Buon giorno a tutto il mondo! Today were going Italian on Mastication Monologues, so jump on your Vespa and put on your Gucci shades as we hit the road to see one of the peninsula’s most famous inventions with a twist: pizza. While pizza may take many different forms depending on where you are in Italy or elsewhere in the world, Chicago is one of the international hubs for world-famous pizza. What sets Chicago apart from its classier Italian cousins or pushier brothers out in New York? Heft. If a slice of NYC pie is a thin Kate Moss, then Chicago deep-dish is a full bodied Christina Hendricks. While I like both, I’m naturally biased towards my hometown style. However, Pompei serves another type of pizza that I haven’t seen anywhere else in the world, so I’d like to tell you a bit about it.
Pompei is a Chicago institution that started in 1909 on Taylor Street in Little Italy in Chicago. While the name is the same as the famous lava encased village in Italy, it actually is derived from the nearby Our Lady of Pompeii Catholic Church. This reflects the local flavor of the neighborhood along with the items you can find on the menu. Back in 1909, the founder, Luigi Davino, only made bread and cheese pizza, but now they have everything from salads, sandwiches, pasta, various desserts, and of course, the pizza! While I still consider the original location on Taylor Street the best, this post involves the new branch in Westmont that moved from Oakbrook. Note: since they’re run by good Italian boys, Pompei is closed on Sunday. We learned that the hard way by rolling up to a desolate parking lot and subsequently were turned away. Just a quick reminder if you’re really jonesing for some great Italian food on a Sunday. Anyway, so upon walking into the Westmont Pompei, it was a bit different from the Chicago branch since we had to grab a lunch tray and work our way down the line of food like a cafeteria. The Chicago Pompei does it in a similar fashion, but they keep all of it on their side of production. Another trend that I noticed right away was the undercurrent of sarcasm and semi-threatening sales strategies that the staff utilized. At the salad station, the employee seemed exasperated that we dared not to have a custom salad made for our meal. My mom and I went down to the good stuff, the pizza. Based on the time we went to eat, 5 pm, it was a bit disconcerting with the selection of pies they had. My mom was looking at the hand rolled pizza that is still thick compared to NYC slices, but they all seemed to be the dregs of the lunch hour in terms of quality. My mom ended up picking a semi-anemic slice of spinach pizza and slid on down the line. As for me, I got the usual, the strudel pizza ($5.95). While the word “strudel” is normally associated with lederhosen-clad Germans enjoying the sweet, European take on pie, Pompei manages to integrate both the general structure of the Teutonic dessert with the Mediterranean ingredients. I wanted my favorite strudel flavor, “The Works”, but they didn’t have any out. So I settled for the Beef Angelo, and I went to the cashier. While waiting there, the employee behind soup and dessert hassled us in a condescending manner about our pizza choices and why weren’t we getting more food. We played it off like nothing happened and settled down to enjoy our eats. My strudel looked fantastic but the taste didn’t match due to the quality of the ingredients. While the crust was crusty yet chewy, it was soggy on the bottom which is never a good attribute for pizza to have. As for the interior, the Beef Angelo normally is filled with slices of juicy beef, but what I found was more like the leftover, ground up meatballs. The marinara and cheese were plentiful in this strudel which made up for the meat…just barely. By the end of dinner, I was filled and semi-satisfied. Yet I couldn’t help but reflect on the quality of service and food in comparison to the original Chicago location or when the same restaurant was in Oakbrook. Even though not everyone goes to eat dinner at 5 pm, that doesn’t mean you should put out the minimal amount of low quality product to save resources. Plus, the owner should whip the staff into shape as 90 percent of them were standing around talking while one guy did all of the work. This type of terrible teamwork extended to all facets of the restaurant and put a damper on our dining experience.
So if you want to try a unique type of pizza in an original Chicago institution, try Pompeii, but I’d recommend the Chicago location over the obnoxious Westmont branch.