Culinarily Diverse

The Loop has brought a winning bit of the Windy City to Oro Valley

If I could pick one U.S. city in which to take an eating tour, it would be Chicago. From the cheesy, saucy, deep-dish Chicago-style pizza, to the unique Chicago dog, to the controversy over high-brow foie gras (it was banned for a period in the city), it's one culinarily diverse place.

Luckily, you don't have to brave the snow and cold to get a little taste of the north. The locally owned Loop Taste of Chicago delivers more than just a little taste, with big portions and big flavors. The brick façade and Chicago-sports-themed decor even conjure up images of the Windy City, though inside, the decor feels a little bit like that of a chain restaurant.

The can't-miss items on their menu are the pizzas. Both the thin-crust and the classic super-deep-dish Chicago-style pizza are hot, crispy and loaded with toppings. They even come in individual sizes, so you're covered if not eating with a crowd. The 10-inch thin-crust "heart-stopper" ($14.50) was loaded with ground beef, Italian sausage, bacon, pepperoni and ham, and had the perfect sauce-to-cheese ratio, which is important on thin-crust pizzas to assure that the crust isn't soggy and can adequately support the toppings.

The individual-size deep-dish pizza looks small, but packs a hefty punch. The six small slices of the Sicilian ($9.79) were deceptively filling, laden with mushrooms, artichoke hearts, black olives, peppers and pepperoni; it was appropriately sauced on top, like every good Chicago-style pizza should be, with a little nontraditional sprinkle of feta cheese, which was a tasty touch.

Though the pizzas are the highlight of the menu, the Loop has a wide range of appetizers, from pot stickers ($8.99) to steamed mussels ($12.99) and hot wings ($8.99). Though the mussels looked tempting, we stuck with a few traditional favorites, the hot wings and the potato skins ($8.99 each), which were tasty but unremarkable. The "bruchetta" ($7.99) was a delightful surprise; the bread was lightly toasted and warm, and topped with a medley of bite-sized chunks of fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and red onion, plus a hint of basil and olive oil. It was more like a chopped Caprese salad than a bruschetta, but was delicious nonetheless.

The Loop Taste of Chicago also offers a nice wine and beer selection, as well as a martini and specialty-drink list. The menu has a wide range of selections, including the ubiquitous Chicago dog, hot and cold sandwiches and burgers, pastas, salads, and fish, chicken and beef entrées. The chicken marsala ($13.99) was expertly prepared, smothered in mushrooms and served with crisp steamed broccoli and fettuccine alfredo; however, the portion size was a little small compared to other items on the menu. The pasta de Loop ($13.99) was a nice, hearty blend of not-too-spicy Italian sausage chunks, large (and still crunchy) bites of green pepper and onion, mushrooms, tomatoes, Parmesan cheese and garlic. The menu says that it includes spinach, but I couldn't find any, though I didn't think its absence detracted from the complexity of the pasta's flavors.

One of my favorite dishes was the iceberg wedge salad ($8.99), which is often a boring dish, but here, it was dressed up with crispy fried wonton strips and a generous portion of julienned cucumbers. The fresh, crisp ingredients made the salad.

Prepare to walk out of the Loop with a to-go container, but if you still have room, don't miss dessert. The selection ranges from gelato to cheesecake to a hot cookie à la mode (all $6.95 each). We opted for the cookie and weren't disappointed. A large chocolate-chip cookie, hot out of the oven, came to the table with almost a pint of vanilla ice cream on top, covered in whipped cream and butterscotch syrup (you choose among syrup flavors), with two maraschino cherries on top. The cookie was crunchy on the outside, gooey in the middle, and heavenly.

The Loop Taste of Chicago delivers exactly what the name promises—a little taste of Chicago (or a big taste)—along with prompt, friendly service and a tasty menu that's sure to please with its wide selection. Just come hungry.

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