Pizza at Porta Via Italian Kitchen

porta via
Sunday night, Tim and I got the opportunity to attend a private event at Porta Via Italian Kitchen—Nashville’s source of authentic Neapolitan pizza (and you know how much I love that, whether in Chicago, in Seattle, in Chattanooga, or now here at home).

Porta Via atmosphere

For us, the event came at a pretty perfect time, too, because, take my advice, everyone should get a night of free pizza and wine in the weeks immediately following their engagement (i.e., the weeks following a realization that now you have to plan a wedding!). With the flurry of emails and inquiries lately (which, I know, are the things many girls dream of), the very thing we needed, I think, was a chance to sit down and eat the food we both called our favorite before we’d even met.

pizza

Sunday’s event was arranged to celebrate Porta Via’s recently acquired official VPN certification, something you can read more about here, which essentially means proof that their Neapolitan pizza is the real deal: made with the high-quality Italian ingredients, flash-baked in a white-hot brick oven, created without any mechanic preparation—just human hands tossing and pressing the dough.

i love that he loves pizza

There were pizzas with caramelized onions, pizzas with mushrooms and green peppers, a traditional margherita the moment Tim asked about one. Oh, and when we first walked in, we tried a couple slices without red sauce, which were topped with sprigs of rosemary and salt; these became my new favorite, and not just because we’ve been loving rosemary ever since the sourdough we ate in the park.

pizza at Porta Via

As is typical of Neapolitan pizza, Porta Via’s crusts are chewy and charred, very thin (although not as thin as what you’d find at Chicago’s Spacca Napoli or Nashville’s City House), bearing the marks of dough that’s been thrust into a wood-fire oven more than 700 degrees hot.

counter at porta via

And after we’d eaten our fill of pizza (which for me meant five slices—yes, five), we were given a glass dish of coffee gelato from the gelato bar right by the entrance.

coffee gelato

coffee gelato on a spoon

It was a simple night—just a bunch of pizza lovers gathered together, in a restaurant tucked away in an unassuming strip mall, with live music and free samples and a couple announcements—but it was a simple night we were glad to have, glad to be given.

menu at Porta Via

It was the kind of night that made me wish we could just have pizza at our wedding.

Oh, and for those of you who like hearing these things, we have a date! (look out, October!) We almost have a photographer! and once we figure out the little details of location and food, we’ll be well on our way. Chicago-area outdoor venue ideas are welcome!

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Pizza at Burt’s Place

burt's place

Sunday night, I had pizza at Burt’s Place in Morton Grove, after calling in our order four days ahead of time, right down to the sizes and toppings and what time we’d arrive, because, if you don’t know this already, Burt’s is not just any place—it is a landmark, made famous largely by Saveur Magazine and Anthony Bourdain. It’s kind of understandable that such a place would have some rules—and Burt’s does. The biggest, most important rule is very simple, but it’s vital: you must call ahead.

I was there with my friend Jacqui (who was the first person to have told me about Burt’s, way back in a January comment); her fiance, Murdo; our blogging friend Whitney; and her boyfriend, Dave. We’d known about the rule (it’s recommended that you call days or sometimes weeks in advance), not just because Jacqui had been before but also through online reviews, which, by the time we met Sunday, it seemed most of us had read and, honestly, been a little intimidated by.

burt's place inside

The rules are designed for a purpose—the deep-dish Chicago-style pizzas take a while to cook, and it makes everything more efficient if they can have your food ready when you arrive. Burt’s Place is small—a little brown building with the look of a two-flat, set at the end of a quiet, residential street, unassumingly, enough so that you almost wouldn’t notice it. Inside, the decor is eclectic—dolls, vintage telephones, a few framed articles that have mentioned the restaurant.

When I walked in (I was the first to arrive from our group), there was only one couple eating, and Burt—the Burt, who’d talked to me on the phone just a few days before—was out there in the dining area, standing by their table and joking around about fried chicken or something. He headed back to the kitchen soon after, when the all-reserved tables started filling up, only popping out once or twice to bring some fresh pizzas or answer the phone while his wife, Sharon, was serving other customers (like us!).

burt's place pizza

Beyond all the rules and the hype and the experience, though, let’s get to the most important thing: the pizza.

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the truest test

spinach pizza

I have a running theory on friendship, which maybe you’d like to hear? Essentially, it is this: If you find someone who won’t run away when you confess your love of cheesy country music or endlessly ridicule you when they see your high school yearbook, that’s someone worth hanging on to. Because, as we all know, it’s one thing to be liked when you’re on your game, and it’s quite another to be liked when you’re at your worst, wearing your glasses and that junior-high retainer at night or, geeking out to the complete lyrics of “The Broken Road” while the two of you ride in the car.

When you have been loved that way, without condition, like I have, it’s amazing how still unnatural it can feel to extend that love to others, how revelatory of your truest self. My friend Jackie’s better at it—you’d like her. When she comes over on a Saturday afternoon to expectations of going out for lunch and, instead, finds me, anxious, telling her I have two rising pizza doughs I don’t know what to do with and, Can we just stay here, only first we’ll have to go to the store and buy mozzarella? she doesn’t flinch. Then, when after coming home with groceries, we both recognize a near-deathly smell coming from the slimy asparagus that’s brown on the bottoms, which I’d had my heart set on making a salad with, she’s only happy to head right back to the same store, just before stopping by the train for a quick pick-up and returning to the kitchen to resume activities. Jackie’s the kind of friend that likes you even with your quirks; she’s flexible and forgiving.

pizza with cheese

And, if you’ll permit the analogy, this kind of friend is a lot like the right kind of recipe.

It’s one thing to have a recipe that’s fussy, giving good results when you do everything just perfectly, measuring exactly, following the proper order, keeping the room the right temperature—it’s like the friends who like hanging out with you on a Friday night when your hair’s curled and your lips glossed and your house immaculate—not bad to have, maybe necessary. But it’s another to find a recipe that’s flexible, that lets you change things around a little, that forgives mistakes and yields something good anyway. When you find that kind of recipe, like a companion, you hang on to it, no question.

Like this pizza crust.

pizza crust

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with your hands

spinach pizza

Once when I was little, one of my teachers had our entire class over for a pizza party. What I remember most was standing on a stool at a counter, spooning sauce onto a circle of dough and getting to top it with white strings of cheese, feeling very grown up. That was probably the best party ever. I kind of loved that teacher but, mostly, I loved that pizza.

Here’s the truth: I could eat pizza every day. Sometimes I do. I like the fancy ones that cost $15 at a nice restaurant, the frozen ones in cardboard boxes at the grocery story, even mozzarella and tomato sauce heaped high on a bagel. In my book, pizza = good. Always.

So as far as pizza goes, it’s hard to make me hate one (though not impossible, thank you, Domino’s, when we ordered you the second time at work), it’s easy to make me like one and it’s, seriously, not that hard to make me really like one.

Now love? Well, let’s just say this: If you can’t get to Chicago’s best Neapolitan-style pizza restaurant or to the place with the most hearty, meaty pizza pot pies in the Midwest, and if you can’t find that tiny place on Boston’s North End where they don’t even say they sell pizza, but you might get lucky and see someone eating one and then order it and, one bite in, think you’ve died and gone to heaven, well, then you have to make one.

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