Just because a chef doesn't operate a pizza restaurant and toss dough every day should not bar them from making their own pizza. This is a free country, after all. The opportunity for chefs to design their own pizza is a sacred right. Celebrating that right are Roots Handmade Pizza and The Grid, two restaurants rolling out pizzas designed by guest chefs from restaurants throughout Chicago. Chefs come from all walks of kitchen life, some with a background in Mexican cuisine, some with barbecue, and some with Southern fare. The results are pizzas bedecked with a miscellany of unexpected toppings that go well beyond the standard cheesy, pepperoni hodgepodge.
(Wood-fired pizza oven at The Grid. Photo: Blast Marketing & PR)
The Grid is poised to launch Half Baked: A Pizza Series, on November 11, featuring different chefs from around Chicago. Each chef will serve as guest host (as in hosting the menu, not taking people to their tables) at The Grid for a designated night, crafting their own pizzas utilizing the restaurant's wood-fired pizza oven. This thing is a fiery behemoth, a 19-plus square foot cooking chamber that enables chefs to cook up to 200 12-inch pizzas per hour. That's a lot of dough. The pizza series holds court on the second Monday of every month, with Chris Macchia from The Florentine serving as November's inaugural guest chef. As the chef of an Italian restaurant, the man knows his way around a pizza. On November 11, he'll be serving up antipasti plus two different pizzas, a Brussels sprouts pizza with Taleggio, pancetta, butternut squash, fried egg, and black truffles, and a tuna conserva pizza with fiore di latte, capers, tomatoes, gaeta olives, red onions, and marjoram. Next up is Mark Steuer of Carriage House on December 9, throwing down with braised short rib pizza with buttermilk blue cheese, caramelized red onions, fried Brussels sprouts, and spicy cornbread crumbs.
Over at Roots Handmade Pizza, the chef series of specialty pizzas features the eclectic stylings of Antique Taco's Rick Ortiz, Homestead's Chris Curren, and Lillie's Q's Charlie McKenna. It's an apt opportunity for non-pizza chefs to dabble in pizza-making, and for guests to try unusual pizzas. The taco chili cheese curd pizza from Ortiz combines chorizo chili, Brunkow cheddar cheese curds, Chihuahua cheese, Quad Cities mozzarella blend, pickled jalapeños, pickled onions, avocado cream, tortilla strips, black olives, and scallions. Curren's pizza is an homage to the lobster pizza he popularized at his defunct Blue 13. It features Maine lobster, roasted garlic puree, roasted cipollini onions, and Manchego cheese. Then there's McKenna's meat-tastic BBQ pulled pork pizza, loaded with peach wood-smoked pulled pork, Lillie's Q smoky barbecue sauce, and Quad Cities mozzarella blend, all flecked with Lillie's Q Carolina Dirt BBQ rub and some cole slaw.