Smile Politely

A date night of Neapolitan-style pizza at Pizzeria Antica

A pizza with melted mozzarella.
Margherita speciale at Pizzeria Antica; Photo by Alyssa Buckley

Pizza has been on my mind. First, it was this year’s SP‘s March Madness Tournament, and that got me hungry for Old Orchard’s pizza. Then Chase wrote about Garcia’s Pizza in a Pan, Tayler shared Esquire’s white garlic pizza, and last week, Grace wrote about the slices from Vinny’s Pizza by the Slice.

My brain has been pizzapizzapizza as of late, so when my husband asked where we should go for our anniversary, I wanted somewhere that had pizza. Even though this year our anniversary fell on Monday — the most tragic day of the week for a special occasion — we still wanted to go out, so I picked Pizzeria Antica, the sit-down pizzeria along the little stretch of Chester Street between Walnut and Neil in Downtown Champaign.

The entrance to a pizzeria has a host stand with a tiled front reading "Pizzeria Antica" plus a sign on a stand.
Alyssa Buckley

Inside, the restaurant had tall ceilings and minimalist Italian decor.

An empty pizzeria with tabkles set for diners.
Alyssa Buckley

Our table had a view (albeit far) of the pizzeria’s wood-fired, hand-built Stefano-Ferrara ovens, that the owner, a certified pizzaiolo, imported from Naples.

The interior of an empty restaurant, set for dinner.
Alyssa Buckley

Other times we’ve gone with a group, they’ve sat us in this cool front room with barstools and peeks of pedestrian traffic on Chester Street.

Two wine glasses on a wooden table, one has a red liquid with an orange slice, and on the right, there is a reddish purple liquid with small ice cubes.
Aperol spritz and negroni at Pizzeria Antica; Photo by Alyssa Buckley

I’m always thirsty, so I wanted to order the restaurant’s cocktails: Antica #1 and Antica #2, both over crushed ice. On the left, the Antica #1 was an Aperol spritz ($12), a concoction of Aperol, prosecco, and Italian sparkling water. I love the bitter-fruity taste of Aperol, and this was a spot-on Aperol spritz in the sip: super bubbly, clearly made with a freshly popped bottle — even on a Monday. My spritz was garnished with a candy orange slice — a first for me. I was disappointed to see the sticky sweetmeat instead of a fresh orange slice, but my husband was all too thrilled to eat the gelatin treat.

A negroni in a wine glass.
Negroni at Pizzeria Antica; Photo by Alyssa Buckley

My husband ordered the Negroni ($12), which had dry gin, Campari, and vermouth. I’ve had a Negroni before, and SP has written about Negronis before (and again and again). Antica’s looked different than other Negronis I’ve seen, but it tasted deliciously bitter and boozy under a crunchy crest of ice.

For dinner, we ordered three pizzas to split (and eat for leftovers the next day).

A pizza with gobs of mozzarella.
Margherita speciale at Pizzeria Antica; Photo by Alyssa Buckley

First, we ordered the Margherita speciale ($22) because on the menu, this one was in a special box, and it had “speciale” in the name, so that sounded like a must. The pizza was the epitome of simple ingredients: crust, cheese, tomato sauce, and basil — that’s it. But this cheese was no ordinary cheese; it was fresh mozzarella di Bufala, handmade in Campania, Italy. The sauce had San Marzano tomatoes, the Ferrari of canned tomatoes. The dough was handmade in-house using the finest grade of Italian flour: Antimo Caputo’s Tipo 00, and then cooked in the special Italian ovens. So yes, it was delicious.

The mozz was gooey, melty, and utterly tasty, and I wished there was more of it. The crust was as thin as a cracker yet so soft and wonderfully chewy. We loved tasting the quality elements together: the yeasty tang of the dough, acidic tomato, occasional basil, and liquefied cheese.

A pizza topped with arugula on a white plate.
Diavola pizza at Pizzeria Antica; Photo by Alyssa Buckley

We also ordered the Diavola ($18), which had Calabrese salami, Calabrese peppers, fresh mozzarella, fresh arugula, and Parmigiano Reggiano. Another example of simplicity done well, this pizza was yummy. I liked the spicy flavor of the hot peppers and the vibrant, vegetal taste of the greens over the same delicious wood-fired crust. Our server warned us that this pizza would be very spicy and ensured we understood and were okay with it. We expected it to be extremely spicy, but it was just slightly spicy, so don’t be too worried.

A pepperoni pizza on a white plate.
Pepperoni at Pizzeria Antica; Photo by Alyssa Buckley

Lastly, we ordered my favorite pizza of all pizzas: the pepperoni ($18). Antica’s pepperoni pizza had the same artisan, handmade crust, San Marzano tomatoes, bit of basil, and Italian mozz but was topped with a deliciously indulgent amount of pepperoni. These weren’t weak, paper-thin pepps. No, these were the good kind: the greasy, thick, little porky pepperoni slices that curled into cups and charred just along edges in an intensely hot oven. Just look at the pools of grease! God, I want to eat this pepperoni ‘za with a little Aperol buzz again.

We didn’t save any room for dessert, but Pizzeria Antica does offer gelato.

On a wooden table, there is a metal pizza cutter on a red napkin with a black carrier of olive oil, pepper, sea salt, pepper, and a candle in a red jar.
Alyssa Buckley

All three of our pizzas were served with a pizza slicer, so we determined the size of the slices. Sea salt, black pepper, red pepper, and olive oil were also available for tableside zhuzhing.

A brick building with greens growing on the left side.
Alyssa Buckley

Overall, I totally recommend Pizzeria Antica for a date night. It was a nice night of yummy, dine-in pizza. The service was great, and the pizza was a delicious a taste of Naples, Italy right here in Champaign, Illinois.

For more about the restaurant, check out Pizzeria Antica’s website here.

Pizzeria Antica
10 E Chester St
Champaign
M-Th 4 to 9 p.m.
F+Sa 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

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