Windy City meets the ocean breeze [restaurant review]

Chicago pizzas and Italian beef sandwiches top the menu at Red & Louie’s

Chicago pizzas and Italian beef sandwiches top the menu at Red & Louie’s

Eric Iverson serves Minnie, Carter and Fred Dimesa on Red & Louie’s outdoor patio. Photo by JP Cordero

 

The Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov famously demonstrated that he could cause dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell. It was a pioneering discovery about psychology, demonstrating a reaction between two things not associated in nature, a clanging sound and the anticipation of a meal. That worthy scientist received a Nobel prize for his efforts, and his canines became a widely recognized metaphor.

I don’t expect to receive the same notoriety for my related discovery, which is that humans can be trained to salivate at the sight of pizza boxes. This has already happened during the pandemic, because those are one of the signs of good take-out meals. I don’t know whether the boxes with pictures of the Italian guys with moustaches provoke a different response than the ones with the picture of the cafe with Chianti bottles on the tables, but if funding is available, I’d be happy to research this.

Red & Louie’s owner Eric Iverson with his signature pizza and Italian Salad. Photo by JP Cordero

I’d probably conduct some studies at Red and Louie’s in Hermosa, because that has become one of my go-to pizzerias lately. They opened just over a month ago and are different from most competitors because they make Chicago-style thin crust pizza. This is different from New York or Italian styles, with the dough barely risen and baked crisp before being topped with spicy tomato sauce. Red & Louie’s is using the same oven that was here when this was Locale 90, but what’s coming out of it reflacts a different tradition.

There is more to life than pizza, of course, and their menu includes a few starters that also have a Midwestern accent. An appreciation for chopped pepperoncini is a consistent signature; it’s scattered atop an order of wings and also a distinct flavor in the Italian salad. The wings are sauced with Buffalo, barbecue, or Alabama white sauce, and I recommend the Alabama white. This is made with apple cider vinegar, sugar, mustard, and something to bring the heat – recipes may include black, white, or red pepper, horseradish, or any combination of the above. The Alabama at Red & Louie’s has a light touch of horseradish and both black and red pepper, and it’s savory without raising a sweat. I can easily imagine white barbecue sauce becoming better known, because the complex blend of sweet, spicy, and tangy complements meats as well as other popular varieties. It pairs with the pepperoncini that lend a spicy vegetable kick, and blue cheese dressing is included to cool things down.

Rather than list everything in the Italian salad, I’ll just say that if you think of anything an Italian might eat in a salad, it’s probably in there. Greens, olives, pasta, chickpeas, olives, two cheeses, salami, and of course the pepperoncini make it so that if you like variety from bite to bite, you’ll love this. It’s surprisingly well balanced, the vinegary heat of the peppers a background flavor that is cooled by the other items. Get this salad as a starter for at least two people or as a good full meal and you’ll be glad you did.

Another option for a meal is the Italian beef sandwich, a Chicago specialty that is the standard roast beef sandwich topped with sauteed bell peppers and onions and a hefty portion of the Italian pickled vegetable salad called giardiniera. Though they use a mild giardiniera here, mild is a relative word, and there’s some kick in every bite. The au jus that arrives with the sandwich has some heat too, and a small container of potato salad is included to soothe the burn.

And now I come to the main event, the pizza, and need to start with a definition. When the menu calls this a thin crust pizza, that’s a comparison to the very bready Chicago thick crust pizza, not to the almost paper-thin pizzas that were formerly served in this location. This is thicker by a considerable margin. That’s an advantage in a take-out situation, because extremely thin crusts become floppy after a few minutes in the box, but this one retains most of its crispness. The dough isn’t risen for long, so there are no large bubbles and no sourdough flavor, but it does its job as a vehicle for the toppings. The ones we ordered had a zesty red sauce and fresh mozzarella and garlic as a base, and in one instance we asked for sausage and mushroom, the other their spinach vegetarian special with crushed tomato. Spinach and tomato pizzas are often watery because both release a lot of liquid when cooked, but they strained the tomatoes and precooked and squeezed the spinach here, so you get the flavor without the moisture. These are simple details, but a lot of people don’t bother. The fresh cheese makes a difference too, and they use it in moderate amounts, so you get the flavor without having long cheese strings every time you pull away a piece. You may be a partisan for hyper-thin, high-risen, or sourdough crusts, but the quality of the toppings here may win you over.

Red & Louie’s doesn’t offer dessert yet, but since Paciugo Gelato is next door you can take care of that craving in the same trip. The owners say that they expect to greatly expand the menu when inside dining is allowed, including adding the thick crust style, but even with a limited menu they have much to offer. Try them, and maybe you’ll start salivating at the sight of a pizza box even before you smell the aroma of the contents.

Red & Louie’s is at 1040 Hermosa Avenue in Hermosa. Open daily at 1 p.m., close 9 p.m. Su-Tue, 10 p.m. We-Sa. Street parking, two outdoor tables, no reservations. No alcohol. Phone 310-921-8579, menu at redandlouies.com.

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Written by: Richard Foss

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