Waiting for a table on a Friday night should be expected at any busy Lincoln Park
restaurant, but newly minted Nella Pizzeria Napoletana makes the experience a bit sweet.
An artfully sculptured bowl of fried dough sprinkled with powdered sugar (think a fancier version of the funnel cake) is left at the entrance for all to enjoy. Made by the restaurant's own Sicilian pastry chef, the delicious heap of dough is called Chiaehere – which in English means "chit-chat."
And chit-chat you will. The noise level is just right for getting-to-know-you conversation and couples come in by the handhold.
The restaurant is just north of Clark and Fullerton and the design is modern, with a subtle sporty-chic feel. Just check out the banquet room, "The Soccer Room," where the walls are playfully lined with the soccer equivalents of foosball men. Or chat up the friendly and handsome staff wearing baby-blue soccer jerseys. And if that's not enough, visit the restaurant's bar area with an Italian-only wine list, flat-screen TVs and ESPN.
The food itself leans closer toward gourmet, as it is nothing like the gritty deep-dish pizzas famous in Chicago. The pizzas (about $10-$15) are bigger than expected, but are actually very light – an authentic Neapolitan taste from the lady of the house herself, Nella Grassano of Naples. Stick to the red sauces if you prefer something more flavorful. The Diavola comes highly recommended.
But for anyone with an active sweet tooth, the desserts are not to be missed. It's not on the menu, but ask for a croeantino, a delicious almond-crusted concoction of custard topped with a fresh layer of whole raspberries. At $6.95, this desert is the personal recipe of the aforementioned Sicilian pastry chef who may just make the night even sweeter.
Average cost: $10-$20
Centerstage Reviewer: Sally Ho