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Pizza review: Dough Bros.

A serious chef takes a shot at New York-style slices

By Kate Bernot, For RedEye

6:45 PM CDT, July 22, 2014

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Pizza review: Dough Bros. Pizzeria and Sub Shop

400 N. State St. 312-600-9078

Rating: 2 1/2 (out of 4)

A James Beard Award-wining chef baking by-the-slice, New York-style pizza in River North? Be still my heart. As an East Coast transplant, I am constantly on a quest to find a replacement for the foldable, cracked-bottom slices that practically pave the streets of NYC. Thus far, I've found Armitage Pizzeria to be a superb substitute, but it's not quite convenient to my office or apartment. So when I heard that Dough Bros. opened in the former State Street Pizza space a mere 0.3 miles from my office—not that I'm counting—hearing that renowned Les Nomades chef Roland Liccioni was behind the pies was just a bonus. Though the pizzeria has late-night hours (midnight during the week, 4 a.m. Thursday through Saturday), I stopped in on my lunch break to give it a sober test run.

The crust: The crust is where many Chicago attempts at New York-style pies fall apart. Literally. Not so at Dough Bros., where partner Jonas Falk tells me chef Liccioni has perfected a 100-hour dough rise that results in a perfect ratio of crunch to chew. He's right—while most pizzerias rest their dough for a day or two, the extra time at Dough Bros. results in an audibly crisp (but not burnt) crust. The pies are baked in a Marsal brick oven brought in from New York that took 30 people to maneuver into the tight kitchen and caused costly damage to the building. ("It was worth it," Falk said.) Whatever hoops Dough Bros. had to jump through to create this crust, I'm thankful. My friend and I ate every last crumb off our plates, savoring the last bites of the not-too-tough crust.

The toppings: Liccioni's fine-dining background shines through in his commitment to housemade ingredients, from the made-on-site mozzarella to the house-roasted turkeys Dough Bros. uses for its sub sandwiches ($9.89-$10.29). Refreshingly, though, nothing is overly gourmet. The chef's namesake slice, The Roland (all slices $4), is perhaps the most gourmet, topped with Thai basil, house-ground lemongrass sausage, red sauce and sriracha. The Asian influence comes from Liccioni's Vietnamese background (he is also partially Italian and was raised in France), and at first, Falk was skeptical of the toppings. "I was like 'Chef, it's not going to work. This is an Italian deli.' And of course, it's one of our best sellers," Falk said. I was impressed by the freshness of the sausage slices, which were much juicier than the flavorless crumbs I sometimes find on sausage pies. Ditto for the veggies atop the Artichoke slice, which escape that dreaded from-a-can sogginess. This set me up with high hopes for the cheese slice, especially when I spied the grated ribbons of parmesan shaved over the slice after it emerged from the oven, but it fell flat. The mozzarella and parmesan were just fine, but lacked salt or a contrasting tang from the sauce.

The sauce: Crust is king, but sauce is boss. (Trademarking this.) "The crust has got to be perfect. But if any of the three components aren't right, the pizza isn't right," Falk said. Unfortunately for Dough Bros., this is where their pizzas lose me. Falk said Liccioni blisters heirloom tomatoes in the oven before combining them in a no-cook sauce, but I couldn't discern much depth of flavor from the too-thin layer spread on my slices. Falk describes the sauce as "a little sweet and very light," while I would have preferred an acidic tang and some herbs for seasoning.

Other stuff: Pizza is only half the Dough Bros. story. Sub sandwiches, including Italian, meatball and caprese flavors, make up half the menu, along with desserts, gelato, doughnuts and other pastry specials. Pies are available for delivery (whole pies $25.95-$27.95) as well as dine-in or take-out from the walk-up window that faces State Street.

Bottom line: Dough Bros. is a huge step up from State Street Pizza. It fills a downtown void for fresh pizza, whether you want to grab a slice on a lunch break with co-workers or after a night at the bars on Hubbard Street. Has it wiggled into the New York-shaped hole in my heart, though? Not entirely.

Reporters visit restaurants unannounced and meals are paid for by RedEye. kbernot@tribune.com | @redeyeeatdrink