Nancy’s Pizza is coming to the heart Chicago’s restaurant district at 1000 West Washington in the West Loop. Their doors, phone lines and website are now open for carry-out and delivery orders, and the dining room is expected to open by the end of the month. Nancy’s has a story to tell, and they’re telling it in a spot that pays homage to its 1971 roots – the year in which the stuffed pie’s creators, Rocco and Nancy (Annunziata) Palese, introduced the gooey delicacy to their customers.
“Nancy’s was essential to Chicago’s Golden Age of Pizza innovation in the late 1960s and early 1970s,” says longtime Nancy’s business partner and family friend, Dave Howey. “The Paleses took Chicago pizza to new heights by “stuffing” two-inches of cheesy magma into a pastry shell and topping it with a flavorful blend of tomatoes and spices that Rocco prepared behind the locked doors of his spice room. He never wrote down the recipe, but he did share it with two of the people he trusted most – Nancy and me.”
Rocco came up with the idea when the patrons of his tavern style pizza place wanted him to jump on the burgeoning deep-dish pizza craze. A proud and independent Italian immigrant, Rocco resisted the call to imitate. He instead created a dish that was inspired by pan pizza, yet different: he created a thicker, cheesier pizza that resurrected an Italian family tradition – the Easter Pie. For the uninitiated, an Easter Pie is a tart packed with Italian meats and cheeses that are bound together with eggs and enclosed with a pastry top.
The Nancy’s culinary team is led by Chef Kayla Howey, a chef, food blogger, photographer and Culinary Institute of America graduate who also happens to be a member of the Howey family that grew up on Nancy’s Pizza. After graduating from the University of Illinois with a degree in Hospitality Management and Food Science, Kayla honed her skills under Paul Virant (Vie) and Thomas Keller (Bouchon).
“I love our original stuffed pizza recipe and am dedicated to delivering the same quality product that Rocco introduced in 1971,” says Chef Kayla. “For the past few years, I’ve been creating new stand-out twists to pizzeria classics – things like hand-breaded fried mozzarella and homemade croutons for a flavored-packed Caesar salad.
I’ve also added a few modern dishes such as caramelized brussels sprouts, a blueberry pecan salad and meatball sliders. The menu is a perfect mix of tasty new bites and simple classics.”
While the menu is dominated by the brand’s stuffed pizza, Nancy’s offers a variety of pizza styles, including thin crust and “rustic” pizza, along with chef-created salads, pastas, sandwiches, appetizers and desserts. Every item on the menu is made with fresh ingredients, and the bar features a selection of craft, imported and domestic beer (rotated seasonally) on draft and in bottles, signature cocktails and a selection of wine.
The restaurant’s design evokes the 1970s in tasteful surroundings with winks at retro design including lots of wood veneer (including bespoke wood veneer tables), wallpaper that varies from flocked and geometrically patterned to an homage to Andy Warhol in the men’s room. Vintage black and white photos and painted pizza pans adorn the walls, and mid-century-inspired seating made with 1970s materials dots the floors. Artifacts from the era add to the vibe – including a classic Smiley button-inspired neon installation that invites patrons to “Get Stuffed.”
The venue seats 98 and also offers carry out, delivery and catering services. Nancy’s has been expanding the stuffed pizza phenomenon to other cities for the last 19 years, staying true to Rocco’s original creation.