On Wednesday, July 29th, Managing Partner Bruce Finkelman of 16” on Center hospitality collective (Dusek’s Board & Beer, Longman & Eagle, Revival Food Hall) and James Beard-nominated Executive Chef-Partner Noah Sandoval of Michelin-starred Oriole, Kumiko and Kikko — will open Pizza Friendly Pizza, a down-and-dirty pizza spot hidden in a back alley behind a West Town music venue, and inspired by their mutual love for rock ’n’ roll.
Attached to The Empty Bottle, Pizza Friendly Pizza exudes the bar’s characteristic alternative energy while providing eats via a walk-up window or sit-down in a gritty patio oasis accessible via the alley behind the building. Moving into the previous home of Finkelman's 28-year old Bite Cafe in Ukrainian Village (1039 N. Western Ave) as a pandemic pivot, the new eatery will serve up Sicilian-style pizzas available by the slice or by the full pie, sandwiches for meat-eaters and vegans alike and a variety of munchies created by Sandoval along with a spirit-free drink by Julia Momose of Kumiko and more.
THE PARTNERS — A Shared Passion for Music + Food: Bruce Finkelman, managing partner of Chicago’s 16” on Center hospitality collective, has been a player in Chicago’s culinary and live music scenes for nearly 30 years. The force behind many of the city’s restaurants and venues like Thalia Hall, The Promontory and The Empty Bottle, Finkelman has helped keep the good times rollin’ for Chicagoans throughout the city’s diverse neighborhoods.
One of Chicago’s fine-dining chefs, Noah Sandoval reached acclaim with his New American restaurant Oriole, earning two Michelin stars within its first year and retaining them every subsequent eligible year, multiple James Beard Award finalist nominations and being named Food & Wine’s "Best New Chef” 2017. Sandoval would go on to open Michelin-starred omakase restaurant Kikko and cocktail lounge Kumiko but always held onto a secret desire to open a casual concept that would embody his rocker personality and passion for music.
THE STORY — Thinking Outside the (Pizza) Box: After experiencing the impact the pandemic crisis had on the restaurant industry, Finkelman decided the time had come to reinvent longtime neighborhood spot Bite Cafe after a 25+ year run. Bite Cafe operated in the adjoining space next to indie music spot and flagship 16” on Center property, The Empty Bottle, a place where Sandoval (a music aficionado like Finkelman) frequented for years. There, the two struck up a friendship over their shared interest in jammin' to D.C. Hardcore Rock. Over the years, the two local business owners looked for an opportunity to work together. Finally, during a text convo a few months back, they laid out plans to reinvent Bite Cafe into a concept that would work within the shifting culinary landscape and embody the grungy, alternative vibes of The Empty Bottle. With their new ‘za spot, Finkelman and Sandoval will offer a dining option for the neighborhood along with fans from The Empty Bottle seeking a quick post-show bite to help ward off any expected hangover.
THE SPACE — Not Your Nonna's Pizza Spot: Make no mistake— despite Sandoval’s fine-dining background, Pizza Friendly Pizza is no fancy-schmancy, white-tablecloth joint. The new concept will open initially for outdoor dining with a limited number of seats available in a hidden back-alley patio (literally, located in the back alley), where a convenient walk-up window gives patrons the option to pick up carryout orders or grab a quick slice while maybe spotting a stray cat or two. 16OC revamped the former Bite Cafe space and newly created patio to resemble the gritty feel of an old-school tattoo parlor, incorporating funky hand-painted murals to tie in the grungy, rock and roll character of the historical Empty Bottle by 16OC Creative Director Tre’ Jorgensen while hanging luscious greenery and twinkling string lights from overhead beams.
THE MENU — Pie Hard Pizza Lovers and Weirdoughs Rejoice: Keeping in line with the no-frills rep of The Empty Bottle, Pizza Friendly Pizza will offer a straightforward menu of specialty pizzas, sandwiches and savory sides created with Sandoval’s fine dining expertise and executed by Head Chef Ruben Villalobos. Diners can get their carb fix with rectangular, Sicilian-style pizzas with a pillowy, focaccia-like crust available in combos like charred rapini with burrata and lemon, Ezzo’s pepperoni with gooey fresh mozzarella and basil, a special vegan option and more available by the slice or full pie.
Additionally, Sandoval will present sandwiches like the Chicken Parmesan with Basil made with breaded and fried chicken thigh, spicy tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese along with a vegan-friendly sando. Diners can also chow down on a classic Little Gem Caesar Salad or grab a side like fries with spicy ketchup and fried eggplant with giardiniera aioli before satisfying their sweet tooth with specialty pastries from Good Ambler, 16” on Center’s gourmet chocolatier, bakery and café in the West Loop. Star bartender Julia Momose (Food & Wine "Best New Mixologist” 2016, Jean Banchet “Best Mixologist 2017,” Eater Young Guns Winner 2016) and Sandoval’s partner in Kumiko and Kikko has crafted a signature spirit-free drink called The Pizzaberry Tonic which combines Tasmanian pepperberries with gentian and Angelica root along with herbs and spices from Sandoval’s pizzas to create a bitter red aperitivo-style drink. An assortment of beer, wine and specialty beverages will be on hand for those looking to catch a buzz and wash all the cheesiness down.