Most Elmhurst residents would agree, the city has no shortage of Italian restaurants. City Centre, alone, has more than a half-dozen Italian eateries. With that kind of competition, it might seem impossible to open another successful Italian restaurant in town. But Rosalia's Deli and Pazzi di Pizza have carved their own in niche in the Elmhurst restaurant scene by introducing traditional brick oven pizza.
Pazzi di Pizza, 105 S. York Road
Long before there was Chicago deep-dish or New York style thin-crust, there was Margherita brick oven pizza, made from scratch in towns throughout Italy and cooked in solid brick ovens. owner Frank Marino has grown up with brick oven pizza all his life. The pizza recipes he and his family perfected provided the inspiration for the restaurant.
"Myself and the other owners of Pazzi all came from Italy. The recipes have been in our families for generations, but we've also worked hard to enhance them with small tweaks," he said.
Though new to Elmhurst, brick oven pizza dates back several hundred years to the Italian island of Sicily. In appearance, it resembles American oven-baked pizza, but the taste is very different, Marino said.
"Brick oven pizza is much lighter in taste and weight than American style," he said. "Italians originally ate pizza late at night, and so the intention was for the dish to fill you up but not weigh you down. The oven also burns parts of the crust, which gives the pizza a more smoky taste."
Marino said the distinct flavor of Pazzi's pizza also comes from the ingredients.
"Everything we use to make our pizzas comes straight from Italy," he said. "All of these ingredients are the best available. That makes all the difference in quality."
Pazzi di Pizza offers 15 different styles of brick oven pizza, including Margherita, Napoletana, Ortolana and Bufalina. They also serve Pizze Bianche pies, made without red sauce, that include Quattro Formagi, Borgota and Ciao Roma. The restaurant allows customers to design their own pizza with whatever toppings they wish.
In addition to their brick oven pizzas, Pazzi di Pizza also offers pasta, paninis, salads and appetizers.
Rosalia's Deli, 241 N. York
Just up the street from Pazzi di Pizza is , run by the Battaglia family, who also own Angelo's Ristorante and Two Brothers From Italy. The deli shares a building with Angelo's and connects directly to the restaurant.
Adjacent to Rosalia's extensive array of deli meats and cheeses is an authentic brick oven. They began making brick oven pizza, in part, because they wanted to do something different.
"It was about giving people an experience they may never have had before," Rosalia's manager Lia Battaglia said. "There are a lot of people who have never even heard about brick oven pizza."
Like Pazzi di Pizza, Rosalia's uses old family recipes as the basis for their pies. They also make every ingredient from scratch or import items from Sicily. Even the brick oven is imported from Italy to ensure the pizza is as authentic as possible.
Since its May opening, Rosalia's has grown steadily in popularity through word of mouth. The dine-in or take-out store has been particularly popular with local college students.
Elmhurst College student Eric Hays eats there regularly.
"Honestly, I go to Rosalia's at least once a week," Hays said. "I've brought a bunch of my friends there and now I've started bumping into them when I visit."
Battaglia said part of the appeal comes from the family vibe of the deli.
"Most of the employees at Rosalia's are members of our family," she said. "I think that really comes across as we serve people. Customers appreciate the fact that the place is family owned and operated because it's a pretty rare thing these days."
The private ownership also gives Rosalia's the creative freedom to experiment with their pizzas and sandwiches.
"A lot of the dishes on the menu came from employees creating things they personally wanted to eat," she said. "We're always trying new things in the kitchen, and if we like something a lot, we'll put it on the menu."
Rosalia's makes nine different styles of brick oven pizzas, including Puttanesca, Buffalo Chicken, Pizza Verde and the ever-popular Margherita.
The full-service deli also serves up a host of sandwiches and fresh soups, gelato and Italian pastries like biscotti.