It’s Anthony Stefani’s time to shine in River North, as the son of longtime Chicago restaurateur Phil Stefani will open his first restaurant and bar — a Roman-style pizzeria. Bar Cargo should open in October at 605 N. Wells St., and the Stefanis will serve pizza by the full or half pie and feature Italian cocktails and beer. They’ve brought on Massimo “Max” Moresi, a world champion Italian pizza chief, to share his bank of more than 25 different pies like spicy arrabiata, carbonara, and smoked salmon with avocado and cream cheese.
The Stefanis insist they’re not jumping on any bandwagons, despite the recent grand arrival of Bonci Pizza in the West Loop and Gabriele Bonci’s world-renown Roman-style pizza al taglio. This spot (next to Stefani’s Flamingo Rum Club) will blend in with River North’s nightlife with craft beer, cocktails, and wine. Anthony Stefani said they’ve been wanting to open a pizzeria for years, but struggled to find the right chef. Stefani, who left his job with the Blackhawks to join the family business, has fond memories of spending a semester in college in Italy: “If we can get the pizza exactly the way it was there, then we have something,” he said.
Father Phil Stefani makes three to five trips to Italy annually and a friend introduced him to Moresi. The dough takes 72 to 96 hours to raise, and sits in a climate-controlled cooler, said Moresi in Italian and translated via Stefani. The cooler helps ensure that the conditions in Chicago will match the conditions in Rome so the pizza tastes the same. The crust is focaccia-like and a little crispier than Bonci’s, which is sold by the weight. Both father and son were impressed by the lightness of the Moresi’s pizza, marveling that customers could binge without having the pizza weigh their stomachs down too much.
Phil Stefani has experience with pizza. In 1990, he brought Chicago one of its first wood-burning ovens from Italy for Neapolitan pizza. Roman pizzas are baked in an electric oven and Stefani said they’ll keep an open mind and listen to customers when it comes to toppings: “I don’t believe we should get so reticular on something like that where you say ‘no’ to the consumer,” he said. “Americans like pepperoni, so we’ll get pepperoni.”
If this story sounds familiar, it’s due to the success Stefani’s daughter, Gina Stefani, has enjoyed in the West Loop at Mad Social. She debuted her first restaurant in January 2016. The Stefani children grew up in the business, but their father wanted them to accrue other experiences before they thought about joining the family business. Anthony Stefani also worked for Wirtz Beverages before he worked with the Hawks in corporate sponsorships. He even received a Stanley Cup ring.
Importing an Italian atmosphere is important for Anthony Stefani. They’ll utilize an open cargo container in the design to reiterate a feeling of travel. For those who like an egg on their pizza, there’s the aforementioned carbonara, and Stefani may add more for the brunch crowd. While he’s receiving support from his family, he’s still anxious. He’s certainly done enough research: “I’ve never had so much pizza in my life,” Stefani said.