Cheese making is an art form, much like crafting a bottle of wine or baking pastries. Anyone can make cheese but crafting it to taste unique is what separates the artists from the rest of the crowd. Mozzarella Store Pizza and Caffè has proven its worth in spades. Mozzarella Store (882 N Michigan Ave.) is located where the old Hershey’s Chocolate store front once was. A stone’s throw from Loyola’s downtown campus makes this spot a no brainer for students to try.
Walking into the caffè for the first time brought a wave of memories. The aroma of charring wood and fire-roasted vegetables planted me back to my time in Naples. Naples is an old world city, cobblestone and brick meld seamlessly with modern life. The Mozzarella Store takes a more modern approach with its decor however, it was just as inviting as Naples itself. The only difference was that I wasn’t robbed and everyone spoke English at the restaurant.
I sat along a North-facing window anxiously awaiting my Margarita pizza to arrive. All I was hoping for was it to be legitimate Neapolitan pizza.
I learned about pizza from eating it habitually in Italy and speaking to my good friend Anthony Terrenzio about it for the better part of three years. Anthony’s family comes from a town close to Naples, which is why he is my expert for all things Southern Italian. Him and I ate quite a lot of pizza in Chicago together and have accumulated an understanding of American pizza versus Italian pizza.
The main differences are the ingredients used, method of cooking and type of dough. For instance, Roman style pizza is similar to Detroit style in that the dough is spongy and raised with a burnt crust and has a variety of toppings. Neapolitan style is like New York style in that it is thin, chewy and has limited toppings with a splash of sauce.
In order for a pizza to be classified as Neapolitan, it must adhere to specific criteria, including using only quality San Marzano tomatoes, Fior di Latte (Italian terminology for Mozzarella) and made in a wood-fire oven approved by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (The Pizza Police in Italy).
The Mozzarella Store has all of the above with exception to the certified oven from what I could pick out from researching the restaurant. It is difficult to get one of these ovens because the restaurant has to be big enough to hold one and they must be built and shipped from Italy to the restaurant. However, the Mozarella Store does have someone called a Pizzaiolo, a master craftsman of Neapolitan pizza. I should also mention they make their Fior di Latte fresh in the restaurant.
Enough of the technical stuff, how was the pizza and cheese? In one word: phenomenal. The pizza had a wonderfully charred crust that was crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside. The dough closer to the center of the pizza was barley cooked, giving it a marvelous texture. The acidity of the San Marzano tomatoes shined through with hints of anise coming from the basil.
The mozzarella tied the whole pizza together. The slices were pulling apart and elongating as I took my first bite—creamy, delicate and fresh. Subpar mozzarella is chewy, tough and breaks off into pieces. Well-crafted mozzarella pulls apart without needing to be shredded and has a fresh taste rather than an aged cheese note such as cheddar or gouda.
I never expected to have Italian pizza quite this good outside of Italy, let alone in Chicago which is dominated with contemporary American pizza styles. The Mozzarella Store has truly outdone itself in terms of providing an authentic Neapolitan pizza and making quality cheeses in-house.
The total cost of my meal was roughly $30 with a pizza ($15), a glass of wine ($9) and tax/tip. For the menu visit their website at www.mozzarellastores.com/store/.