CHICAGO, Ill. — In no particular order, Chicagoans love dining outdoors, dining by the water, and pizza. Two new Chicago restaurants offer all three.
First is Robert’s Pizza and Dough Company, which overlooks the River East Arts Center’s waterfront promenade. The front room has a bar and open-air views of Ogden Slip, and there’s plenty of interior room when the weather turns cold.
Robert Garvey is the pizza perfectionist who created the outstanding pie crust; Michael Luth is the chef de cuisine doing everything else, including surprisingly good meatballs with a spicy giardiniera, and mushroom-risotto arancini.
Among the many pizza topping combinations, my favorites include the duck prosciutto pizza, a three-cheese pizza that uses boutique cheeses from Indiana, and what I call the Killer B’s: Bacon, Brussels sprouts and Balsamic syrup. Sounds weird, I know; it’s killer.
There’s also a dessert pizza, believe it or not. The ice cream pizza is made with berries and crème fraiche and small scoops of vanilla gelato, and somehow the crust stays crisp. Probably because I eat it so fast.
Pizzeria Portofino sits right on the Chicago River, just east of the Clark Street Bridge. Executive chef Doug Psaltis oversees this homage to the Italian Riviera, which has a rustic seaside look inside and umbrella-topped tables on the sunny outside patio.
Among the superior pizzas here are the charred pepperoni, with crushed tomatoes and mozzarella cheese, and the Pugliese, made with crumbled fennel, pickled peppers, rapini and provolone. There are plenty more.
But one of the best thin-crust creations might not be a pizza at all; I nominate the focaccia), a Ligurian style, impossibly thin dough filled with stracchino cheese. It’s crispy and cheesy and perfect for a shared starter.
But Portofino is more than just pizza; this is a full-menu restaurant with plenty of appetizer, salad and entrée options, including this whole-grilled baby octopus topped with herbs.
I give Robert’s Pizza, 465 North McClurg Court, two stars. It’s the home of my favorite thin pizza, and I can’t wait for the outdoor patio to open. I give Pizzeria Portofino, 317 North Clark Street, three stars, on the basis of its superior menu quality and depth. But you can’t go wrong either way.