As far as I know, anyone new to the city of Chicago has a civic — nay, spiritual — duty to explore and consume mass quantities at any Cook County Department of Public Health-approved eatery within a walkable or train-able distance from their apartment. Having just moved to Chicago in August, I think I’m finally ready to test the limits of this blossoming urban courtship of ours, mostly by eating all of the city’s food without asking and crying about my ex. (I have yet to unpack the emotional baggage I brought with me from Buffalo, New York.)
After a grueling 11-hour, un-air-conditioned drive across two intensely mediocre states and one only kind of okay state to get to Chicago, my mother and I went to dinner at Reno on the corner of North Milwaukee Avenue and North Kedzie Boulevard. To be transparent, this was only my most recent trip there, as I’d patronized the bar-meets-casually-cool-pizza-haven-meets-gastro-erotic-Chippendale’s this past October when I was in town for a short weekend trip. It wasn’t the food that brought me back this time — though you’d think it would be because last time I ordered a fried chicken thigh sandwich with melted white cheddar, dill pickles, and hot honey which, combined, tasted like humid sex (in a good way). No; what brought me back was the atmosphere, and — more importantly — the waitstaff. Or should I say, babestaff*.
As a single lady with a twofold passion for pizza and independent working men in plaid, Reno tugged ever-so-gently at my heartstrings and salivary glands. But to be blessed by Aphrodite herself, and thus presented with the opportunity to have that independent working man personally serve me said pizza? Well, toss me in the defect bin and sell me at a deeply discounted price because that’s about all I can handle. A greater work of art exists not in this world. It makes the modern wing of the Art Institute of Chicago look like an elementary school art fair. I will defend this opinion to my death.
Because we desperately needed booze, like, two years ago, and because this is how restaurants work, we ordered cocktails first. I followed my dreams and aimed for the stars with a Hendrick’s gin mule (affectionately dubbed the Deutschland Müle by only me) and my mom bought a one-way ticket to Margaritaville. I’ll tell you right now: The sauce was boss. Reno makes its cocktails very liquor-forward, which was a little unexpected at first, but certainly not a bad thing. If anything, it gave me a tangible mouth reminder of what exactly my $10 was going towards. My mule had only a splash of ginger beer which made room for the flavor of the lime juice to take the rest of the drink hostage; but like a good hostage situation where the kidnappers have snacks and let you use the bathroom at your leisure. My mom wasn’t so jazzed about her marg, as they replaced the Triple Sec with Curacao, a decidedly drier and more bitter liqueur. It was more along the lines of the flavor profiles you’d expect from a Negroni, but with all the party vibes that tequila brings to the table. The glass was rimmed with salt, but may have been better off rimmed with sugar to balance out the bitterness.
After getting our drinks, because this is also how restaurants work, we ordered dinner: We went with the Alley-Oop pizza and Wisconsin Burrata starter. We had to Google what “burrata” was, but once we saw the words “outer shell of mozzarella” and “filled with cream,” our mouths basically made up our minds for us. This particular burrata was served on toasted ciabatta with strawberries, basil, arugula, and balsamic vinegar. It was beautifully balanced both texturally and flavor-wise. Curiosity did not kill the cat this time — though it did make the cat very bloated and sleepy and maybe just a little suspicious of every figure in his/her life that purposefully (?) hid this cheese product from him/her up until this moment.
Oddly, we received the pizza before the Burrata (this is not how restaurants work), but I honestly didn’t care, because once pizza of any flavor or format graces my tongue, I lose all track of time and any grasp on the basic principles of the English language. They could have forgotten the Burrata entirely and I probably wouldn’t have noticed, nor would I have been able to form the words necessary to bring it to our server’s attention.
The Alley-Oop pizza was topped with sun-dried tomato, caramelized garlic, onion & leek, kale, goat cheese, and sweet peppers. Being a little biased due to a not-so-brief stint of eating exclusively chevre rolled up in slices of deli meat for lunch in college, I was a bit overwhelmed by the combined flavor power of the goat cheese and sun-dried tomato. My mom loved it, however, so definitely order this pizza if that list of toppings makes you go “ugh yes pls.” I will say that the crust was an 11/10 on the YASSS scale, and was the second thing that would keep me coming back for more, probably. (The first was the consensual eye contact.)
Though they’re known for their pizza, Reno has plenty of other menu options to satisfy your cravings at literally (literally) any time of day, including wood-fired bagels and shmears, pastas, boozy ice cream, and a more-than-respectable lunch menu (not necessarily in that order). And as far as price goes, it’s very affordable given the myriad amenities that accompany the meal, including, but not limited to, atmosphere and the slow rediscovery of your ability to love. The drinks are around, or even under, the standard price for a cocktail in the city ($8 to $12), and the price of the pizzas range anywhere from $14 to $18 depending on how fancy you want to get with it. (This is the only instance where grilled chicken cubes will ever be referred to as “fancy.”) It’s a great casual place to go on any night of the week if you’re in the mood for an effortless meal in a warm industrial setting that makes you feel like you’re a background extra on the set of “Friends.”
*bespoke puns available upon request; prices vary.
Price: Relative to similar restaurants in the area, Reno is pretty middle-of-the-road in terms of cost. Take ya girl there. Get drunk on a Tuesday. Turn up. Drown in cheese.
Location: Reno is quite literally a hop, skip, and a few legal pedestrian maneuvers away from the Logan Square Blue Line station; so it’s basically in the center of Logan Square and maybe even the universe. Sorry, Beyoncé.
Taste: The flavors are strong and the drinks are even stronger. The pizza wasn’t particularly subtle in taste, but, I mean, isn’t confidence all any woman is really looking for in her … pizza toppings?
Overall experience: Aside from the weird timing of the meal — they should read my book, “How Restaurants Work” — we had a great time. The service was wonderful and everything came out quickly; and hot. Really hot. *wink*
Worth it?: Absolutely. If you decide to go there as a result of this review, mention my name. They won’t give you anything or know who you’re talking about, but plant a mental seed that I may sow at a later date, please and thanks.
Originally published in F Newsmagazine, October 17, 2016