Zazas Pizzeria: excellent NY-style in Chicago

I’ll admit it—I wasn’t keen on visiting Zazas Pizzeria on this trip. It’s New York–style, which I can get back home simply by crossing the street, and I was on a Chicago thin crust fact-finding mission while on my May 2023 pizza trip to the region.

But three factors put me there:

  • I’ve been following them on Instagram since shortly after they opened, and their pizza there has always looked pretty compelling
  • They were more or less walking distance from my hotel
  • Brian Erst made a great case for them, and when Brian talks pizza, he may as well be E.F. Hutton

I’ve been semi-jokingly calling Brian my “pizza fixer,”* but I guess it’s no joke. He mentioned the day before our visit that he’d call co-owner Brett Nemec (who opened the pizzeria with his brother, Chadd, in 2021) and see if he’d be able to drop by.

The Truffle Mushroom slice: garlic cream, mozzarella, cremini mushrooms, rosemary, goat cheese, truffle oil, chives.

When we walked in, there was a table reserved for us, and Brett was willing to talk about pizza for my nascent “What to Get” video feature.**

The pizza here is fantastic. I always hate being that New Yorker who compares everything to the New York version, but this is New York–style pizza, so I think it’s fair this time. So I’ll say that these slices would more than hold their own against some of the best here in NYC. If they were in the five boroughs, they’d fit in easily among what I call the “third wave” NY-style pizza spots—L’Industrie, Scarr’s, Mama’s Too, Fini, Philomena’s, Mano’s, Lucia of Avenue X. These are spots doing NY-style but paying careful attention to “dough management” and high-quality ingredients. Food writers love/abuse the term “elevated,” so I’m not going to use it, but I’m also not not going to use it here.

Foreground: the Mikes Hot Honey slice (red sauce, mozzarella, Ezzo cup-and-char pepperoni, Mike’s Hot Honey, shaved Parmesan, ricotta, Gotham Greens basil). Background: NY Classic Cheese Slice (red sauce, mozzarella, grated pecorino, grated Parmesan).

Brett and his team dropped a bunch of slices on the table for us to try.*** My favorites were the plain slice, the Bacon Jam, and the grandma. Though, really, they were all pretty fantastic.

One thing that Brian pointed out and prompted Brett to chat about is the dressed crust. Zazas brushes on a garlic and rosemary–infused olive oil post bake and then hits that oiled edge with a little bit of Maldon sea salt. Brett says its a nod to dipping bread in olive oil or slathering it with salted butter. It’s a nice touch, and one not that many pizzerias do, for whatever reason.

I’m glad I re-evaluated my “no non–Chicago style” POV and dipped in here. It was nice to see a place doing NY-style justice outside NYC and just great to see a pandemic-spawned pizzeria/small business thriving.

Strong recommend. A++++++++ would go back.

Zazas Pizzeria: 3037 N Clark Street, Chicago IL 60657; 773-661-6389; @zazaspizza

* I lifted the “pizza fixer” term from John Carruthers, who used it in reference to Windy City Pie owner Dave Lichterman, who apparently served that role for J. Kenji López-Alt when he toured the region for his thin-crust pizza recipe in the New York Times.

** A feature I’m still trying to perfect; I thank Brett and any of the early interviewees for their patience and willingness to be guinea pigs here!

*** Note: This is one of the few spots on this trip where I was comped, in which case I tip the calculated value of what’s provided. My typical M.O. is to visit once as a civilian, get the feel for the spot and whether I like it enough to feature, and then contact the owner for any info/interviews. That means I avoid any attempt at comps. But here, that kinda got short-circuited because I knew this would be my only visit and I wanted to meet Brett.

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