The Incomparable Savoy

No visit to Chicago would be complete without a taste of pizza. But none, not even Barack’s favorite from the Italian Fiesta Pizzeria, can compare to Savoy’s sublime fare. As much a feast for the eye as the palette, the experience begins upon entry.

Located conveniently around the corner from our home, the tiny parlor is visually dominated by the wood-burning pizza oven. As in many Japanese restaurants,the counter is the place to be though there is a table or two. On offer are just two types of pies (rumor has it that pizza guy can be cajoled into making a blond version as well). We always opt for the Margarita. After feeding the fire with a fresh log and taking its temperature (proper heat is key), pizza guy moves into high gear.

Part artist and part chef, he starts by gently lifting a mound of dough from one of several covered, wooden trays. Perfectly round and smooth, the dough balls look more like mochi rice cakes or steamed bean paste buns. After scattering some flour on the marble counter, he gently massages the dough into the perfect shape, roundish and very thin (except for the edge that holds the filling in place). Next he paints the pale, white surface with a spiral of bright, red tomato sauce. Crumbled chunks of fresh mozzarella cheese and a few basil leaves follow. A sprinkle of coarse sea salt, a swirl of Sicilian olive oil and the masterpiece is ready for baking. Wielding his paddle, pizza guy deftly delivers the paper-thin pie to the depths of the brick-lined oven.

As the pies cook, the cheese melts and begins to bubble, the crust singes and pizza guy chats us up, always keeping one eye on the goings on inside the oven. He turns the pies once or twice and maneuvers them around a bit. But after no more than five minutes they are cooked to perfection and, steaming hot, placed before us.

The taste is indescribably delicious. Each colorful element — cheese, tomato, basil — asserts itself. But the mellow oil blends their flavors together. Easily cut with a fork, the soft dough absorbs the filling’s juices but the puffy crust remains chewy to the last bite.

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