(Published May 21, 2019)
By Jesse Wright, Managing Editor
Ryan Evans has pie-in-the-sky dreams. Well, pizza pie-in-the-sky dreams.
Evans is the executive chef at Streeterville Pizzeria and Tap and in May he unveiled the neighborhood eatery’s new menu complete with some ambitious new flavors he hopes will rake in awards—and maybe national attention.
Evans should know pizza.
“My grandfather and I used to make pizza when I was a kid,” he said. “My very first memory is pouring water into the mixing bowl.”
He’s long since graduated from his home kitchen and, at almost 33, he’s been making pizzas professionally for more than 17 years (he had to get a waiver to begin his kitchen work as a minor) and last year he won his first award at a Las Vegas pizza competition wherein he placed third in the mid-America pizza classica division.
“I prepared for a couple of months,” Evans explained. “That was in 2018 and I went out to Las Vegas and met some really good people and did pretty decent. I really used that as an opportunity to meet the higher ups in the pizza community.”
One of those people was Leo Spizzirri, a master pizza instructor at The Scuola Italiana Pizzaioli in Lisle. The Scuola Italiana Pizzaioli is one of two such pizza schools in the United States, and it is affiliated with the oldest pizza schools in Italy. Evans, of course, signed up for a course.
“It’s five days, 40 hours and it teaches fundamental dough chemistry, the physicality of working in a pizzeria and a whole bunch of hands-on chemistry,” he said.
After the course, Evans said he worked with Spizzirri as an assistant for another six months, where he dove into dough chemistry and worked out what he believes is the best blend of dough for Streeterville Pizzeria. His dough is part fermented whole wheat dough, sourdough and high-gluten King Arthur dough for a crust that’s slightly sour and sweet and it takes five days to make as sourdough requires time for fermentation.
Besides the dough, Evans has spent his time at Streeterville Pizzeria tinkering away, redeveloping the whole pizza menu, with emphasis on a Detroit-style pie that is simple and also delicious. He tries to follow the Italian rule for pizzas—the toppings can at most include five ingredients, and two are sauce and cheese.
“So Detroit-style pizza is a rectangle or square pizza,” he said. “It’s an inch of fluffy focaccia bread with a golden crown of cheese baked around the side. It’s delicious and it’s pretty unique in Chicago.”
But he acknowledges Chicago is a hard city for pizza chefs. Everyone is a critic and, with a wealth of renowned pizza spots, it can be hard to stand out. But Evans is confident he’s got what it takes to win in Chicago and, he hopes, in Italy.
“Chicago is a very tough city, and we don’t have a huge foot print here,” he said. “We can’t do quantity so quality will have to be our mark.”