Life of Pie — Pizzeria Neo

August 2012 View more


Somewhere along the line, to the great misfortune of many diners, pizza became marginalized in the general discussion of “cuisine.” Blame the proliferation of national chain outlets, the burgeoning freezer cases at local superstores or the ubiquity that has reserved it a regular spot in the elementary school lunch rotation. Whatever the reason, pizza has been relegated to the unfortunate end of the dining spectrum populated by kiddie food, fast food, and let’s-have-this-because-we-don’t-feel-like-cooking food, making it harder and harder to take it seriously these days.

But perhaps the malaise and half-hearted shoulder-shrugging surrounding pizza as a legitimate dining option will begin to recede in Naperville with the arrival of Pizzeria Neo. With nary a checkered tablecloth to be had, the second outlet of this St. Charles-based purveyor of authentic Neapolitan-style pies transforms the vibe of the former Tangerine space from bright and bouncy to dark and hip, complete with loft ceiling, sleek furnishings and a pulsing ambient soundtrack.


Opening Acts

There’s more to Neo than just good looks, however. One dilemma most diners will run into from their first glance at the menu is likely to be meal planning and portion control. How do you sample all of the great starters and sides while still leaving room for the pizza?

Mozzarella sticks and cheesy bread get the night off here, replaced by a slate of nine different takes on bruschetta, available for order as a choose-your-own trio to split and share. We sampled a piled-high traditional tomato-onion-basil version that may have reset the template for this been-there-done-that Italian staple, along with a couple of interesting variations featuring unlikely toppings like artichoke hearts and sausage with sautéed rapini. We also opted for an order of meatballs in red sauce, if for no other reason than to score another handful of those deliciously rich crostini wedges that had served so well as the foundation for the bruschetta.

Alas, the process of picking and choosing inevitably left other worthy options by the wayside, which in this case meant taking a pass on the impressive antipasti bar—a gourmet buffet of 14 different varieties of spiced and cured Italian salumi, eight kinds of cheese and a host of peppers, olives, and artichoke hearts to round things out on mix-and-match platters of four, six or eight selections. One could easily envision grabbing a glass of wine to enjoy a rich and satisfying night at the bar without straying from this corner of the menu.


Pizza for Grown-Ups

But on this night we were eager to sample the main attraction at Neo – the authentic, wood-fired thin crust creations. We decided to go with two selections from the roster of 10, a classic Margherita with mozzarella and basil from the rosso (red sauce) division of the menu and a prosciutto and arugula combo from the bianco (olive oil) side. The outstanding 12-inch pies with perfectly blistered crusts were each cut into four generous wedges, perfect to fold for convenient New York-style eating—and extremely helpful in keeping the loose toppings of the prosciutto pie from spilling everywhere. As for red versus white, let’s call this one a delicious draw.

It was refreshing to find someone willing to declare “enough is enough” and take a stand to return pizza to its rightful place on the dining continuum. At Neo, that means viewing the crust more as an artist’s palette upon which to exercise handmade care and experiment with new flavors, as opposed to a factory palette upon which to pile as much stuff as the thing can structurally support.

It also means that things may finally be looking up again for pizza lovers in Naperville.

Pizzeria Neo
47 E. Chicago Avenue

Photos by Gregg Shapps