Pizza in an Italian Village

There exists an Italian village on the shores of Lake Michigan.  Complete with stone villas, cypress trees, vistas of hills and starlit skies, the aromas of Italian home cooking waft through the streets, all at 71 W. Monroe Street in Chicago.  And it’s called, appropriately enough The Italian Village.

Chicago’s oldest Italian restaurant established in 1927, this landmark gives you three choices depending on your mood; The Village- traditional Italian upstairs, La Cantina Enoteca–steak and seafood in a wine cave-like bistro downstairs,  and Vivere–contemporary Northern Italian food in an upscale rococo dining room on the main floor.  We have Tuscan immigrant Alfredo Capitanini to thank for the restaurant.

We ate there a number of times over the years before moving to Sacramento.  Last week we went back for pizza while visiting the windy city.

I walked through the doors and climbed the stairs to The Village.  Pausing, I looked around, took a long deep breath and announced my state of mind to the maître d’ (an older, dark haired, olive skinned Italian man well dressed in a suit and tie).  “I’m so excited to be here!” A grin and chuckle followed.

That evening we proceeded to the bar area of The Village complete with dark wooden booths where decades of Chicagoans and their extended families have dined.  If these walls could talk!   The bar gives you the impression of being on a terrace looking out into the countryside, which is painted on the walls.  Hills, buildings and trees in relief… and of course, twinkling stars flash from the midnight blue sky above.  Literally.  Some might think it‘s a bit cheesy.  I find the atmosphere charming and the history intriguing.

We were in the mood for pizza, and it had to go with Italian wine.  Plain and simple.  The pizza arrived just the way I remembered; cracker thin crust, crunchy and flaky, almost pastry-like.  Tomato sauce, red onions, mushrooms, artichoke hearts, sweet Italian sausage, fontina and mozzarella.  Not too much or little of anything and just a touch of lusty oil glistening atop the pizza.  It lacked nothing.  Flavors, smells and background noise transported me, especially nearing completion of my second glass of wine.

The Italian Village is about personality.  It isn’t about Chicago deep dish or molecular gastronomy.  It’s about family, enjoyment and full-flavored food with basic ingredients.

Before leaving I chatted briefly with the restaurant’s executive chef Bobby Trevino.  As I turned to climb back down the stairs, he said, “It’s all about polishing tradition.  You have to give credit to what came before you.”

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