WHEN I HEARD a pizzeria was going in on the same block as Salt & Straw's legendary outpost on NE Alberta, it sounded like a no-brainer. The last piece of the comfort-food puzzle, Via Chicago opened in a compact but well-designed new 45-seat spot next door in early February, and it couldn't have asked for a better block with a brighter future. Mom and dad get a draft pint with their quick and easy dinner, and then everyone goes for a scoop in the warm spring air. Boom. America has happened, and look at that, it's bedtime.
Via Chicago's namesake offering is Chicago-style deep-dish pizza, complemented by a half-dozen sandwiches, an assortment of salads, and as many appetizers. Eight taps pour carefully chosen, full-bodied premium beers. On any given day, four or five pie varieties are available by the slice ($3.50-4). Service is friendly and thorough.
Four visits spanning their nearly three-month initial run, though, strongly show that there are still fundamental kinks to work out across the menu.
The pie itself is, at least, a massive and festive thing to behold. The tall, thick cornicione (outer ring of crust) is fried to a golden blonde where the dough touches the walls of the well-greased pan, and the dough itself, which gets much of its character from semolina, is less aerated and bubbly than Neapolitan styles—it's almost biscuit-like. Due to its long cooking time (pies can take around 40 minutes), ingredients are typically stacked in reverse order, with cheese and toppings at bottom and a chunky, rustic sauce on top, so things don't burn.
The pie has structural issues that need working out. A medium prosciutto and arugula pie ($24.95) comes to the table with an overwhelming sea of hot, stringy mozzarella in its middle, and when slices are removed they collapse and pool out under their own weight and moisture. It's just too much cheese, and one slice is more than enough for a meal. This is a shame, because the oregano-spiced sauce is clean and light, and the crust—while under-seasoned—has a satisfying texture and flavor from the light frying.
(Back at the lab: Leftover slices averaged nine ounces in total weight, with approximately five ounces of the dense mass consisting of pure cheese. It's no surprise that this half-pound wedge makes for a brief, one-note meal that's curtailed out of boredom and self-preservation.)
Via Chicago also offers a gluten-free version of their deep-dish pizza, but the gluten-free crust was, like with so many things reverse engineered to omit the critical ingredient, a limp version of the original.
For sides, the Caesar salad ($5.50 small/$7.95 large) is good for a pizza-parlor standard, with a rich, creamy dressing that has no hints of anchovy, and a generous serving of shaved cheese and croutons. I wish they'd properly mix the salad, though, rather than just lazily drizzle the dressing on top. The farro and roasted vegetable salad ($5.50/$7.95) has the furthest to go. The ring-molded mountain of grains, cubed fennel, roasted peppers, onion, and a few odd kalamata olives is clearly just a deflating, flavorless play to the vegan and gluten-free diner. The dressing, if it can be called that, lacks any acidity or seasoning, and may as well just be water. A dash of salt and a squeeze of lemon made it taste of lemon and salt, but didn't make it anything more than a grudging mouthful of bland health.
The sandwiches are large enough for a respectable meal, but not the sort where you take half home. The meatball sandwich ($7.95) featured four extremely tender, finely textured, and perfectly good meatballs under a thin kerchief of melted cheese, but was a bit dry for lack of sauce, and the store-bought roll had the weak texture and soft crust of bread that's been stored in a plastic bag—the death by asphyxiation so common to sandwich rolls. With a wealth of world-class bakers in town, and so many highly competitive sandwich shops using them, this is an easily addressed shortcoming.
The Italian beef ($8.95) came out sitting in a slick puddle of its own greasy jus, sogging through from the bottom up. Noticing it had gone untouched save one messy bite, the server asked what was wrong and offered to make another. It came out right the second time, an ample serving of tender, thin-sliced beef and genuinely spicy peppers that ate cleanly.
Via Chicago will likely stay busy thanks to their prime location and their ability to quickly fill a stomach with a $4 slice, but the core product, no matter what it's trying to be, is a stodgy disappointment sorely in need of balance.
Open Mon-Sun 11 am-10 pm, Tues-Thurs 11 am-11 pm, Fri-Sat 11 am-2 am.