For all our opinions about pizza, Chicagoans are still pretty open-minded. We’re known for deep dish, but we embrace thin-crust, St. Louis-style, Detroit-style, New Haven-style, and even 3D-printed Neapolitan hybrids brought to us by time travelers from the future. We’ll eat it all, unless it isn’t very good. Which is unfortunately the case with the pizza at Bar Cargo in River North.
Not everything about the pizza here is bad, so we’ll start with the good part: the crust. It’s Roman-style, so thicker and airier than a Neapolitan crust, and it has a crispness that holds up well to toppings. This would all be fantastic, if the toppings were good. But they’re problematic. Take the namesake Bar Cargo pizza, for instance, which has sausage, soppressata, meatballs, and pancetta. The meat tastes highly processed, it’s way too salty overall, and the cheese is thick and bland. The carbonara pizza, with pancetta, egg yolk, and pecorino cheese, has similar issues: all traces of the egg yolk flavor are masked by the saltiness and rubbery texture of the meat. It’s a shame that these ingredients overshadow a crust that would taste excellent on its own.
Other, non-pizza menu items are also disappointing. For example, the coccoli appetizer has balls of fried dough that are unpleasantly dense, plus stracciatella cheese that looks and tastes more like Laughing Cow. The tenderloin sliders have tough, too-dry buns that are almost impossible to bite through. The pear and arugula salad, with chopped dates and gorgonzola, has a nice balance of sweetness and saltiness, and the butternut squash ravioli is decent. However, at $14 and $17 respectively, those feel expensive for very average plates. There are other places doing better salads and pastas, and they have quality pizza, too.
Bar Cargo has loud music, dark wood decor, and neon signs on the walls that give everything a red glow. It reminds us a lot of a TGI Friday’s, and we’d be willing to overlook that if the food was better. But too much of it just doesn’t really work.
We take pizza seriously in this city, and there are a lot of good places to get it. You have to be doing something pretty impressive if you want your spot to be worth Chicagoans’ time. At the end of the day, there’s just too much great stuff going on elsewhere for you to eat Bar Cargo’s mediocre pies.
With the amount of meat on this pizza (sausage, soppressata, meatballs, and pancetta), you’d think it would manage to have some flavor other than salt. But that’s the primary thing you taste.
The meatballs on this pizza basically just taste like bigger pieces of sausage, but our server assured us they were not. Either way, they taste like the sausage on a frozen pizza.
The egg yolk on this pie gets lost in the overwhelming saltiness of the large, rubbery pieces of pancetta.
If you are going to have a pizza here, have this one. It’s topped with a bunch of tiny pachino tomatoes, spices, and no cheese. It’s basically a giant piece of bruschetta, which means the delicious crust has space to shine.
These balls of fried dough are tough and dense. They’re served with prosciutto and a stracciatella cheese that has an unpleasantly processed flavor.
Bar Cargo’s spin on arancini. These are made out of fried spaghetti carbonara instead of rice, and they’re tasty but greasy - they start to feel pretty heavy after a few bites. However, the arrabbiata sauce that comes on the side has a nice spicy flavor.
These sliders each have a thick slice of beef tenderloin, plus gorgonzola cheese and a red onion jam. The tenderloin itself is fine, but it doesn’t work with the buns, which are dry and tough. Not fun to eat.
A solid salad with pear, walnuts, gorgonzola, dates, and a balsamic reduction dressing we like. At $14, though, it doesn’t seem worth it.
The butternut squash ravioli is pretty good. Firm pasta, a brown butter sauce that works, and a good ratio of filling to dough. But again, it’s not $17 good.