There is A LOT to see at the Chicago Pizza Kitchen (CPK). My Chicago born-and-bred bride loved the framed photographs of the Windy City’s incomparable skyline and distinct architecture. Bulls and Bears fans (not a reference to the stock market) will enjoy perusing photos and banners of Chicago’s sports teams. Students of the age of chivalry will gravitate to the restaurant’s northern-most corners where knights in shining armor (literally) stand guard. Military veterans like me will reminisce about our own experiences in service to our country as we peruse the photos depicting the military service of Chicago Pizza Kitchen’s owners. Some of us will linger longest at the POW-MIA table, one of the most poignant and thought-provoking sights at any Duke City restaurant.
Contemplating the meaning behind the POW-MIA table setting can bring you to tears, especially if you served or had family in the armed forces. A POW-MIA table has only one place setting, representing the frailty of one prisoner, alone against his or her suppressors. Fittingly the table is set close to the dining room entrance. There are a number of other symbols displayed on the table which military veterans will appreciate. Some of my brothers-in-arms (including my own dad, grandfather and three uncles) who saw combat no doubt ruminate “there, but for the Grace of God, go I.”
There are two CPK restaurants in Albuquerque, one in Eubank and one on Gibson. In the “About Us” section of the restaurant’s website, you’ll read that “Chicago Pizza Kitchen was born out of adversity after two disabled veterans partnered with a local franchise company who kindly robbed them of their life savings. Being like the flower who used the rainy days to grow, the owners used what they were taught during their military backgrounds; they dug deep and found the courage to push forward! What you see today is a result of love for food, customer service, and sheer perseverance!” In its November 2022 edition Albuquerque The Magazine which shined the spotlight on the Duke City’s pizza scene, it was revealed the two disabled veterans who own CPK go by “Mr. Clean and his wife.” Mr. Clean is inspired by Chicago’s burgeoning pizza scene and likes to visit new places just to remain current on how “classic Chicago-style pizza is being made so we can honor it here.” Honor is big at CPK.
You don’t have to be from Chicago to recognize that the Eubank location used to be a Long John Silver’s restaurant. No vestiges of the fast-food seafood shack remain. That’s especially true within the menu which bespeaks loudly of the foods for which “The City of Broad Shoulders” (one of seventeen nicknames for Chicago) is known. These are the foods on which my beautiful bride grew up. Aficionados of Chicago pizza will appreciate that fresh dough is made daily on the premises and all pizzas are hand-crafted. Locavores will love the fact that ingredients are locally sourced and all natural.
CPK’s website boasts of taking “great pride in making you the best tasting Chicago pie you have ever had!” If you’ve ever had pizza in the Windy City (or maybe in a Phoenix area offshoot of Lou Malnati’s or Giordano’s), you’ll find that claim rather audacious. If you grew up in Phoenix, CPK’s claim may be heretical or worse. For most of us, the term “Chicago pizza” has connotations of pizza as thick as a casserole, so thick Anthony Bourdain struggled with calling it pizza. In actuality, Chicago has five main pizza styles – deep dish, stuffed, pan, tavern and pizza pot pie. CPK offers “true authentic style” Chicago deep dish pies. That means cheese on the bottom, toppings in the middle and marinara smothered on top. You can pick one of the gourmet pies on the menu or be your own “pizza artist” and create your own.
While the emphasis on the name on the marquee is pizza, CPK offers a rather ambitious menu with eight appetizers, a fresh garden salad and “true Chicago pizzas” in small (personal), medium and large size. Our server told us each deep-dish pizza is about an inch-and-a-half thick. Also on the menu are specialty and create-your-own pizzas (pan, thin, gluten-free and more). Calzones, made on a twelve-inch dough stuffed with cheese and your choice of toppings, are served with a side of marinara. Even pasta–lasagna, spaghetti and ravioli–is on the menu. Last, but certainly not least, are a phalanx of sandwiches: the classic Italian beef, Italian sausage, meatball sandwich, Philly cheesesteak and a combo sandwich (sausage link and Italian sliced beef, sautéed bell pepper and onion on an Italian roll served with au jus and choice of hot or mild giardinera).
Among the eight appetizers are small breadsticks, large breadsticks and garlic bread. If, like us, we’re disinclined from having bread-based appetizers when you’re also having bread-based sandwiches or pizza, you might want to choose something else. It might be chicken bites, eight “nuggets” served with your choice of dressing. The golden-hued nuggets have a light, slightly crispy breading that gives way to tender chicken. They’re not bad, but not especially noteworthy save for the fact that they’re not more bread. Our dressing of choice was blue cheese which we were surprised to see served in packet form.
You might think that my Windy City wife would have wanted to rekindle tastes of home with a deep dish pizza, but we both love Italian beef and combo sandwiches even more than we love pizza. The FX series The Bear has fueled a spike in sales of the Italian beef sandwich at Chicago-specialty restaurants across the country. Italian beef sandwiches are THE quintessential Chicago sandwich, piles of thin-shaved roast beef slid au jus into a French roll and topped with giardiniera. It’s a magnificent sandwich. My Kim prefers onions, bell peppers and cheese to giardiniera and she likes her sandwich “wet” (momentarily immersed in the au jus) CPK doesn’t offer the Italian beef “wet,” but a side of the au jus is graciously provided. Otherwise, it’s an Italian beef sandwich the type of which she grew up with and still loves (maybe more than she loves me.)
Much as I like Italian beef sandwiches, I’m a “best of both worlds” type of guy who likes the Combo sandwich (Italian beef AND a sausage link) even more. For me, hot giardiniera is an absolute must–even if the sausage link has personality (heat). CPK’s version is quite good although the sausage link was rather small (though it has a nice bite). The giardiniera is quite good as is the au jus. Accompanying French fries are seasoned with garlic and parmesan.
Chicago Pizza Kitchen is owned and operated by disabled veterans. They proudly served their country. Let them now serve you: pizza, sandwiches, pasta and so much more.
Chicago Pizza Kitchen
4300 Eubank, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
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LATEST VISIT: 5 November 2022
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Combo Sandwich, Italian Beef Sandwich