A good pizza experience owes as much to the atmosphere as the actual pie itself. And what I've discovered in my travels is that vintage video games in the restaurant usually signal that a feast of epic grease proportions is at hand. Be lucky enough to find a joint with an old-school pinball machine, and mama mia you're in for a treat. You'll be happy to know that Candela's original location at Huguenot Road features a tabletop, sit-down, two-player Ms. Pac-Man machine, among several other classic arcade offerings.
There are, in fact, two Candela's locations on the South Side, each family owned and operated (a third location on Jefferson Davis Highway was recently sold and is no longer affiliated with the others). I focused on the original Huguenot Road store.
Owner Rocco Demasi likes to stay out of the New York-Chicago debate; as a first generation Italian-American who honed his culinary skills throughout The Boot, his take is truly Italian. "Candela's is closer to New York style, but our pizza is made from an old family recipe," he says.
He credits Candela's success over the past dozen years to his customers. "We barely have to advertise because our customers, they tell their friends, and the word gets around," he says. And that's what makes Candela's special, he says the people. "We have a family atmosphere. We get to be friends with our customers," Demasi insists. "We do things the way we think is right."
I must say that I agree, and I do like Candela's, even though I was born and bred in Chicago. The crust on Candela's pies is crisp yet chewy; the sauce sweet and tangy with rich tomato goodness; and the mozzarella loaded with enough whole-milk fat to glaze the whole top with the delightful luster of greasy ecstasy. Pizzas range in price from $4.90 for a personal to $10 for a large (with cheese only, that is), and there's always a special on two large pies with one topping for $17.49.
My only real quibble is with some of the toppings. Call me a traditionalist, but I think Italian sausage on a pizza should be ground not sliced, and it should go on raw to allow the fatty goodness of the meat to mingle with that of the cheese in a mélange of artery-clogging, palate-pleasing satisfaction. Other than that, I have to say that Candela's offers up a truly decent pizza. Maybe a spritz of basil and oregano before it hit the oven would put it more squarely in the pocket, but hey they do provide the requisite red pepper flakes and Parmesan at the table, so you can doctor it to your liking.
Isn't that what's so wonderful about pizza anyway? The choices. Candela's has loads of options for its signature dish. You can customize to no limit. They also offer a variety of traditional Italian dishes, including chicken and veal entrees ($11-$16), and lots of pasta served with melted cheese and homemade marinara.
On a typical Friday night, you'll find yourself dining amid a sea of families with small children. And you're not unlikely to see a couple of high school kids on their first date. Candela's is a wonderful choice for both families and those looking to grab a decent slice before heading out on the town.
The debate is sure to rage on. Every-one's got their favorite 'za. When I'm not close to my East End digs and able to hit Carini in Varina for my fix of pie, I'll be heading back to Candela's; at least until we get some Second City stuffed pizza up in this joint. S
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