While in Chicago recently, I took Cindy and our son, Eric, to one of the best pizza places in Chicago - Brick's in Lincoln Park (see map). I originally wrote about Brick's in my synopsis of Chicago pizza places I'd visited in the past. I thought it was definitely one of the top three I'd ever had in the city.
I've eaten in Brick's once before in 1999. A manufacturer we were visiting took us into the city for a Brick's pizza. Bill Brandt opened Brick's in a funky little subterranean location in 1997. His goal was to have great eclectic pizzas with an ever changing selection of eclectic beers. The toppings are fresh and he uses cheese as diverse as gouda, goat cheese and Maytag Blue Cheese. The pizza is a thin crust, no deep dish pizza is available at Brick's. And, of course, the pizza is cooked in a brick oven, Neapolitan-style.
Brandt also runs a Brick's in Petaluma, CA, with a menu similar to the one in Chicago. From seeing pictures and reading about the Petaluma location, it appears it's a lot larger than the one in Chicago.
It was a warm Saturday evening just before Christmas when we went to Brick's. We went down the stairs and down a dark hall (known as the "katacombs" on the sign outside) to the front door of the place. There's a bar area up front that could easily hold 25 to 30 people comfortably. I figured we'd be standing in the bar waiting for a table in the small dining room, as the first time I was there it was nearly an hour wait on a Wednesday night for a table for five. We were greeted by a hostess and she seated us right away in the dining area. The place holds, maybe, 45 people. It's that small.
Cindy thought she'd been there before, or at least in a place that was similar to the funky decor and artwork that hung throughout Brick's dining room. But I doubt she'd been there before. Heck, it hadn't changed much from the time I'd been in there about 8.5 years before.
We looked through the menu while we waited for our waitress to show up. They were mildly busy and they only had a couple of waitresses. But they also had a couple busboys who were on top of things with water. And we needed it. We'd been out walking around downtown Chicago before we grabbed a cab up to Brick's. Plus it was very warm in Brick's. Believe me, if Cindy - who is perpetually chilled - says it's warm in a place, it's warm.
Our waitress came over and got our drink order. They had the Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale winter seasonal beer on tap and I had a mug of that. Cindy got a glass of red wine and Eric got a pop. She said she'd be right back to take our food order.
Meanwhile, we were seated near a table of four couples. One of the guys, who was a very big guy and went by the name of "Moose", was unbelievably loud. You couldn't help but know what his name was as he was telling stories and calling himself "Moose." Oh, it was bad. I mean, it was just obnoxiously loud. We had two guys seated at a table next to us and they asked to move to the other side of the dining room. I wish we'd had asked first.
The waitress came back and got our order. We told her we wanted to get different pizzas and asked if the 10" pizza was a lot of food. She said 10" pizzas were usually for 1 to 2 people. OK, we'll go with the 10" and take whatever we don't eat back to the hotel since we had a fridge in our room.
Eric ordered the "Ditka", named after the former Chicago Bears coach and local icon Mike Ditka. It was all the meat - sausage, ham and pepperoni loaded with cheese. I told him I wanted to try a piece of his.
Cindy ordered the "Red Planet" - it had sausage, red pepper, red onions, tomato sauce and both mozzarella and goat cheese. Sounded good, even though cooked peppers and onions don't like me too well.
I got my good ol' standard sausage, pepperoni and mushroom. I remember getting a big one of those the first time I came and I thought it was pretty damn good.
I was intrigued by their wedge salad - a hefty wedge of lettuce topped with their creamy garlic and Maytag Blue Cheese. I told the waitress that I wanted to try one, but wouldn't be able to eat the whole thing. Cindy said, "Oh, I'll have a couple bites."
The waitress said, "I can divide the wedge into three's and bring it out to you that way."
OK, sure! And I'm glad we did because the size was just perfect for all three of us. I'm a sucker for a wedge salad with real Maytag Blue on it.
Thankfully, "Moose" quieted down significantly when the pizza came to their table. I know they were having a good time, but that guy was just too loud. You could see a lot of people just turning their heads looking at him when he'd get really loud.
About 25 minutes and a couple beers later, the pizzas came out. The 10" was a perfect size. The crust was thin, light and crisp. Not a crispy crisp, but it did have some crunch to it when you bit in. The sausage, pepperoni and mushrooms were unbelievably fresh. The sauce and cheese was light and not filling. It definitely didn't detract from the taste of the toppings.
Cindy loved here Red Planet pizza. Although she said it was very, very rich with the mozzarella and goat cheese combination. It was just slathered in toppings. She was only able to eat three of the small pieces.
Eric's "Ditka" pizza was just loaded with meat and cheese. It, too, was very rich with a ton of cheese and toppings. He's a kid that can eat and he couldn't finish half of his pizza.
Me - I made sure that I ate very lightly all day long so I'd be able to savor the Brick's experience. I finished my pizza off, plus had bites of both Cindy's and Eric's pizzas. They were right - they were both very rich and there would have been no way I would have been able to finish either one. That's OK, we could take it back to the room and snack on it.
The drinks weren't cheap - the three beers I had were $7.00 each and Cindy's wine was $8.00. The three pizzas were reasonable - $32.00 for the three of them. With tax and tip, the bill came to $78.00.
As we went out of Brick's to catch a cab (by the way, there's only street parking so it's best to take a cab there), I noticed a picture by the door of Mike Ditka flipping off the camera as he was walking off the field a number of years ago. I'd heard about this picture, but never saw it before. I just stood there and had to laugh as Ditka embodies the feelings of thousands of Chicagoans.
The awning over Brick's says it's "The Best Pizza on Earth". I don't know if I fully agree with that, as it's tough to call anything "the best", but it's damn good. It's still one of the top three best pizzas I've had in the Chicago area. It's tough to beat.