sits under a lamp too long. However, I made an exception here because Armitage only kept one fresh cheese pizza for by-the-slice sales. Spillane didn’t even want to do this, but was convinced to do so because of the high customer demand. Although the full pizzas looked great, I'm glad he opted for the by-the-slice business. An often stated belief at this blog has been that if you can't make a great cheese pizza, you simply can't make a great pizza. Crust, sauce, and cheese are the keys; Toppings are a bonus. Well, Armitage can make a great pizza. Here's the cheese slice:

Behind the counter, Spillane's work table and much of the floor was covered in excess King Arthur's flower - a great sign to me. The late-model gas oven is turned all the way up so that pizzas can be cooked at 650 degrees. The crust is key to Spillane and I found the slice to be excellent in that regard. It is thin, but not cracker thin. The bottom of the crust had a little char, with a slight amount of excess flower, and the pie was crisp around the outer edge of crust (the "cornicone"). Yet, the middle of the slice was soft and very foldable, but nowhere soggy. This is the perfect crispy and chewy combo for a New York slice

The pizzas use regular Stella shred mozzarella rather than the fresh buffalo mozzarella you see at Neapolitan joints. This lower moisture variety worked well on the pizza. Also, the thin layer of sauce is composed primarily of Zia Rosa tomatoes (if you order a whole pizza, an empty tomato can is used for the pizza stand). A little bit of Romano cheese is added, giving it a slightly sharper tangy taste. The combined effect is better than the parts, making for a great slice.

While I enjoy the recent wave of Neapolitan places, I find myself more often craving a well-crafted classic New York style pizza. Weighing the quality and the price, I'm not sure I've ever had better pizza. Armitage provides a simple and extremely well executed pie. Indeed, I liked the slice here so much today that I decided  to review it on the Megabus ride back to Cincinnati (and the Wi-Fi gloriously held up today). As mentioned, I broke my typical rule of only reviewing full pizzas (although I hope to return for one in the coming months). I do so because Armitage rivals Joe's in the West Village as one of the best traditional slice joints in America. If you happen to be near Lincoln Park, I highly recommend stopping by for a bite.

Armitage Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

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