Upon entering, no one greeted us at the door. The owner, executive chef, waiter, occasional floor-sweeper and sole employee, James Spillane, did not look up but continued stretching a ball of dough on a flour-covered counter large enough to fit a single pizza. He knew we were there; it’s hard to ignore the presence of extra bodies in a room with just a single table for four, a refrigerator, and a massive black oven.
He's almost completely avoided media coverage since opening on June 1, despite his high-profile background. Before opening Armitage, his solo debut, he was a co-owner of Coalfire. Spillane said this is the restaurant he hoped to open before Coalfire - a one-man pizza joint where he could make pies his way.
That way is East Coast style, paper-thin with a minimalist approach to every layer. Sauce is made from canned tomatoes, salt, pepper, Romano cheese and oregano zapped in a blender. Then shredded cheese and fresh toppings are placed on top of hand-stretched dough made from flour, water, yeast and salt. Then it's a quick trip into the 650-degree gas oven before being boxed to go or sold by the slice. “The Italians don’t do anything different,” Spillane said describing his simplistic approach, “Why would you?”
The result isn't exactly revolutionary. Rather, it's exactly what the flour-covered Spillane intended it to be: pizza. The crust is chewy yet crispy, the sauce sweet yet savory, and the melted cheese cradles fresh toppings such as Italian sausage, salami, pepperoni, onions and red peppers. “I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel,” Spillane said. He hasn't - but he may be making some of the most authentic East Coast-style pizza in Chicago.
711 W. Armitage Ave.; 312-867-9111
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Watch Spillane at work as he prepares a sausage pizza.