Note: Since the events of my first post reviewing Anteprima, I’ve had to change the name of my column; single city chick no more!
There are 6 days until Christmas and a little less than two weeks until New Year’s Eve. Inversely, there are -6 days since Hanukkah has finished. The holidays mean something different to every individual, every couple, and every family. To my dad, my brother, my stepmother and I the holidays hold one special tradition in particular: Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder, or CPOG. Situated in a 19th century brownstone, this is the spot to take your partner, parents, friends, or colleagues for an incomparable holiday dinner that embodies something all Chicagoans value: the best pizza in the city.
Tucked away on Clark Street very near to the Briar Street Theatre is a little garden-level slice of Chicago pizza paradise. To be more accurate, it’s a pie of paradise. Okay, a bowl. A bowl filled with pizza accouterments. When people ask me what goes into this widely anticipated Katz family holiday traditional meal, I tend to respond fiercely: “mushrooms the size of my fist.” That’s just the tip of the culinary iceberg at CPOG. Fun fact: not only does the restaurant possess a homey wood-paneled quality and low-lit romantic ambiance; it also sits across the street from the site of the infamous 1929 St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. The back of the CPOG menu describes the venue’s venerable history, which is fascinating to behold.
Our meals possess an intricate yet straightforward rhythm: the house salad is a positive mountain of fresh produce served with two dressings (mix them both together for the best flavor), and I’d like to think that the custom blend of spices that top the Mediterranean bread can’t be replicated at home. Every year I still marvel that I’m actually old enough to drink at this establishment, and I always go for a glass of robust red wine- the perfect accompaniment to the main course.
There are two different directions when it comes to the entree. I freely confess that I’ve never eaten one of the famous grinders; the pizza is just too tempting. This stuff is so incredible that I may have given leftover CPOG pie to my brother as a Hanukkah present. Both sandwiches and pizza are made with the highest quality ingredients, including the aforementioned fist-sized mushrooms, meat sauce or veggie sauce, and an incomparable cheese blend. The pies come in two sizes- pounder or half pounder- and are inverted from baking on top of a plate, which gives them the distinctive bowl-shaped appearance. Even a half pounder typically takes me 3 meals to consume. With that in mind, it’s no wonder that we as a family have never been able to order dessert.
I can’t stop smiling when I’m at CPOG; our annual dinner there was such a quintessential part of my childhood. Everything is so comfortable, so tasty and relaxing- it’s an experience I feel is worth sharing with others in the hope that they will be able to replicate it, especially during the frenetically busy pace of the holiday season.
Full disclosure- this restaurant has been a client of my father’s my entire life, so I’ve known the administrators for almost 30 years. This adds a special bit of comfort to our visits. Waits at CPOG frequently run 2-3 hours for dinner on weekends, so we usually try to attend during the week. Lunch service is also occasionally available.