Chicago Pizza Showdown Pt. 1: Zelos in Arcadia
For SIX years, I had a client that required me to would spend WEEKS at time in Chicago in February (When your breath didn’t turn into smoke, but icicles) and then again in August (When the air was so thick you could suck it through a straw). Yes, they did pay VERY well… but part of the reason I agreed to this… was the Pizza! Of course I’m talking about the heavenly deep dish Chicago pizza that I still wake up at night pining for. Recently certain events happens so the stars aligned and I got to pay a visit to TWO places which claim to have the best Chicago Style in L.A. Zelos and Tony’s Little Italy…
We started with Zelos…
Located in a little dark complex in Arcada, Zelos is small, but a very charming little space. You can tell the owners really put some thought and care into the place. But also when you walk in you see a big cooler, with Pizzas in it!! Yes, the Pizzas are all premade and re-heated! I was more than a bit shocked at this, but nevertheless, we were starving and decided to stay.
We ordered two salads to start. Their standard Brocolli, which looked Delish, but was a bit underdone and a tad over dressed. And their special of Greens, Pecans and Goat Cheese was wonderful, but a bit under dressed. Nevertheless, we were there for the pizza… we ordered up four slices… Which came up in NO time in a deep dish pan…
First, lets talk about the crust. From first seeing the pizza in the cooler I could tell this experience wasn’t going to be your typical super thick Chicago style. But my expecations instead focued on what Zelos is known for, the use of Corn Meal in their crust. Which was truly mastered. The crust on all slices were crisp, buttery and just ‘corny’ in flavor enough not to be distracting. For this flavor of crust, Zelos truly the master… way better than Masa in Silverlake (Another Chicago inspired pizza joint!). I will even say I preferred this crust to the one at Mozza, which is a different style, but this crust really did ADD to the pizza… unlike Mozza where it’s often overwhelming… Anyway, on to the slices…
First up was the roasted garlic special… Which was out of this world for Garlic fiends. The garlic was melty and add just the right punch with the cheese and the sauce…
Then Corn and Caramelized Onion. I wanted to see if this would push the corn flavor to the next level and it SO did. The caramelized onion just accented the wonderful sweetness everywhere… in the crust, in the sauce, in the corn…
Of course, I had to try the old standard… the Sausage and Onion… Which they piled on a LOAD of sausage on the slice. The meat was wonderfully spiced and gave me chills as I flashed back to that artic wind coming down Michigan Ave.
Finally, the Potato and Panchetta… this was the only one who kinda missed the mark. The Panchetta was OVERPOWERING and the potato very thin slices, so you could hardly taste it. Ah well…
Overall, we were VERY happy with out meal. Again, you can really see how the staff (Who also was wonderful!) really cares about everything, even the slight, but well edited beer selection! We hope to the fates allow us to visit again soon, especially since there were three other pies on the menu we were curious about and they are ALWAYS changing the specials.
I was almost in the 'hood and decided to make a stop at Zelo on Saturday around 4-ish. Walked in and was the only customer there with the exception of the staff who were congregated at the back for a staff meeting. I was immediately greeted by a sweet waiter who had a big smile on his face. After discussing the various offerings and what he thought I should try (Corn was the first immediate response - it was already a definite after reading Dommy!'s post), we settled on the "Corn - fresh corn (I can attest to that, I watched them pulling the corn from the husks), balsamic marinated roasted red onions, mozzarella, smoked mozzarella, topped with fresh chives", “Potato Pancetta - mozzarella, smoked mozzarella, thin-sliced potatoes, Italian bacon, tomato sauce, fresh rosemary" and the third was "Sausage - (due to the) homemade sausage, tomato sauce, marinated green peppers, sautéed onions, mozzarella". All cooked well done (my standard for all pizza and French fries).
All I can say is WOW! Once the slices were delivered and I asked the server which one to start with ("CORN!" was the enthusiastic reply). I dug in. WOW (did I already say that??!!). This was damn tasty. The crust was great. I think the reason I had not been to Zelo before is the fact that I do not like having cornmeal bits on the bottom of pizza breaking my teeth when I bite into it (a la Casa Bianca) and I thought when I heard cornmeal crust, that this would be the case, only more of it. I am pleased to announce that this is not the case at Zelo.
The corn pizza was amazing. The caramelized onions took it to a whole new level, which was already new to begin with. The Potato Pancetta was phenomenal – the taste of the pancetta with the tomatoes and every few bites you get a little rosemary really sent me to the moon. The Sausage one was equally as good, but just not as “different”. I kept trying to figure out which one was my favorite when it hit me that they were all so different, that they were all my favorites in their own category. However, the corn is a must-have.
I am just about to polish off the last bite of the sausage one (I took home bits of each of the slices and saved them for breakfast today). Reheated in the toaster oven (in foil). It seemed to me that the flavors of the potato pancetta and sausage ones were even more pronounced today than they were at the restaurant.
They have 5 standard pizzas that they always have available: Sausage, Veggie, Corn, Four Cheese and Pepperoni. Then they have a selection of “Specials” 26 different pizzas of which 3 or 4 are available on any given day (call ahead). They have three salads, a “special” salad and pastas. Their dessert is “Homemade Zucotto – chilled, whipped chocolate cake with whipped cream and crushed biscotti layer & ladyfinger crust $3.75”. Beverages: San Pellegrino, Orangina, the usual soft drinks, Martinelli Apple Juice, Pellegrino Limonata/Aranciata. Beer: Peroni, Anchor Steam, Corona; Domestic: Miller Light, PBR; Wine: House Red/White – glass $4/bottle $12. Corkage $8 waived with purchase of one bottle.
I would definitely go. It is a place unto itself. Yum!! Now for the last bite of pizza…..
Wonderful review...informative and well-written.
I look forward to Part 2...and hopefully more!
I think Zelo offers a unique twist on the "Chicago-style" deep dish. The cooler/re-heat concept is interesting...helps take some of the long wait out of a deep dish pizza and deep dish typically re-heats a lot better than traditional thin crust. It also allows for slices, not often found with Chicago deep dish. My knock is that the choices are limited...I just want a great sausage pizza...no peppers, onions and other stuff.
You probably know that Tony's Little Italy is a favorite of mine, and I do believe that they do Chicago deep dish/stuffed crust as good as many in Chicago. It's not the "restaurant" that Zelo is, but the pizza is very good and I'll look forward to your review.
As for other places, now that you've taken this on, you owe it to yourself if not us to try out some others...Sal's in Anaheim, Chicago Pasta House in Moreno Valley and Romano's (3 Riverside locations).
In addition, one poster mentioned that Casa Bianca as being the best "Chicao-style" pizza in SoCal...and I can't argue that. 80% of Chicago pizza is thin crust and CB is a good representation of what can be found all over the Chicago area. Another place that looks somewhat promising from a review I read and from their website is Vito's in Anaheim.
One funny story: The table next to us was inquiring about the San Pelligrino Chinotto soda in the case. The the Male twenty something beer-bellied waiter [who was also serving us] described it as "Crap Soda" A woman behind the counter who may have owned the place rolled her eyes. I butted in and described the flavor as herbal kind of Like Moxie which my nephew and late father like. But still they didn't go for it after the initial description by the waiter.
The cornmeal crust is great and the pizza is balanced flavor wise. Zelo's has a cool vibe from the pizza to the music to the staff. Tony's Little Italy is only ok given that I am in Chicago every year and visit all the noted Chicago pizza places. Awaiting your review. Still say the best Chicago syle pizza is Casa Bianca in Eagle Rock, then Zelo's for corn meal crust affeciando's. After these two maybe Tony's but still not fully convinced. Masa is not Chicago style and does not deserve mention -- it is underwhelming to say the least.