› Where: Old Chicago Pizza & Taproom, 2006 Hamilton Place Blvd.; second location: 250 Northgate Mall Drive
› Hours: 11 a.m.-2 a.m. daily
› Prices: $3.49 for cheese garlic bread to $25.99 for large Meat Me Pizza
› Alcohol: Full bar
› Phone: 423-352-9095
› Website: www.oldchicago.com
Chicago-style pizza is a unique beast in the world of pizza, one that has been hard to find in Chattanooga — until relatively recently.
Old Chicago Pizza & Taproom opened in the Hamilton Place mall area late last year, giving local pizza fans two places to find the thick-style pizza. This is the chain's second Chattanooga restaurant; it has had a Northgate Mall location since late 2014.
Old Chicago offers pizza and a wide variety of other fare paired with an extensive selection of craft beer in a fast-casual atmosphere suitable for families and groups of friends.
The new Hamilton Place Old Chicago Pizza & Taproom is located just off Interstate 75 near Regal Cinemas Hamilton Place 8, making it convenient for grabbing dinner or drinks before or after seeing a movie. The location also makes it easy to get in and out without too much hassle from the sometimes-hectic mall traffic.
The building is new and features an expansive bar as well as booths and tables that can accommodate large and small groups. Several televisions make watching sports with a group easy anywhere in the restaurant.
The store is clean and comfortable, similar to many fast-casual restaurants.
While pizza is the culinary selling point at Old Chicago, the menu offers a wide variety that includes wings, pasta, calzones, burgers, sandwiches and sandwiches.
As with many chain restaurants, the menu can be a bit daunting with so many choices, and could easily be cut in half. Most folks likely stick to the pizza for which the restaurant is named.
There are 11 specialty pizzas available, and customers can create their own pizza and calzones. Pizzas come in three styles: Chicago Thick, Tavern Thin and Ale-Infused dough. The restaurant has 40 draft beers and more than 90 craft beers available on the menu, according to an earlier story in the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
A kids menu and desserts are also available, and the chain's OC Rewards program offers awards, gifts and free food for regular customers.
A Sunday afternoon late lunch started with artichoke cheese bread from the Tavern Bites menu of small appetizers. The artichoke dip and cheese on ciabatta bread with spicy marinara was tasty and just enough to start the meal.
For the main course, a medium Double Deckeroni on Chicago Thick crust seemed to be good pizza choice. The thick cornmeal crust was light and fluffy, and the pizza was served hot from the oven in its cooking pan.
The toppings on the double order of pepperoni with hot sauce and parsley were basic but good, although with such a thick crust a little more pizza sauce would have helped keep the crust from dominating the flavor.
On a Sunday afternoon visit, the service at Old Chicago Pizza & Taproom was outstanding. Seating was quick despite a busy restaurant full of families and friends watching golf and other sports as they enjoyed their meals.
The order was taken by Ali, a friendly and helpful server who offered advice and checked regularly on the quality of the food as well as keeping drinks refreshed. She boxed up the leftover pizza to take home and made the experience a pleasant one.
In the crowded and competitive world of fast-casual dining, good service can make or break a franchise. Ali was an asset to Old Chicago Pizza & Taproom on that afternoon.
There are a lot of locally owned pizza restaurants in Chattanooga, and many of them are excellent at what they do. With a crowded menu and a standard formula, Old Chicago Pizza & Taproom may not totally measure up to that type of competition.
But with locations near Chattanooga's two malls and the I-75 corridor, it's likely that isn't their primary competition. This is a restaurant looking to stand out in the world of chain restaurants and offer a good meal and good time to travelers and those visiting the mall area to shop or catch a movie.
In that context, Old Chicago Pizza & Taproom offers something different with its Chicago-style pizza served by a friendly staff in a convenient location. The food is prepared fast and well, and the service seems to be very good at the Hamilton Place location.
It's a friendly and welcoming place to get a style of pizza that's hard to find in Chattanooga.
Contact Jim Tanner at JFTanner@gmail.com. Follow him at twitter.com/JFTanner.