NOTE: Nancy’s hasn’t received its liquor license, so it’s BYO for now. Take out and delivery is also available.
Not everyone in Chicago subscribes to the trendy theory that stuffed pizza is only for tourists. Nancy’s Pizza aims to debunk that narrative as the stuffed-pizza specialist wants to make a statement with a new flagship location that finally opened today in the West Loop. While steeped in Chicago pizza history, this pizzeria has some new tricks thanks to a Culinary Institute of America graduate who’s worked at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon in Napa Valley, California.
Chicago has more than deep-dish and tavern-style pizzas. Stuffed pizza was created in 1971 by Rocco Palese over at Guy’s Pizza in Hermosa. It’s the offspring of deep dish and much more denser than its old sibling. It’s the type of pizza that New Yorkers will call lasagna: “Pizza Hut did us a disservice with its stuffed crust,” said Dave Howey, current owner of Nancy’s 31 locations.
Palese would later open the first Nancy’s in 1973 in Hardwood Heights. He named the pizzeria after his wife, Annunziata Palese, a.k.a., Nancy. Their daughter, Marisa Palese, beams with pride when thinking about her parents’s humble start and then looking around Nancy’s new dining room in Chicago’s trendiest dining neighborhood. Dave Howey, president of Chicago Franchise Systems, took over Nancy’s in 1990. CFS owns Chicago’s iconic Al’s Italian Beef. As a young man, Howey befriended Rocco Palese, helping the Italian immigrant interpret legal docs and with other tasks. Now Howey’s son and daughter, David and Kayla Howey, are part of the business.
Kayla Howey is Nancy’s new executive chef and she’s created some new items to complement the pizza. The restaurant world differs from when the original Nancy’s opened in 46 years ago. Kayla Howey is the aforementioned CIA grad. She’s garnered quite a following on Instagram with 76,600 followers. She’s also the restaurant’s ace in the hole thanks to her culinary credentials.
She calls stuffed pizza a “communal, celebratory food.” While she doesn’t want to dishonor tradition, Kayla Howey wanted to modernize the menu a bit. Customers will find spinach-artichoke dip, caramelized Brussels sprouts, a blueberry pecan salad, and meatball sliders.
Her brother, David Howey, said he had to beg his sister over the phone to lend her talents to Nancy’s. The younger Howey studied business at the University of Illinois and brings his branding expertise. In recent years, Nancy’s has opened in markets like Atlanta and Raleigh, North Carolina. They’ve tested changes, like a new logo, in other cities. David Howey also helped design the restaurant, blending vintage photos of his family and the Pareses, with more of a modern feel. It’s a 98-seat space with a full bar. There’s also a take-out window.
Marisa Palese said her father always had high standards for Nancy’s when comparing his pizza to the competition: “Rocco said always at the time: This is a Cadillac, everyone else has a Chevy.”
The next chapter in Nancy’s storied history has started. Nancy’s West Loop is now open.
Nancy’s Pizzeria, 1000 W. Washington Boulevard, (312) 733-9920, open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Monday to Thursday; 11 a.m. to midnight on Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 10 pm. on Sunday.