On Fridays, I like to eat pizza. Growing up in New Jersey, public school lunches were always pizza on Fridays. When I was very young, the only option was an Ellios-like piece of cheese pizza. It wasn’t until much later in my public school life that pepperoni then became an option. I somehow also recall a sausage option, but I may just be mis-remembering that. Regardless, even though Friday was always pizza, and regardless of how few options for toppings there may have been, I never got tired of it. And I’m still not tired of it. That’s how, last Friday, Sarah and I ended up at Renaldi’s.
Because it serves up a reasonable facsimile to New York style pizza, Renaldi’s is my favorite pizza place in Chicago. I am sure that there may be some other place in Chicago that is better at New York style pizza, but this place is three blocks from where I live. And I am somewhat of a hermit. I will travel within a small radius around where I live, and I will travel within a small radius around where I work. Outside of those two circles, I’m not that interested in what else is out there.
Whenever Sarah and I go to Renaldi’s, we never need the menu. We order a pitcher of beer, a pepperoni pizza, and an appetizer of garlic bread with cheese. Sarah has a bad habit of wanting to eat things right before we are about to eat things. And so, even when we are about to eat pizza, it is no surprise that she likes an appetizer of bread, cheese, and tomato sauce beforehand. In her defense, the garlic bread with cheese at Renaldi’s is quite good.
I like that they serve it with what way too much tomato sauce on the side. I like to save it and dip my pizza crusts in it. But for some reason, the bussers at Renaldi’s always take the tomato sauce away before the pizza comes out. It makes for a nice dipping sauce, if I can remember to have them leave it. But I usually don’t remember, and the next thing I know, the sauce disappears. Drat.
The pizza at Renaldi’s gets served elevated on a metal stand. I like to think that they do this so that the pizza stays closer to your face, thereby facilitating quicker stuffing in your face. But likely, this is a relic from other pizza places that have smaller tables and need to loft the pizza to make room for all the other plates on the table. Only when I’m in New York do the pizza lofts make sense. There’s just a different premium on floor space there. Everywhere else, like at Renaldi’s, the pizza lofts are merely an interesting novelty. But I don’t hold it against them. It’s a nice touch.
The pizza crust at Renaldi’s is what keeps me coming back. It is thin but not crackery. It is foldable but not soggy. There is a good bite to it, but it is thin enough that the precise ratio of cheese to sauce to dough is maintained. And that, really, is the key to good pizza. Ratio.
The only problem is that, at times, Renaldi’s suffers a real consistency problem with their crusts. Sometimes, it is divine. Other times, like this last Friday, it tastes like they are buying frozen dough. You can tell because, when they make it right, it tastes like something I would get back at home – it tastes like pizza. But, when they don’t get the dough right, or if they are buying it from somewhere else, it has a slightly sweet taste and the dough is somewhat crunchier at the crusts, almost like a cookie/biscuit. As a result, when they miss, they miss big. This evening, it tasted like Home Run Inn pizza’s crust, which I hate.
They serve other things at Renaldi’s. But I am always surprised that they even bother. And I can’t quite understand people who go there and don’t eat the pizza. Because even when the pizza there is not at its best, Renaldi’s is still a great place to eat pizza, which is probably why Sarah and I are there so frequently on Friday nights. There’s a comfortableness to eating there. It’s not fancy, but it’s not a dump. If anything, it’s closer to a dive, but not intentionally so. In fact, Renaldi’s doesn’t seem to be trying to be anything. It just is. And I think it’s that lack of intentionalism that I like so much. But mostly, I like the pizza.