Saturday, May 13, 2017

Review: The Boiler Room, Chicago IL

While Chicago is known as the home to deep-dish pizza, there's plenty of thin-crust pies too, including some legendary stuff like the party-cut bar pies at Vito & Nick's, on the south side. On a recent Chicago trip, I sampled the deep-dish at Pizano's, Pequod's, and Exchequer. But the trip wouldn't be complete without sampling a thin crust pie.
In 2017, you can go to any city in America and get a reasonably good rendering of a Neapolitan pizza cooked in a 900 degree oven, so we set out instead for something with a distinctly local flavor. That pointed us to the Boiler Room in the Logan Square part of town - just a short blue line ride from the Palmer House, our hotel in the Loop.
We arrived to a large and hip space that has that revamped industrial warehouse feel. We passed the pizza ovens near the entrance; even on a weeknight, the place was busy with happy and animated patrons enjoying the hipster vibe.
The kitchen
Our party of three considered sharing one of their huge 20" pizzas, but to permit each of us to have our preferred toppings, we opted to share an appetizer and then order individual slices. Our starter course of poutine was well-executed, but I'm still not sure why anyone prefers to ruin the texture of a french fry by soaking it in gravy. 
Poutine appetizer
When I learned that the Boiler Room uses pre-cooked sausage (raw is always better), I chose my second-favorite topping for one slice, pepperoni. Because the menu features a lot of curious special pizzas, for my second slice I decided to experiment and order a veggie slice, featuring mushrooms and black olives.
I could not resist the "PBJ" special, which includes a slice of pizza (otherwise about $4.50), a tall can of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, and a shot of Jameson whiskey -- all for $8.50. I imagine the Boiler Room sells a lot of that special!
Pepperoni slice
Because the pies are 20" around, you get a huge portion for $4 - $5 per slice, depending on the topping. Both of my slices featured a thin crust, crisp yet flexible without being droopy. 
Al dente

The underside was dusted with cornmeal, and the top showed several nice bubbles along with just the right amount of char at the cornicione. The crust had a great flavor and texture, with an al dente chewiness.
The pepperoni slice was the star of my meal. The sauce was flavorful, but it stayed in the background with the blend of mozzarella and provolone cheeses. The success of this pie is built around that excellent crust and then the harmony and balance of the stuff riding on top. 

The tasty but understated cheese and red sauce was the right palette for top-shelf cupped circles of pepperoni. There in Chicago, I sat eating a classic NY slice.
Thin, crisp, sturdy crust
The veggie slice was much less successful, because the mushrooms and olives were mild like the cheese and sauce. It was still tasty and balanced, but it lacked the punch of the pepperoni slice. My dining colleagues also reported that their chicken topped slices were more interesting than those with Alfredo sauce or vegetable toppings.
With that in mind, it's never a bad time to review the Kenji Alt-Lopez theory of pizza toppings:
Whatever is added to my pizza must be more flavorful than the last thing I put on it, and no single topping shall be so strongly flavored that it masks the flavor of those that come before it.
In other words, things like cauliflower and squash, fine vegetables in other settings, only serve to dilute the flavor of a pizza. And Kenji nails it when he explains why pepperoni helps your pie and chicken takes it down a notch:
Sure, pizza and chicken cook in the same oven, but they remain largely unrelated to each other. Pepperoni, soppresata, or a good chunk of sausage, on the other hand, cooks not just on top of the pizza, but with the pizza. They release salty, flavorful fat that mingles with the melted cheese, drips into the sauce, and flavors the whole pie. They crisp up on the edges, adding salty, crisp bits of texture to match the crunch of the crust underneath.
I gambled on my veggie slice and regretted it. Still, the pepperoni slice shows just how good Boiler Room pizza is when the proper toppings are selected. When you add in the electric vibe and the $8.50 PBJ special, the Boiler Room qualifies as destination pizza. 
It's not easy to get a worthwhile NY slice if you aren't in NYC or north Jersey. We had a spectacular one at North of Brooklyn in Toronto, and few others. Joining the ranks now is Boiler Room; this is a thin-crust pie you should try in this deep-dish town.

The Boiler Room Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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