It’s been 20 months since the restaurant space neighboring the Empty Bottle bar and music venue has welcomed on-premises dining. Since then, Empty Bottle owner Bruce Finkelman has closed Bite Cafe and converted it to Pizza Friendly Pizza, a carryout-friendly operation with square-cut Sicilian pizzas from Noah Sandoval of Michelin-starred Oriole.
The pizzeria gained rave reviews and served takeout, delivery, and dine-in at a modest plant-lined patio behind the restaurant. It also featured drinks from Sandoval’s cocktail collaborator at Oriole, Julia Momose (Kumiko). Chicago was pleased by Sandoval’s contributions to its pizza scene, providing a safe space for those who didn’t want to have to choose between tavern style and deep dish.
Today, for the first time since opening in July 2020, Pizza Friendly Pizza, will allow diners to eat indoors. But that’s not the only reveal: they’re debuting a new thin-crust round pizza on Wednesdays only. Yes, it’s squares versus rounds thanks to a new pie from chef Joshua Hoenig, who moved to Chicago earlier this year after his Orlando, Florida, pizzeria, Pretty Killer Pizza, closed in the spring. Though his favorite toppings are simple Ezzo’s pepperoni cups, Hoenig says he played around while in Florida and came up with a yellow curry pizza. It used a Thai curry base with coconut milk and topped with pickled carrots, cauliflower, and jalapeños.
Sandoval will continue to oversee Pizza Friendly Pizza, but has placed his trust in Hoenig: “I’m all about things being delicious and consistent,” he says. “I think there’s a lot of good pizza in Chicago, I do see ours as being relatively unique.”
As Hoenig made his way through Chicago pizzas, he found Pizza Friendly Pizza via Instagram and when he finally ate at the restaurant, he marveled at the airy, crispy crust: “I’d never seen anything like that,” Hoenig says.
He was determined to join the team. Sandoval and Finkelman quickly developed an appreciation for Hoenig’s passion for pizza, something that’s common among chefs who like to experiment with fermentation, oven temperatures, and cook times. Hoenig says his pizza, which features a dough with a 72-hour ferment (compared to the original square’s five-day ferment time), is a combo of many styles. It’s part New York, part Neapolitan, a combo of the right char and color with a crispy crust. Hoenig says he can’t stand soupy and soggy pizzas. When his pie comes out of a 565-degree oven after about 10 minutes, Sandoval says it reminds him a little of Piece Pizza’s New Haven pizzas served in Wicker Park.
The round pizzas aren’t the only addition to the menu, as Hoenig has added an “over-the-top” stromboli (flavors include mushroom miso, pepperoni and jalapeño, pickled fennel and sausage).
Finkelman, who co-owns 16” on Center, the restaurant group the includes Thalia Hall, Revival Food Hall, and Good Ambler, says he’s eager to see how those restaurants, which pivoted during the pandemic, re-emerge as COVID-19 cases dip.
It’s also been nice to see how the pizzeria complements the Bottle with its live music. Folks can eat their pizza in the bar, and if concert-goers need an escape, they can use Pizza Friendly Pizza as an oasis. Finkelman jokes that it’s perfect to get away from the crowd if you’ve managed to meet someone special at the show.
“This is Pizza Friendly Pizza 2.0,” Finkelman says. “We’re taking something that Noah and I built for the pandemic and turning it into a real restaurant.”
Pizza Friendly Pizza, 1039 N. Western Avenue, open 4:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Wednesday through Sunday. Round pizzas only available on Wednesdays.