If you’ve already read about Balena, you might think it seems a little crazy to dine at an upscale Italian restaurant and order a pizza. I’m here to tell you that make no mistake, if you can peel your eyes away from the beautiful décor long enough to look at the menu, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at what you see.
There wine selection is vast (over 300!) from which to choose, with a description of flavors beneath each, nice information to have without asking the waiter. The cocktail list is impressive, with the bitterness of each drink rated on a “1 – 10” scale. Not a fan of bitters myself, I had the Strawberry (a 1 on the bitter scale), a vodka and prosecco cocktail that was refreshing, but not too sweet.
Don’t expect to get anything for free at Balena. With a friend’s recommendation, we ordered Peter’s Bread as our appetizer, a combination of a half-dozen different breads with three separate garnishes (I could have eaten the whipped ricotta garnish with a spoon.) The lemon pepper challah was the star of this breadbasket and made the $6 price tag for “table bread” worth it.
The pizzas are thin crust by Chicago standards, with just enough char to make biting in a tasty experience. I ordered the spicy salami with tomato and mozzarella. The spice lived up to my expectations – a nice kick added to each bite but not too spicy to scare away timid taste buds. Balena is not an offender of the all too common over-saucing and the pie was topped off with the perfect amount of mozzarella. The spicy sausage, red onion, tomato and mozzarella pizza did not live up to its spicy name as the salami pizza did and the sausage was a little scarce, but nonetheless still enjoyable. The pizzas were served with a side of chili oil, which was good but tasted smoky, not spicy. The best part is that after filling up on a drink and an appetizer, you’ll have some of the 16” pizza left to take home for lunch the next day (or a midnight snack.)
Balena is located across the street from the Steppenwolf Theatre and is typically packed with musical-loving patrons, so make reservations plenty in advance to secure your table.
Balena, 1633 North Halsted Street. For more information call (312) 867-3888 or visit www.balenachicago.com.
Whitney Hewitt is the founder of Gatz Optimize, a social media consulting and marketing agency. With over eight years in marketing and communications, Hewitt puts her skills to work for both small businesses and Fortune 500 corporations. She is also the President of the Chicago chapter of Femfessionals, a professional organization dedicated to connecting and promoting savvy women in the Windy City. Follow Whitney @GatzSocialMedia.