1909 N. Lincoln Ave. (1900N, 300W)
Chicago, IL 60614
"Serving the finest pizza in Chicago since 1997"
Photo courtesy of Andrew M. While many go on and on about how great Giordano's, Gino's East and Lou Malnatti's are—ad nauseum at that—locals know that some of the best pizza in the city can be found in the subterranean depths of Bricks. You won't find traditional Chicago deep dish at Bricks, but you will find gourmet thin-crust pizza served without the pretension found at some other gourmet restaurants or the plasticity found in many of the pizza chains found in the Chicagoland area. Bricks also offers a relaxed, pub-like atmosphere in the dark dungeon-esque tradition of the classic pizza joints of the 1970s (sans cedar paneling), along with an intriguing beer selection, without having to be extensive. If Batman ran a pizza joint, this would be it. As a result, Bricks has earned the designation of being the city's "Shah of 'Za" as named by the Chicago Bar Project.
Not to be confused with "Brick" Tamland of Anchorman infamy, Bricks Chicago Pizza lies at garden level, steps from the corner of Lincoln, Wisconsin and Lincoln Park West in Chicago's Old Town Triangle District, and just down the block from competitor Ranalli's, who serves pizza and beer in buckets above ground. A red awning helps guide you into the depths where not only Bricks can be found, but also its partner in crime, Amp Rock Lounge, the only late-night bar in the Old Town Triangle, though several more are found further south in Old Town proper. Walk under the brick (what else?) archway, turn right at the red neon Bricks Pizza sign, walk through the wooden plate glass door and you're in.
Bricks consists of two smallish rooms: a front room (as you walk in) with a bar and dining room just off to the right and separated from the main room by a brick wall with what looks like portals clawed out by hand. Up until 2006, smoking was permitted in the bar, but you'll know have to step outside, though the area is covered so you'll not get rained or snowed on. A wooden bar runs the length of the front room, and features a mirrored backdrop, "STAY OFF THE GRASS" sign, and a paper Mache face of the late Pope John Paul, who used to wear a Bricks baseball until the time of his passing. The powers that be are thinking of putting up the face of the new Pope but, considering his rather striking Germanic looks, they thought better of it so as not to frighten off the regulars. A smattering of low-slung wooden tables, recently upgraded from those covered with traditional red & white-checked tablecloths, and a black banquette can be found across from the bar, within view of the pub's only television set next to perhaps the only Anchor Brewing neon bar sign in the city.
The dining room features more low-slung tables along with another banquette running along the eastern wall, upon which are hung such randomly framed items as the cover of Mad Magazine's "Pizza Edition," a hand-painted Blackhawks logo, and a mirror. What appears to be a speckled floor made out of plastic lies under a (Ron) burgundy-painted ceiling with tiny recessed lighting, just below which hang pipes carrying radiated steam heat that may start clicking in winter when they turn on.
"You better cut the pizza in four pieces because I'm not hungry enough to eat six."
– Yogi Berra
Either here or in the bar, you can order from a menu whose brevity is made up for by its creativity. The kitchen at Bricks is located in the southeast corner, and churns out such 10", 12" and 14" specialties as the "Painful" (spicy pepperoni, purple onion, fresh jalapeño, garlic, tomato sauce, and mozzarella), "Red Planet" (sausage, red pepper, purple onion, goat cheese, tomato sauce, and mozzarella), the Ditka ("da'za with all the meat, lots of cheese"), and the "Berzerkeley" (smoked ham, artichoke hearts, sweet red peppers, tomato sauce, and mozzarella). I've personally had the Brickhouse (pureed artichoke sauce, sweet red peppers, roasted garlic, mozzarella, and asiago), and "Sweet Heat" (chicken breast, bacon, diced jalapeño, smoked gouda, bbq-tomato sauce, and mozzarella), and both were magnificent. Bricks also features a couple of sandwiches and salads, but why someone wouldn't order a pie at Bricks is beyond me... They even have a vegetarian pizza at Bricks, for the love of dog.
In recognition of its accomplishments in the flat doughy sciences, Bricks was rated three out of four forks by the Chicago Tribune and, in the 2005/06 edition of Zagat's Chicago restaurant survey, the "soul-soothing" Bricks was rated as having very good food, good decor and good service, with an average meal costing you about $18. Zagat's went on to note that Bricks is a "'friendly place' place for 'casual times with friends', even if the setting is 'just like your college boyfriend's basement.'" Sound good? See for yourself. Takeout and delivery are also available from the underground wonder.
"Without question, the greatest invention in the history of mankind is beer. Oh, I grant you that the wheel was also a fine invention, but the wheel does not go nearly as well with pizza."
– Dave Barry
Photo courtesy of Lauren
As anyone knows, the true flavor of pizza can only be enjoyed with a fine beverage. While wine is only loosely endorsed here at the Chicago Bar Project (half off on Tuesdays), you'll also find a crafty array of bellywash at Bricks to wash down the tomato-based creation of your choosing. Selections from the Anchor Brewing Company collectively represent the "Beer of the Year" at Bricks, with four varieties including Foghorn Ale (brewed in the barley wine tradition of over 8 alcohol), Pale Ale and Celebration Ale on tap, and Bigfoot Ale (at 9% alcohol is also in the barley wine category). Bricks also features Bear Republic Hop Rod Rye Ale and Brickhouse Lager on tap, as well as Chimay (white and red), Blanche De Chambly, a rotating list of monthly specials, and Fat Tire Ale – the latter of which could only be found in Chicago at Bricks until others like Matilda began serving it in 2006. In fact, thanks to some modern day bootlegging, Bricks was the only bar east of the Mississippi where you could find Fat Tire until the New Belgium Brewery relented and opened up distribution. Now every bar in Chicago makes a big deal about offering Fat Tire, so be sure to tip your hat to Bricks next time you enjoy one... When you find yourself needing to get in touch with Ivanna Tinkle, head down the little hallway in the southwest corner of the dining room that terminates in free postcards, and you'll find a pair of tile-encrusted one-seaters.
As to the aforementioned manager, he went on to give our party the last of the Bricks 2005 Christmas CDs as we were leaving, and told us of the Mick Jagger bust that used to be located on the corner of the bar (reminiscent of the bust of the owner mounted on the bar at Weeds Tavern), until a hooligan grabbed it and ran out with it one night. The owner, Bill Brandt, ran him down as he was getting into a cab and wrestled it back from the bust-bandit, but you won't find it at Bricks any longer – it can be found in the owners residence to prevent another theft. However, you'll still find a framed photo of Mike Ditka as coach of the Chicago Bears, wearing his finest Bears sweater and flipping off the press (God love him) as you walk out. Those of you with sticky fingers can just forget about it!
For those of you interested in a bit of history, Bricks opened in 1997 and, prior to that, the location housed a Siamese restaurant that went by the name of Jada Thai. Sometime prior to that, from 1964 to 1980, the location was the original location of Chicago's first Turkish restaurant Topkapi. Fans of Ottoman cuisine, take note: after an elongated stint as a dry cleaner of all things, the original owner recently reopened Topkapi has in a new location at 2544 W. Peterson, at the southern edge of Chicago's Nortown neighborhood.
"The perfect lover is one who turns into a pizza at 4:00 a.m."
– Charles PiercePhoto courtesy of Mike Innocenzi