COVID has turned me into a ridiculously awkward turtle. I remember a time when small talk, large parties, and a packed social calendar had me brimming with excitement. Now I need a liter of Titos and a hype man just to get me through the smallest public encounter. Thank the Lord Jesus for my go to ice breaker question when I’m feeling a bit awk, “What is your ultimate death row meal?” I can unequivocally say, eight times out of then, the answer is pizza.
I knew I wasn’t the only one. On a recent family vacay to Laguna Beach, I was blessed to dine at a fantastic pizza joint, NEApolitan Pizzeria, that serves traditional Neapolitan pie, and I didn’t know if I would ever find a pizza that could compare. To my surprise, I stumbled upon a pizza just as amazing at Pizzeria Antica, right here in Downtown Champaign: thin, crispy pizza baked in a wood-burning oven at a very high temperature served with only the freshest toppings.
I know Pizzeria Antica has been around for awhile I just hadn’t been yet. The space was huge yet homey and showed off its red wood-burning ovens, hand-built in Naples, as soon as I walked in the door. I visited Antica for lunch on a cold, snowy Friday with five friends. There was plenty of metered parking on Church Street and the surrounding area. Once we arrived, we were told to pick a table anywhere as it wasn’t incredibly busy at that time. Our server was friendly and greeted us promptly to take drink orders.
The menu consists mostly of antipasti, salads, pizza and gelato. Soft drinks, espresso, beer, and wine are also available.
We chose to start off with the caprese salad ($6). Tiny nuggets of Mozzarella, tomato, basil and a drizzle of balsamic made for the perfect bite. I would have liked a bit more basil in the salad (okay, a lot more basil), but the flavors were still delicious — and it was pretty to look at.
All four of our pizzas came out at just the right time. I appreciated that they were served simultaneously so everyone could grab a slice of their favorite instead of waiting impatiently while watching your homies stuff their pie-holes while you seethe hangrily on the inside — or maybe that’s just me.
The traditional Margherita pizza ($14) did not disappoint. Crushed San Marzano tomato sauce, fresh basil, and mozzarella atop a thin, piping hot and crispy yet chewy crust made for an Italian party in my mouth. The simplicity of the ingredients proves just how fresh the toppings are: zero frills and tons of flavor.
Our second pizza, the Pomodorini ($16), was a sauce-less pizza with aged prosciutto, grape tomatoes, peppery arugula, and giant shaved chunks of Parmesan. I enjoyed the light and fresh flavors, but I had quickly become such a fan of Antica’s red sauce that I missed its deliciousness on the Pomodorini. It’s really all a matter of the diner’s preference and palate on this.
Pizza number three: a basic pepperoni ($16). I feel guilty even saying such a thing about her because she was so incredibly delicious. The mildly spicy pepperoni crisped and curled up perfectly under the high heat of the wood burning oven. Little bites of basil, along with that amazingly light red sauce, made this pizza a table favorite. It was definitely not too spicy for the kids but beyond flavorful enough for all of the grown-ups in our dining party.
Honestly, I never knew I could taste four different pizzas in one sitting and be wowed by each and every one of their unique flavor profiles. The Cantalupo ($16) was easily the star of the show. The same fresh San Marzano tomato sauce, same fresh Mozzarella, whole basil, finely chopped spicy Italian sausage, and calabrese peppers were such an outstanding combo I thought I had been teleported directly to Naples. The sweet sauce nicely offset the zing in the meat while the Mozzarella cheese pull was Instagram worthy.
No Italian meal would be complete without dessert, am I right? Pizzeria Antica offers multiple flavors of gelato, brought in from Chicago, to satisfy all your sweet desires.
My party tried every flavor ranging from salted caramel to pistachio to simple yet delicious chocolate and vanilla ($3 per cup).
To my surprise, the strawberry gelato was top tier: so creamy, not too sweet, and delightfully fresh. I wanted to take the whole vat home and bathe myself in its fruity goodness.
Pizzeria Antica may have just surpassed some of my all-time favorite pizza joints in CU —and I’ve eaten hella pizza, y’all. While delivery is available via Pizzeria Antica’s website, it is run by a third-party service. I would highly suggest a dine-in experience for the freshest pizza, salads, gelato, and cute atmosphere.
10 E Chester St
M-Th 4 to 9 p.m.
F+Sa 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.