It's been a good while since we last checked in with the globe trekking Bunny, who left her comfortable seat at Chicago's brunch table a few years ago to explore the hidden wonders of the world with her intrepid archaeologist husband, Benedict, but recently Bunny was able to make a quick stop in Chicago in between flights from Portugal and Buenos Aries. "It's funny, but when I'm away from Chicago, all I crave is hot dogs, butter burgers, and of course, Chicago style pizza!" Bunny told Brandy once, which is what gave Brandy the idea to send Bunny to one of Chicago's most storied institutions during her brief stay in the city.
Connie's Pizza is currently celebrating over 50 years of existence as a Chicago institution with its' first location opening in the South Side back in the 1960's. Still owned and operated by Jim Stolfe and his family, Connie's original location was purchased with a classic Oldsmobile and a few months of free labor (Jim couldn't afford to change the sign, so the joint stayed Connie's even though Connie herself went into retirement after handing Jim the deed) and soon blossomed into seven Chicago locations, a frozen food empire, and the honor of serving crowds at all of Chicago's major sports arenas at some point in its history. Now with the opening of their newest location on State Street in the Gold Coast, Connie's is hoping to reacquaint the North Side of Chicago with their brand of fresh, home made, and authentic Italian-American cuisine.
Upon arriving at the enormous State Street location, Bunny and Bailey went straight to the bar. Bunny ordered up a Blue Lemonade to start off, a fun little summery concoction with an equally summery appearance. Then she switched to The Paradise, which boasted a citrusy zing topped off with a hit of sweet strawberry and a cooling mint. "An unusual combination, but it works really well!" Bunny exclaimed, "And it's so pretty!" Bailey, who is one of Chicago's leading Cider experts, ordered up an Angry Orchard Traditional. When the bartender suggested she try it with a shot of Fireball whiskey, she couldn't help be a little skeptical, but one taste of the mix and Bailey realized how perfectly paired her favorite beverage was to the spiced spirit. "This might be my new birthday drink!" she said as she went in for a second sip.
To start off the feast, slices of wood fired pizza began to make their way around the table. Bailey and Bunny sampled the classic Margarita, the spicy Calabrese, and the fresh Al Prosciutto Rucola, all of which came straight from the amazing center piece of the restaurant, a wood fire oven which had been custom ordered from Italy and rebuilt brick by brick into its new home. The charred flavor from the wood oven was a perfect match for Connie's custom crust and served to enhance all of the various toppings, but especially the rich prosciutto and peppery arugula on the Al Prosciutto Rucola.
For the next course, two of the house salads were brought to the table: a classic Caesar and the daunting Antipasto Salad, which came with tons of cheese, sliced meats, olives, tomatoes, and peppers. "This is less of a salad and more of a charcuterie plate!" Bunny giggled. Both ladies actually favored the simple Caesar, which had a nice light dressing and delicious garlicky croutons.
After that came two of the signature entrees, Chicken Marsala and Sausage and Peppers (by this point, the girls were getting pretty full, but powered on through bravely. "We shall leave no food untasted!" Bunny proclaimed) The chicken was incredibly moist with a nice earthy topping of mushrooms, while the sausage had a perfect snap and a slight flavor of fennel that matched well with the sweet onions and peppers as well as the spiced potato wedges on the plate.
As the piece de resistance, the Connie's staff had everyone at the table design their own individual pizzas, choosing from among the seven different crusts and a wide variety or veggies, meats, and cheeses. Bailey went with the Artisan crust, which resembled a light focaccia style bread, and topped it with mushrooms, peppers, and sausage, while Bunny went for the Stuffed crust, which was somewhere between a deep dish pizza and a calzone, and filled with with mushrooms, onions, spinach, and crushed garlic. Both ladies were barely able to manage a slice of the amazing pies, but luckily, the staff was prepared with take home boxes.
Lastly came the desserts: Cheesecake, Mini Cannolis, Tiramisu, and Connie's original Ice Box Cake. The Cannolis rivaled that of any from a bakery in Little Italy, while the Cheesecake had a nice denseness to it, and the Tiramisu an indulgent lightness. The real standout, surprisingly, was the Ice Box Cake, made from Executive Chef Guilio Fulgenzi's grandmother's recipe, which consisted of layers of vanilla pudding, chocolate, bananas, and graham crackers.
As they attempted to extradite their now bursting bodies from their seats, Bunny took one last look around Connie's and the glisten of a tear formed in her eye. "I must have missed Chicago more than I realized," she told Bailey, who was looking concerned, "It's funny, but with all the traveling I've done over the last few years in search of hidden history, I almost forgot just what a rich history I was leaving behind here in Chicago!"
The writers of this blog were invited by the restaurant to sample their food in exchange for an honest review.