While Chicago has plenty of pizzerias, the city hasn’t experienced the sublime topping combos that debut today at Bonci Pizzeria. Gabriele Bonci, the founder of the world-famous Italian restaurant — the pizzarium — feels Rome and Chicago share similar urban demographics and that will make his pizza a winner in America; this is Bonci’s first location outside of Italy. Customers in Europe endure long lines seeking Bonci’s Roman-style pizza al taglio, sliced up with scissors and sold by the weight. It’s one of Eater’s Essential Roman restaurants.
The Chicago location opens at 11 a.m. at 161 N. Sangamon St. in West Loop. The toppings will change on a regularly basis. That’s one of the reasons for the lines. Once news spreads that Bonci is serving up a specific pizza in Italy, fans jump on the opportunity. If they miss it, they won’t know when — or if — that flavor combo will be offered again.
Here’s a few facts for Chicagoans to get familiarized with Bonci.
- The pizzeria debuted in 2003 in Rome. There’s now six of them and two bakeries, Anthony Bourdain is a big fan.
- Bonci’s Roman-style crust is reminiscent of focaccia without the soft middle. It’s made with imported heirloom wheat flour. The ingredients are shipped from Italy, and the flour will be cold fermented in Chicago. It’s a secret recipe.
- There are 10 pizzas on Tuesday’s opening day menu. Folks can eventually special order whole pies, but they normally come by the rectangle. Bonci has a recipe bank of more than 1,500 that he’s served in Italy. The American operators of his restaurant say that his recipes may be adjusted for U.S. tastes, but he won’t compromise. Notice that America’s favorite pizza topping, pepperoni, is absent from the opening day lineup. Other varieties on the horizon may include grilled octopus or rabbit.
Bonci Chicago’s Opening Menu
- Potato & Mozzarella
- Prosciutto Cotto & Mozzarella
- Sausage & Mushrooms
- Hummus & Mortadella
- Marinated Onions, Pecorino Romana, DeCarlo tomatoes
- Mushrooms, Ricotta, and Nduja
- Meatballs & Parmesan
- Ripenia Mortadella: Stuffed pizza with mortadella
While Bonci is in Chicago to oversee the opening, the team behind the American expansion is a separate company. Bonci USA is made up of Rick Tasman and Chakib Touhami. They are restaurant veterans and worked with Top Chef alum Richard Blais on his Atlanta restaurant, Flip Burger: “We’re sticking our necks out,” Tasman said in June. “We have to be sure we execute this here and really get it down before we start allowing it to grow.”
- Bonci USA has plans for a second Chicago location, and have the rights to open Boncis across the world, excluding Italy and its four bordering countries. Boston, DC, New York, Miami, London, Dubai, Japan, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia are some of the places they’re considering.
- While Italians (and New Yorkers) are used to eating pizza standing up, the Chicago locations will have 30 seats inside, plus outside seating.
- Bonci Chicago won’t take cash. Bring those credit and debit cards.
Tasman and Touhami know that Chicago is a pizza town and want to prove that Bonci has a place in the city’s pizza landscape. See if they’re right starting today.
Bonci Chicago, 161 N. Sangamon St., (312) 243-4016, open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Monday to Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday.