I thought it was a law that every college town had to have a great, old-time pizza joint, but Evanston is largely chains-ville for pizza. What they do have, though, is a first-rate, wood-fired Neapolitan pizza place in Union, a funky-hip spot attached to the Space performing... space. It has also spawned a spinoff, Union Squared, devoted to another regional pizza style — Detroit’s.
Stunning floor-to-ceiling windows and exposed wooden rafters lend an urban loft feel, and we were dazzled by the dozen-plus glass lights dangling over the bar. Couches and leather cubes near the entrance provide a perch for cocktailers, while a mostly local crowd comprised families, middle-agers, young professionals and dressed-up Northwestern students.From nearly every vantage point, you can spot the wood-burning pizza oven: a domed soapstone behemoth, custom-made by a Vermont craftsman. Our prosciutto and arugula pie featured the buttery meat atop an even more buttery bechamel sauce, crowned with lemon-kissed leaves and shaved parmesan ($14).Fifty wines ring in under $50, with 14 by the glass ($6-$11). A dizzying menu of 26 beers features Dogfish Head craft ales from Delaware, Samuel Smith organic ale from England and several Belgian-style brews.
Evanston has no shortage of restaurants, but this seems to be the one everyone was waiting for. Under a warehouse-high ceiling, the lounge, bar, and tables fill up fast—even on cold rainy nights. Literary types discuss Remembrance of Things Past over artisan beers, couples delight in meant-to-be-shared eggplant caponata, girlfriends start with orange-marinated olives and roasted beets with candied walnuts, and parents cheer for affordable daily plates like lasagne bolognese.....Union’s handcrafted pizza Margherita went on my permanent must-have list.
From the street, Evanston’s top spot for Neapolitan pizza looks like an old bank, scooped out and filled with the warm, low glow of Edison bulbs and a wood oven. The pies are indeed highly devourable, with toppings like lamb, eggplant and rosemary melting into crusty-crewy dough from the nearby Hewn bakery, not to mention classics like a well balanced (read: well-basiled) Margherita, but don’t overlook the small plates and daily specials. Octopus and squid are routinely cooked to the right tenderness, vegetables are clean and simple, and the molten eggplant parm, the Tuesday special, is a hot hug. Oh, and never neglect the Polenta pound cake, warmed in the oven and topped with a seasonal fruit compote, a carry over from chef Vince DiBattista’s more upscale Campagnola down the road. It’s more reason to come up to Evanston than taking in a show at SPACE, the concert hall in back that books name singer-songwriters, folkies and the outlying indie act.
The people behind Campagnola (just down the street in Evanston on Chicago Avenue) have a finger, or two, in the dough over here at Union, and judging by Campagnola’s great reputation, it won’t be hard to imagine the same good vibes for chilled-out Union.The service is pleasant and unobtrusively eager, touting helpful knowledge about the beer list and its comparables. The food is fresh and clean, made from local ingredients when possible, and it’s all still pretty affordable. Plus, the music is good without palpable effort, so there’s really not any reason why you won’t be back. Not a good one, anyway.