Toni’s Pizza & Organic Pasta, Chicago, IL

Mario's Special Stuffed Pizza

Mario’s Special Stuffed Pizza

Many would expect that this Italian-American native Brooklynite would have a fundamental problem with Chicago pizza. Thankfully, I have an open mind and enjoy pizza in all of its forms.

There are plenty of big names in Chicago pizza, especially in and around the Loop and Magnificent Mile. None of these are particularly bad, but if you want to eat what the locals eat, you have to venture into the neighborhoods where they live.

One of the first places you’ll find on the way out of the downtown core is Toni’s Pizza & Organic Pasta. A true family business, Toni’s is run by Toni herself, her husband and their children out of a small corner space in River West. In warmer weather, there’s outdoor seating available. In the brutal cold of a Chicago winter, I’d advise delivery or takeout although if you’re lucky, you could find a spot at one of the two small counters inside.

Toni’s uses natural flour & tomatoes, low fat cheeses and locally made sausage to craft hearty pies loaded with flavor, yet maintain enough structural integrity to pick up a slice and eat it like a New Yorker.  While I don’t think there’s such a thing as too much cheese, that idea is stretched here much like the trails of cheese stretching from the pie all the way to your plate as you take the first slice.  Anyone with an Italian grandmother would feel nostalgic over the thick and hearty tomato sauce that tops Toni’s pies.

Toni’s Pizza & Organic Pasta is close enough for a short cab ride from, or delivery to, hotels in the Loop and Magnificent Mile areas. If you haven’t got the appetite for a whole pie, slices are available.

Find Toni’s Pizza & Organic Pasta at
457 N. Milwaukee Ave
Chicago IL 60654
☎ 312 243 1500

Hot Doug’s

Duck fat fries, duck sausage with foie gras, Chicago dog

Hard to beat this.

I’ve seen and read many recommendations for Hot Doug’s in Chicago over the past few years.  Since my sister lives in Chicago and I have relatively frequent business there, it was only a matter of time before I made sure I got a chance to sample Doug’s encased meats.

The restaurant is fairly off the beaten path, being a good distance from the downtown and tourist areas of the city and in a largely industrial area.  Thanks to the quality of their products, TV appearances and numerous magazine writeups, the place is enjoying some well-deserved popularity.  I arrived at 12:30 PM on a Saturday and found the line wrapping around the block.  It took an hour and a half to get to the front of the line, but it was well worth it.

I ordered “the dog,” a standard Chicago-style hot dog, although Doug’s dog had grilled onions, but didn’t have the peppers I’ve become accustomed to on a Chicago dog.  The dog itself was high quality product grilled just right.   The bun was soft and tasty, coming apart just before the last bite.

With everything I’ve heard about the place, the main thing on my mind was duck.  In addition to “the dog” I had the foie gras and sauternes duck sausage, served with truffle aioli, foie gras mousse and fleur de sel.  The flavor of the duck was prominent and the sausage was well spiced.  I’m not usually a fan of foie gras, but here it added a welcome creaminess where the sausage might have otherwise been just slightly dry.

In addition to the dogs, I had the duck fat fries .  That is exactly what it sounds like.  French fries cooked in rendered duck fat.  The taste is like a normal fry but with a unique twist that I can’t quite describe. I ate the first several plain, but when I tried them with ketchup, the unique flavor still shined through.

The staff is very attentive and helpful.  The restaurant is clean, well maintained, and full of hot dog/sausage memorabilia and artwork.  Make sure to have a look at the restroom signage and the encased meats timeline.

I consider Hot Doug’s a must for a Chicago visit.  These encased meat purveyors are masters of their craft.

You can find Hot Doug’s here:
3324 North California, Chicago, IL 60618
Phone: (773) 279-9550