Sky Full of Bacon

#30: Bella Tocco

I kept meaning, a couple of years ago, to go back to Follia, Bruno Abate’s ultrachic Italian restaurant that launched the strip that now includes Moto and Otom, to have true Italian-style woodburning pizza. Then suddenly woodburning Italian pizza places opened all over town and the urgency was gone. When I did finally have it, it was fine, but others were better and Follia did other things better.

Now Abate has himself opened a woodburning pizza place that looks chicer than a year’s subscription to L’Uomo, in Wicker Park, done in space station moderne and filled with his usual beautiful people (not least of them the imposingly tall and impeccably dressed Bruno himself, who looks exactly like he should look). It would be easy to make fun of Bruno and his places for empty glitz and eye candy over food, but tragically, he also runs really good Italian restaurants marked by his devotion to sourcing eye-openingly superior ingredients. I had the best caprese salad of my life, thanks to the best bufala mozzarella of my life, at Follia— and great ingredients are also the making of Tocco.

Well, they’re the making of the pizze, anyway. There have been rather bad notices so far for the other things at Tocco, but the pizza has gotten good comment, and since the pizza and everything else are basically coming out of two separate kitchens, it’s perhaps not surprising that there should be so much divergence. The pizze are made at an area behind the bar— infelicitously, at one point a stinky cheese wafted from that area over the bar— and cooked in some very handsome ovens behind a black tile wall. The crust is almost paper-thin, and frankly, it’s not as interesting as many of the other Italian-style pizzas in town, in terms of its own flavor or chewy texture. But the stuff that went on both of the ones we tried was absolutely top-notch— tangy, complex bufala on one, prosciutto and buttery mozzarella on another. In one of the pizza wars on LTHForum, Antonius said “pizza is about the bread,” to which I replied “except when it isn’t,” ie, when it belongs to a style where the crust is secondary, like Chicago deep dish. This is a pizza that belongs to a style that ought to be about the bread, but transcends it because the stuff on top is so good.

Service at the bar, another complaint in the Time Out review linked above, was helpful, knowledgeable and attentive; the only downside to sitting there is the absurd barstools, which are shaped so inexplicably I still don’t know, after two hours on one, which way you were really supposed to sit on it, and which sink much too low if you’re not model-thin. So try to get a table, and stick to the pizza, and Tocco will make for a solid evening of pizza and beautiful people.

1266 N. Milwaukee

The number in the headline refers to my ongoing series of places not written about so far on LTHForum.

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