APPETITE Tony's Pizza Napoletana reigns for my favorite all-around pizza experience, because of its range of impeccable pies, from New York to Neapolitan. I'm no stranger to these categories, especially after years of living in what's become a damn great pizza town. As an 11-time world pizza champion, Tony Gemignani has done the impossible: win 2007's World Champion Pizza Maker prize at Italy's World Pizza Cup, the only American and non-Neapolitan to do so. What makes Tony's special is painstaking detail to which each style is prepared, right down to flour and ovens used, whether authentic versions of Detroit pizza cooked in a 550 degree gas oven, or a Jersey tomato pie that could make one weep with its garlic and tomato purity.
Enter Capo's ("boss" in Italian), Gemignani's new Chicago pizza endeavor. Consulting four scions of Chicago's legendary pizza families (Marc Malnati of Lou Malnati's, Leo Spitziri of Giordano's, Jeff Stolfe from Connie's, Tony Troiano of JB Alberto's), he chose three ovens — one wood-fired and two brick, heated to different degrees depending on recipe — and is the only West Coast restaurant using Ceresota flour from one of Illinois' oldest mills, a staple of Chicago's most revered pizzerias.
Capo's Prohibition-era setting (pressed tin ceiling included) is entirely my scene. From the doorman to a stylish host, it evokes a decades-old North Beach haunt, not a newcomer. Red leather booths named after Chicago mobsters, a functioning 1930's telephone booth, a restored, 1960's panoramic painting (found in the floor boards) of Adolf Restaurant once housed in the space... Capo's is an ode to Chicago and San Francisco's rich Italian-American immigrant history.
Sweet-spicy house Calabrese sausage ($18) in roasted peppers, caramelized onions, and light tomato cream sauce is dreamy. An antipasti platter ($12) feels sparse compared to antipasti "salads" of my New Jersey youth, dense with meat and cheese, but meats here are hand-sliced daily on an antique slicer in Capo's front window. I rarely seeing Chicago specialties mostaccioli or conchiglie ($12 in pesto or tomato sauce, $13.50 in meat sauce) on West Coast menus; Tony's mostaccioli is a beaut. Appropriately cheesy, baked in a wood-fired oven, red meat sauce seals the deal. Capo's signature dish, quattro forni ($13), is limited to 20 a day due to the preparation required and well worth ordering. Like a glorified garlic bread, or as a waitress described it, doughnut, puffed bread is cooked four times in different ovens, doused in tomato sauce, mozzarella, garlic. If you have room and a warm whiskey crisp is available for dessert, get it.
Then there's the pizza. While I've savored excellent thin crust in Chicago, even after multiple tries at original locations of legendary chains or solo favorites, I've yet to find deep dish remotely comparable to Capo's or Bay Area deep dish havens, Zachary's and Little Star. I won't give up the hunt, but thus far for me eating deep dish here is better than going to Chicago (though I'd happily eat my way through Chicago any day).