When this Ravenswood rave first fired up its oven three years ago, the phrase "Neapolitan" was foreign to all but a relatively few pizzerias. Now it's the buzzword among pizza aficionados, due in part to Spacca Napoli and its influence in inspiring a wave of new eateries specializing in that brand.
Spacca Napoli stands out from the crowd with a product, production and quality as authentic as those at the world-renowned pizzerias in Naples, regarded as the cradle of pizza civilization.
Proprietor Jonathan Goldsmith has set the pizza bar high. Before opening their place, he and wife Ginny Sykes lived in Italy, gathering first-hand information on pizzamaking artisanship from the masters.
The heart and soul of a Neapolitan operation is the oven, which Goldsmith had custom-built with materials and by craftsmen imported from Italy. The 5-ton, glass-tiled centerpiece was assembled with special bricks, sand and rocks from the Vesuvius lava fields.
Heat that can reach 1,200 degrees is radiated from the oak-fueled flames. The skill required to operate such a hearth is provided by pizzaiolo (pizza chef) Henry De Leon.
Turned out at the rate of 500 on an average day, the pies are baked with unparalled texture and flavor within two minutes. Though the oven is crucial, the ingredients also helped put Spacca Napoli on the national stage with accolades from the New York Times, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine and Zagat.
Premium components like San Marzano tomatoes, Molino Caputo flour, prosciutto di Parma, fior di latte mozzarella, EV olive oil and black truffles, plus the freshest of rapini, arugula, basil, oregano and sausage infuse the 150 varieties with an ethereal essence.
The crust alone is a work of art. It's light, slightly smoky, chewy, razor-thin in the center and puffy around the border, with a subtle hint of salt and yeast. The underside is evenly browned with intermittent splotches of burn. Embellish it with any combination of toppings and you may never order an ordinary thin, stuffed or pan pizza again.
This is first and foremost a prototypical pizzeria, with pizza as the one and only entree. Compared to Americanized pizzerias, there's no pasta, chicken or anything else, other than antipasti, on the card. Pies come in just one 12-inch, thin-crust mode, served uncut and usually enough for an individual or sharing.
Pizza is preceded by a dozen or so appetite stimulators like garlic-tinted soft shell crabs, zucchini alla Scarpese (floured and fried), marinated salmon, prosciutto with cantalope, and salads.
Atmosphere -- 54 seats indoors, 45 on the lovely sidewalk patio (an expansion is being planned) -- exudes a sunny disposition with bright yellow paint, clay pottery, photos, tightly spaced tables and a steady, sociable buzz. Like the pizza, the scene is classic Neapolitan.
Spacca Napoli, 1769 W. Sunnyside, Chicago, is open for lunch Tuesday to Sunday and dinner nightly. Closed Monday. Pizza ranges from $9.50 to $16. Street parking. Dinner reservations not accepted Friday and Saturday. (773) 878-2420.