Best in the West?

February 2023 View more

By Phil Vettel

The newly opened Kim’s Uncle Pizza is already a top contender

Kim’s Uncle Pizza
Kim’s Uncle Pizza, 207 N. Cass Ave., Westmont

I’ve had a lot of pizza in my life. Ate it most Fridays in my youth, when pizza was the tastiest meatless dish available to a Catholic schoolboy (to this day, meat on pizza seems a bit odd to me).

My wife and I held our rehearsal dinner at the original Lou Malnati’s in Lincolnwood.

My first big byline for the Chicago Tribune was about Pizzeria Uno, a story I researched by persuading the owner to let me work in the kitchen for a week. And, over the years, I conducted two or three “best pizza” surveys (always a reader favorite).

All this to explain that I know my stuff. And my stuffed, deep-dish, and thin crust. So, when I tell you that Kim’s Uncle Pizza is the best pizza to hit the western suburbs since—well, maybe ever—that’s no casual recommendation.

Outside Kim’s Uncle Pizza

Kim’s Uncle, which opened in July, is a tiny space, barely larger than a walk-in closet, with two four-seat tables on either side of the pickup counter. There’s no online ordering (you have to phone, which, at peak hours, takes persistence), no liquor license, and payment is by credit card only. And, due to the dimensions of the small but mighty oven, the pizza is available in just one size (14 inches).

But, oh, that pizza. The crust, made with aged dough, has terrific flavor and maintains its sharp, cracker-like bite long after it emerges from the oven. The tomato sauce is deep and rich, the result of long and slow cooking, and the toppings—cheese sourced from a single Wisconsin producer, sausage made to the owners’ specifications—are first-rate.

The basic, 14-inch pizza costs $17; toppings range from $1 to $4, but most are $2 or less. As I mentioned, I gravitate toward vegetable toppings, but the pepperoni is outstanding and goes particularly well with the hot honey drizzle, a unique ingredient worth exploring.

The Meatball Sub
The Meatball Sub

The single-page menu includes a few sandwiches, each served with a bag of chips by Vitner’s, a Chicago classic. The sandwiches themselves are similarly Chicago rooted: There’s a rich, classic Italian beef (available dry, wet, or dipped, as custom dictates), a meatball sub (with two hefty pork-and-beef meatballs) and the Angry Chicagoan, a sausage sandwich with red sauce, melted mozzarella, and spicy giardiniera.

The Angry Chicagoan
The Angry Chicagoan

All are worthy, but I’d aim for the Angry Chicagoan. Don’t let the name scare you; there’s definitely some heat to the sandwich, thanks to the giardiniera, but it’s judiciously applied. I’d say the sandwich is more just-missed-my-bus angry than someone-stole-my-dibs angry.

There’s also a nice Cheesy Bread appetizer made with whipped herb butter. And should you feel a bit too carbo loaded at that point, meatballs can be ordered à la carte.

Kim’s Uncle Pizza has its origins in a Ukrainian Village apartment, where roommates Bradley Shorten, Billy Federighi, and Cecily Federighi created a project dubbed Eat Free Pizza, giving away close to a dozen free pizzas (subsidized by a brewery sponsorship) every Friday night.

“We did that for two years,” Shorten says. “But that was two years of tasting different ingredients. Every tomato, every cheese, everything we could get our hands on. We were able to try everything.”

That led them to a partnership with Ed Marszewski and chef Won Kim to create a Bridgeport dining destination dubbed Pizza Fried Chicken Ice Cream (the name contained the entire menu), which became a popular and critical success.

A party cut thin crust pizza

And then Kim Sinclair, the owner of Uncle Pete’s Pizza in Westmont, decided to sell her business. Her friend Maria, who happens to be Marszewski’s mother, passed the word, and Shorten, who grew up in Westmont, was intrigued. And thus was born Kim’s Uncle Pizza, the name an homage to the former owner (her framed portrait hangs in the kitchen.)

The pizzeria’s quiet summertime debut (“We just opened the door one day,” Shorten says) was helped immeasurably by Westmont’s weekly classic car show, held just outside the Kim’s Uncle entrance. “We eased into it,” Shorten explains. “And then we started getting press, and now people start calling as early as 3 p.m.” (That won’t work, by the way; Kim’s Uncle doesn’t answer the phones until 4 p.m.)

When warm weather returns, Shorten says he hopes to add a few umbrella tables in the building’s backyard. The seating capacity will increase; the number of available pizzas will not.

“We can only do 80 to 100 pizzas here per night,” he says. “That’s it.”


Photos courtesy of Kim’s Uncle Pizza