If Giancciano’s last week was all about the cheese and crispy crust, this week’s adventure, Spacca Napoli in Ravenswood, was all about that dough, about that dough, about that dough, no (insert word here that implies “firm crispiness;” I’m too full of dough to think of one presently).
Understand that when I say “dough,” I am referring to the putative crust of our pizzas. This week’s pies (a traditional margherita as the baseline/control pizza; some pizza with an Italian name with pancetta, salted leeks, and mozzarella for the Maestro and the other meat eaters in our crew; and a “porcini e carciofi” pizza with mushrooms, artichokes, parmigiano reggiano and buffalo mozzarella cheeses for the Doc) arrived at our table mere minutes after we ordered them, unsliced (the restaurant provides these little badass steel pizza cutters for the customers to take charge of that situation), and each nestled within a thick, chewy, pliable crust that turned out to be the pizza’s more or less defining characteristic.
Which wasn’t a bad thing, necessarily. As a rule, I like chewy-textured foodstuffs. But the thing was, as the Maestro’s lovely wife pointed out, the toppings on our respective pizzas were so fresh and juicy, that the doughy crust ended up having a wee bit of difficulty supporting the whole endeavour qua pizza, slice by increasingly flaccid slice. That is, each slice, while undeniably popping with bright, vibrant, complex flavor (if maybe a little too much salt), ended up sagging on its journey from plate to mouth, eventually necessitating us to begin folding them over and conceptualizing them as mini calzones (incredibly tasty, chewy mini calzones, granted).
The Maestro assures me that authentic Italian food is often delicately constructed, such that the diner’s participation in reconstructing the dish bite by bite is not an uncommon thing. I, however, rather prefer my pizza to hang together without my having to reassemble its layers like goddamn Lincoln Logs, so this was a slight disconnect for me. But there was no arguing with those flavors, though. Bite by bite, these pizzas were suffused with sharp, thick, salty and garlicky tastes. You don’t want to inhale Spacca Napoli pizza– it’s the kind of pizza you want to put your fork down in between bites of so you don’t drown in the strong flavors.
In terms of ambiance, there wasn’t much to distinguish Spacca Napoli from a chain restaurant. They were doing a brisk business in an atmosphere that struck me as reminiscent of, say, a better illuminated Maggiano’s. The staff was young and competent; most of the other diners seemed to be on family outings, children in tow; the place is well-lit and pleasantly conforming to every expectation one might have of a kid-friendly Italian place. We got an appetizer that included ham (which I, the token vegetarian among us, obviously didn’t sample) and a chunk of Buffalo mozzarella the size of a goddamn soccer ball (which this Doc sampled with gusto– did you know Buffalo cheese is creamy and chewy and delicious? True story). Both that and the grilled/sautéed/chilled eggplant appetizer we got were nom-able (though if they’d toasted the little chunks of bread that came with the eggplant thing, life would have been perfect, no matter what idiot thing Trump said this week).
Speaking of more or less perfect, how about that desert, huh? We sampled the tiramisu, the gelato, some crazy ice cream thing that my girlfriend equated to Rainbow Cone on the south side of Chicago, and a formidable Nutella calzone that may as well have come with a stern warning from Wilford Brimley to make sure to check your damn blood sugar, as well as a white flag of surrender from your pancreas. Yes, yes, this project and blog are all about the pizza, but I’m just saying, if desserts like these preclude the Doc ever having six pack abs, then I guess I’m okay with settling for a Dad Bod at the tender age of 38.
Look, it’s impossible to not recommend a place that puts the flavors in your mouth that Spacca Napoli does. Strong, vibrant, sweet, heavy. But, really, what we’re talking about here is kind of a specialty experience– an experience that tries juuuust a little too hard. I think the comparison that kept occurring to me, Maggiano’s, is apt (and not perjorative, may I hasten to add); and less flattering comparisons (say, Olive Garden) less than apt. The food was tasty. But the pizza was just a little to the left or the right of what the Doc really wants pizza to be.