Mama Milano Pizza Bar in Old Town (Barry Brecheisen/For RedEye )
Pizza review: Mama Milano Pizza Bar
1421 N. Wells St. 312-787-3710
Rating: !!! (out of four)
Wells Street in Old Town has its fair share of dining institutions, from Bistrot Margot to Topo Gigio and Kamehachi. One of the strip’s newcomers, Mama Milano, also has inherited its share of culinary cred: It’s owned by Joseph Tomaska, whose great-grandfather once owned multiple locations of Papa Milano around Chicago.
Despite walls lined with bottles of Italian wine and the big, red tomato on the restaurant’s sign, Mama Milano manages to avoid kitsch overkill. Stylish touches in the form of an ornate gold mirror and intricate, lantern-like lights help this pizza bar appeal to the date-night crowd while stil honoring the family’s roots. The menu is small, with just a few Southern Italian appetizers, three salads, and one or two specials each night, letting the dozen pizza options ($8 to $12) shine.
A cracker crunch gives way to hearty chewiness, halfway between a Neopolitan and a New York-style thin crust. Sauce and toppings spill all the way to the edge of these ten-inch pies, leaving only a half-inch of virginal dough. The secret to the crunch-chew balance is the dough press, a round, metallic device that starts the cooking process before the pie enters the stone oven. Once it’s in the oven, the dough only bakes for about four minutes, maintaining a springiness after the initial char. The crust has its own earthy flavor, but it’s the char and the audible crunch that make the biggest impression.
A thin tomato sauce is the only knock against the pies, which would benefit from a chunkier, spicier kick. The pizza bianco trades it for a blend of parmesan, mozzarella, romano, and fontina cheeses, to better results.
The 12 options should satisfy most palates, with options from pepperoni to eggs Benedict to the Milano, the most heavily-topped pie featuring cheese, sausage, green peppers, mushrooms and olives. The classic margherita nails all the crucial details, from evenly-shredded basil to high-quality mozz. A spinach and ricotta special is generous with the fresh lumps of cheese, and the spinach packs a lot of leafy, earthy flavor.
The menu’s highlighted appetizer—Mama Milano’s “famous” spinach bread, made from the owner’s great grandmother’s recipe—is debatably famous but is certainly deserving of the nickname. Warm dough buns pull apart to reveal long, melty strings of mozzarella and romano and hefty piles of spinach. The cannoli is forgettable, so save those calories and have another slice of pizza as “dessert.”
I haven’t been anywhere else in town that’s serving pizza quite this crunchy, chewy, and thin, which makes Mama Milano’s worth trying before your next night out in Old Town. Throw in the warm, laid-back atmosphere and a super-affordable wine list, and it’s equally appropriate for a no-pressure date night. Just make sure to check for spinach stuck in your teeth.