When I moved to Norwood Park, the Panino’s in Park Ridge became my go-to pizzeria. It was a short drive from my apartment and coupons often materialized in my mailbox. I was never too adventurous in trying the Neapolitan or New Haven pizza varieties offered at Panino’s (even though the pizzeria promoted the hell out of both styles). Panino’s thin crust proved to be solid. It was all I needed.
Writing for Encyclopizzeria has blessed me with the gumption to be a more bold pizza consumer. So I decided to place an order for pick-up and try the Rustica, an “artisan” Neapolitan pizza at Panino’s. The Rustica came topped with bacon, cremini mushrooms, onions and basil. The Neapolitan pies come in one size, and this one set me back $16.45.
To a pizza purist, Neapolitan is the most authentic variety. New York style pizza is the distant American cousin of Neapolitan. The difference is in the dough. Neapolitan-style dough is dead simple: high-protein flour, yeast, salt, water and nothing more. Pizzaiolos bake Neapolitan pizzas at extremely high temperatures. This results in a crust that is crisp outside and tender and airy inside. New York style dough usually contains other ingredients, like oil, sugar and Manhattan pollution. It is thicker on the bottom than Neapolitan pizza and cooked at lower temperatures. One can fold a New York slice, while a Neapolitan slice wilts under the weight of its toppings.
Panino’s menu didn’t specify how large the Neapolitan pizzas were, and the lone photo led me to expect a personal-sized pie. I was wrong. The Rustica Neapolitan Pizza at Panino’s turned out to be 13 inches, enough for two people to share, or for one gluttonous person to indulge in. I chose the latter approach.
Much to my surprise and distress, the Neapolitan Pizza at Panino’s was not cut. It would have been helpful if the menu had mentioned this, or for cutting to have been an option when I phoned in my order.I’d have been quite frustrated if I brought the pizza to a park or the circus, only to find that I had to tear it apart with my hands, like a savage. Nonetheless, I remedied the uncut pizza problem by turning the pie into a mangled mess with my dull pizza cutter.
I now understand why the Neapolitan pizza at Panino’s is dubbed as “artisan.” Opening the box revealed one damn handsome pizza. It was like a colorful map. Rivers of dark red sauce cut through islands of melted white cheese. Coastal foliage consisted of mushrooms, bacon and onion. The outer crust held the composition together like an elegant frame — a frame made of dough instead of wood.
It was clear that the mozzarella was fresh, not shredded, since it formed a hilly landscape. The cheese was flavorful, a bit tangy with a hint of smoke, through the smoky flavor of the bacon may have just been contagious. The cheese had begun to congeal, though I cannot hold this against Panino’s. This is one of the downsides of ordering carryout pizza. In the future, I will dine in to enjoy the Rustica in all its gooey glory.
Panino’s menu boasts about the quality of the crust in their Neapolitan pizzas. They claim to use a strain of yeast that dates back to the invention of pizza more than two centuries ago in Italy. This seemed like marketing drivel, but the crust on Panino’s pizza was rather remarkable. The outer ring of dough was crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside. The crust had a distinct wheat flavor. The taste and aroma reminded me of the fresh-baked bread that you’d find on the tables in an Italian restaurant. The base under the cheese was also chewy, but fell limp under the weight of the toppings. I folded my slices in half to keep them from devolving into a sloppy mess, which took me outside of my pizza-eating comfort zone. Despite my discomfort, deliciousness prevailed that evening.
On rare occasions, man’s creation will come so near perfection that one cannot help but wonder if a higher power guided his hands. Notable examples include Da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa,” Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” and Panino’s “Rustica.”
The toppings were a revelation. They blessed my life with purpose. I regret frittering away meaningless decades without trying this inspired combination. The bacon was savory, smoky and crisp, but not cooked to the point of dryness. The mushrooms added an earthy note, while the basil provided a light touch of spice. The onions were gently sautéed, and not caramelized as the menu had claimed. I appreciated the difference, as they contributed a delicate sweetness and a satisfying snap in each bite. The toppings on the Rustica combined in a gorgeous symphony of tastes and textures.
Panino’s has been my go-to pizzeria for a while. So, even before trying the Neapolitan pizza at Panino’s, I’d recommend the pizzeria based on its thin crust alone. Now that I’ve tried one of their other options, I plan to continue going back, but I don’t expect I’ll be ordering their thin crust anytime soon. I’m too curious to see what else these gifted pizza artisans have to offer.
Panino’s Pizzeria – Park Ridge
28 S Fairview Ave
Park Ridge, IL 60068
Phone: (847) 823-3450
Monday – Thursday: 11:00 AM-9:00 PM
Friday: 11:00 AM-9:30 PM
Saturday: 3:45 PM-9:30 PM
Sunday: 3:45 PM-8:00 PM
Panino’s has two other locations, one in Lakeview and another in Evanston.
Pizza purists take their Neapolitan pizzas very seriously. There’s even an association dedicated to protecting it!