Pizza review: Old Fifth
1027 W Madison St. 312-374-1672
Rating: 3 (out of four)
Whiskey and pizza—why don't we see more of this dynamic duo? Old Fifth, a nearly month-old sports bar in the West Loop, provides the city with not only these two essentials, but solid draft beer and ample TVs as well. On a stretch of Madison leading to the United Center, this newcomer—named for a former 5th Ward alderman who in 1872 developed the building that now houses the pizzeria—isn't lacking for sports bar competition. But the pizza focus and industrial-cool dining room set this new face apart from darker, dated bars. I dropped by in search of a new West Loop hangout to take in the Blackhawks' final Stanley Cup game—which I'm not sure Chicago has fully finished celebrating—and pulled up a bar stool before the game began. As the bar slowly became packed shoulder-to-shoulder, I settled in for a roller coaster ride of power plays, lightning-quick goals and some double-decker pizza.
Pie basics: General manager Brian Wiley said Old Fifth's pies don't fit a specific style, but described the crust as "thin, but not cracker-thin" with square-cut slices. When my pie arrived super-hot from the gas oven at my seat at the narrow counter between the bar area and dining room, I was worried that I might splatter sauce or cheese on the couple dining on the other side of the thin rail. Miraculously, the tiny slices remained neatly on their platter.
My first impression: Wow, these pies are sweet--literally. Wiley said the kitchen aims for a sweet crust and a sweeter sauce with a bit of spice, which reminded my taste buds of the malted crust, Quad-Cities pies at West Town pizzeria Roots. The result was a bit sugary for me, but a healthy dose of cheese and noticeable herb flecks tempered it a bit. In addition to regular cheese pizza ($16 for a large), Old Fifth recently debuted build-your-own toppings as well as signature pies such as the Kentucky Pizza ’Cue with barbecue pulled pork and the Holden's Heater with spicy Italian sausage and giardiniera.
Go double decker: What's better than one pizza? Two pizzas, duh. Old Fifth begins its double-decker pizza with a single pie, then adds another layer of dough and toppings. This sounded more epic in theory than it was in reality; when my server dropped off the pepperoni pie ($22 for a large), it just looked like a slightly thicker version of the regular pie. I appreciated the extra cheesiness and the savoriness of the pepperoni, as well as the fact that the crust supported the extra bulk of those toppings.
Reheated: Two very hungry people probably could take down a whole large pie, but I had mucho leftovers to munch on the next day. I prefer my day-old pizzas cold from the fridge (I know I'm not alone here), but found that the double-decker's bottom crust crisped up again nicely in the oven. The interior slices of the regular pie didn't fare as well, so I ended up having to cut and eat the floppy slices with a fork and knife.
Sides and suds: Though Old Fifth boasts a 140-bottle deep whiskey list as well as whiskey flights and signature cocktails, most people on the bar side of the room had beers in hand during the game. I was pleased by the prices and variety of craft beer options on tap and in bottles, but had a hard time deciphering them on the printed menu, which on my visit only listed the name of beer, not the brewery that made it. Though I was in an all-pizza mood, I spied a bit on other diners' meals, which included fish tacos, grilled chicken salads, pork shoulder-topped nachos and "handhelds," Old Fifth's word for sandwiches. Fries and a few other sides are served in wire baskets so cute I was tempted to order some despite how full I was.
Bottom line: If you like a sweeter pie, Old Fifth should be at the top of your list. Even if you don't, the novelty of the double-decker pie, a solid beer list and a high-ceilinged, stylish bar make it worth stopping by next time you find yourself searching for booze and 'za in the West Loop.
Reporters visit restaurants unannounced and meals are paid for by RedEye. firstname.lastname@example.org | @redeyeeatdrink