Chicago eats, 2013.

My trip to Chicago was very brief, by design – I flew in on Saturday morning, had lunch, went to the Under Armour All-American Game, had dinner with Old Hoss, and flew home that night – so time was short and I had to leave a few Chicago places I’d love to try for a future trip. In the meantime, I at least accomplished two small goals: I got to one of Top Chef wniner Stephanie Izzard’s restaurants, and can cross yet another pizzeria off that Food and Wine list.

Izzard is most famous for her flagship restaurant The Girl & the Goat, which I still have yet to try, but I’d heard good things about her diner, The Little Goat, in the same neighborhood but offering more comfort-food fare while serving breakfast and lunch as well as dinner. I popped a photo on Instagram of my meal, the Fat Elvis Waffles – two waffles with sliced bananas, peanut butter butter (a compound butter with peanut butter blended into soft unsalted butter), small bits of bacon, and maple syrup. It sounded amazing, looked great, and was thoroughly disappointing – only the peanut butter butter lived up to expectations. The waffles were dense and soft, difficult to cut with a butter knife, and lacking flavor. Waffles should be airy inside and crispy outside, period. If you don’t use enough fat, you won’t get that. If you skimp on leavening, whether it’s an acid/base reaction or yeast or an egg white foam, you won’t get that. The Little Goat didn’t. Even the bacon fell short, as I thought I was going to lose a filling when I bit down on one piece. I’d take a pound of the peanut butter butter to go, though.

Dinner with our favorite syphilitic pitcher was more successful, at Bar Toma, one of three Chicago places on Food and Wine‘s best U.S. pizzerias list. (The others are Burt’s Place, which does that vile thing called “deep dish” pizza, and Great Lake, which has since closed but may reopen this fall.) The odd thing is that Bar Toma doesn’t get high marks from locals – I’ve not gotten great feedback from readers or friends in Chicago, and its ratings online (not that any of those are terribly reliable) aren’t strong. I thought it was solid, and that’s without adding points for Lucy, our rather gorgeous Irish server who probably received a few more questions from our table than was appropriate.

We ordered two pizzas, the August special, with duck sausage, goat cheese, and red chili flakes; and the off-menu burrata pizza, recommended by our darling Lucy. The burrata pizza was by far our favorite; it’s topped with burrata (large balls of fresh mozzarella with cream inside), truffle oil, and arugula, and the crust on this pizza was better than the one on the duck sausage pizza, crispier at the edges and underneath as well. The duck sausage pizza was a little unbalanced, with too much red pepper, too much tang from the goat cheese (which was soft like chevre but tangier than goat’s milk feta), and nothing on the other side. The duck sausage even got lost a little beside those other ingredients.

We started with a kale salad, which was topped with a medium-boiled egg and contained bread crumbs and an anchovy vinaigrette; it was outstanding as well as moderately healthful and actually quite pretty with the mix of purple and green leaves. Bar Toma also makes about a dozen flavors of gelato in-house; I went with the chocolate and amaretto, both with excellent texture, served just warm enough to begin melting at the table (that’s a good thing – gelato shouldn’t be too cold). The chocolate was a little underflavored for me, with texture and flavor like Belgian milk chocolate, but the amaretto was like tipping the Di Saronno to the head like a forty. I’m not sure why its local reputation is mixed – it’s good, probably a 55 if we’re rating the burrata pizza, a 60 if we give points for Lucy, and infinitely preference to that tomato-cake nonsense Chicagoans like to eat instead.


  1. Couldn’t agree more about the “tomato-cake.” Chicago deep dish = lasagna. It’s OK to like it, but let go of calling it pizza. Someone was gonna start this argument, so I figured I’d be the first to say it.

  2. Sorry you didn’t like Little Goat. My wife and I went this summer and liked it. The Asian scallion pancake with pork belly was exceptional, and she loved her tuna Niçoise salad. It was crammed and loud, however.

  3. So, Old Hoss is Theo Epstein. I knew it

  4. For the record, most Chicagoans don’t actually like tomato cake (aka deep dish “pizza”). It’s primarily consumed by tourists who also stand in line for 3 hours for Garrett popcorn.

    Get an Italian beef next time you’re in town. That’s a true Chicagoan staple.

  5. As someone who has grown up in Chicago and lived here all my life, any local who is sensible about the Pizza knows that we only eat deep dish when the out of town relatives come to visit and want it. I never eat it otherwise. Deep dish pizza has become some sort of rallying cry for the stupid when having the awful New York vs. Chicago debate.

    Now a Chicago style hot dog on the other hand is wonderful…

  6. Jim and Justin have it right. Deep-dish pizza is for tourists. Real Chicagoans like crust thin and crispy.

  7. Yinka Double Dare

    I’m going to disagree that only tourists eat deep dish. Tourists do seem to be the only ones that eat Gino’s or Uno. Pequod’s (whose pizza was developed by Burt of Burt’s Place fame) on the other hand, I know lots of locals who eat that, myself included. Plenty of Lou’s eaters too. But most folks eat it as a once-in-a-while thing and typically order thin crust pizza, cut in squares/rectangles.

    We need to get you into the neighborhoods that aren’t in the hotel areas downtown/river north or along the red line between downtown and Wrigley on one of these trips.

  8. Shame on you, Keith. I figured you had enough sense to know only tourist eat deep dish pizza. It’s a rare thing for a local to order deep dish without a visitor in town. But I get it. You gotta take every opportunity to troll when you can.

  9. +1 to Jim. Chicago hot dogs are the Buddha of street food.

  10. Friends don’t let friends eat deep dish pizza.

  11. While reading the article about your postseason award picks (sorry not posting there as I refuse to participate in espn’s facebook ordeal) I was at first sad to hear that you no longer had a vote for the awards. Then I recalled that you were a Trout full on supporter and relief overcame me that you no longer had a vote. Trouts team is under .500 and long out of the playoff race. Not only should he not win the award this year, he should not even make it on a ballot. If a player does not assist in helping his team make the playoffs, then valuable year is out the window. No playoffs, no mvp vote at all. That is what I have always believed. If you don’t make the playoffs, it is a wasted season.

  12. David:

    Isn’t the point to win the World Series? If this is the case, why should “making the playoffs” be enough to qualify for MVP consideration? Shouldn’t we wait, and vote the MVP to the best player on whatever team wins the World Series?

    Note that I make this observation on top of the other obvious arguments against your viewpoint, such as: It’s not Mike Trout’s fault that the Angels have bad pitching.

  13. David,

    Obviously, the MVP vote depends upon the voter’s interpretation of valuable as it pertains to the players. You are entitled to your opinion that the player’s value must be tied to winning, but isn’t that a bit short-sighted to expect one player, no matter how great he may play, to overcome the deficiencies of the other 24 men on the roster? This isn’t doubles tennis or even basketball where one player can play ~15% of a team’s minutes in a season. Shouldn’t an individual award be based upon each individual player’s contributions, not those of his teammates?

  14. All these deep dish comments made me smile. Reminds me of my own city’s delicacy-the Philly cheesesteak. I may eat one a year but never from Pat’s or Geno’s. There only for tourist or if you’re really drunk at 4 am.

  15. Can you unblock me on twitter? I did enjoy your stuff…


  16. @Ryan: Done. Please stop trolling me, though. It got old.

    @David: Your understanding of individual “value” as something only tied to team record befuddles me. If your employer loses money this year, was your work product therefore worthless? Would you be okay if they chose not to pay you because your co-workers all failed to meet expectations?

    @everyone else: I wasn’t trolling over the deep dish thing – as far as I knew, it was the preferred style in Chicago. I can’t stand it myself – I grew up in New York and fell in love with the thinner Italian crusts on my two visits to Italy.

  17. Yinka Double Dare

    I feel like Bar Toma is on the Food & Wine list because it’s a pizza restaurant from a known chef (Tony Mantuano) with a fancy, well-regarded Italian restaurant. It’s not Burt’s (who invented basically his own style of the deep dish with the caramelized cheese on the crust) or Great Lake (which by all reports truly was outstanding, if somewhat of a pain to get into because it was so small). Toma isn’t doing anything that wasn’t already done by others in the city and doesn’t really do it better either IMO. If someone wanted that style of pizza I think I would send them to Nellcote or Pizzeria da Nella. Even in the main tourist/hotel area, I think La Madia is better for similar style pizza. That’s probably why it doesn’t get reviews from locals that match its placement on the Food & Wine list.

    Oh, also Izard only has one z (not spelled like comedian Eddie’s name)

  18. To echo Yinka Double Dare: Chicagoans are down on Bar Toma because while it’s solid, it’s far from spectacular. An argument can be made it’s in the same league as many of these places (for “artisinal” thin crust): Nellcote, Balena, Reno, Nella, Spacca Napoli, Coalfire, etc. It’s location, dead in the middle of the main tourist district, with it’s associated prices and crowds is enough for most to say “it’s not worth it”.