Bono’s – Real Chicago Food?

Although I’ve been referred to as a food or restaurant critic by friends and acquaintances (usually with a smirk), I shy away from the term and would never use it to describe myself.  After all, someone with the word “critic” in their description usually gets paid for their output.  I consider myself a food enthusiast, and as such I try to focus more on the positive.  If I find a restaurant’s food to be mediocre or otherwise not suiting my particular tastes, but not really bad, I usually won’t bother writing them up at all.  If I think the prices are a wee bit high, I usually keep my mouth shut.  Atrocious customer service is more likely to get a public mention from me, if only on Urbanspoon or my Facebook page.  But if you stack up two or three of these kinds of issues, I’m probably going to be tempted to let people know that their money would be better spent elsewhere.  You can probably tell where I’m going with this, but if you’re the kind of person who likes details, click the link and allow me to elaborate…

I think it’s important to note that I didn’t have any problem with Bono’s when I first walked through their door the day they opened (April 1, which I find a little bitterly amusing now).  I was actually really excited to try the place.  I’d been following the developments on their Facebook page, watching for updates on their website, and everything I saw led me to believe that we were in for something special.  After all, it’s not like Chicago cuisine is well-represented here: there’s hot dogs at Taste of Chicago during limited lunch-only hours, Italian beef sandwiches at Jerry’s 27th Street Market once a month or so, and Chicago Connection (I guess), but that’s about it.  Once their opening date was announced, I counted down the days to when I’d finally be able to buy a decent deep dish pizza or get an Italian beef sandwich on a regular basis.  Their location in the Fred Meyer plaza on Linder and Chinden in Meridian made it impossible to make it there on my lunch break, but after work I headed straight over, hoping to beat the evening rush.

I needn’t have worried, there were only three or four other customers in the joint when I walked in.  Since it was a solo visit, I decided to hold off on pizza and try one of the sandwiches that looked so damn good on the menu.

I opted for both sweet peppers and giardiniere, though since I didn’t know how hot theirs was, I ordered it on the side.  Making the sandwich took only a couple of minutes, so since it wasn’t worth sitting down, I used the time to scope the place out.  It’s actually pretty spacious, and the extremely high ceilings make it feel even more so.

There’s a little bar area, a room that can be reserved for private parties, and down a short hallway you’ll find a graffiti-esque painting of a giant Chicago hot dog on one side and restrooms on the other, the genders represented by a painting of a baseball player and another of a cheerleader.

The first hint that something wasn’t right happened right when I was called back to grab my sandwich.  Take a look at that picture from their menu again.  Go ahead, I’ll wait.  This is what I actually received…

Shades of Falling Down

I was a little incredulous.  Was this all there was?  A handful of meat and three strips of sweet pepper?  Where was the crusty, toasted bread, spilling over with thinly sliced beef and dripping with dark meat juices?  And where were the chips from the picture?  According to the menu, chips aren’t even an available option.  Oh well, though the fillings were a bit skimpy, they were still pretty good (though not as good as Jerry’s).  And I couldn’t even be that upset about the bread because the style is pretty common, I just hoped for something more based on that picture.

Side of giardiniere

The giardiniere definitely helped, both in terms of flavor and by adding a little more substance.  All in all not a bad sandwich, but a little disappointing.  Still, it was their first day open and I assumed that they were probably still working out the kinks.  I figured that next time I wanted the sandwich, I would just have to hope they left the bread in the oven a little longer that day.  Either way, I still considered Bono’s promising enough at that point that I talked some of my loved ones into trying their pizza with me a couple of days later.  And that, dear readers, is when things got ugly.

Really study this, it comes into play later.

It was about 7 PM on Wednesday when we placed our pizza order.  I had anticipated a bit of a wait due to the restaurant having just opened the same week, but I was hoping the fact that it was a weeknight would temper it a bit.  Not so much, as it turns out.  We were told it would be at least a 90 minute wait for deep dish since they were backed up and only have one oven for pizzas (?!).  Still, I was committed to the idea at this point and placed the order.  Even though the pizzas were only twelve-inchers, we figured two Chicago deep dish pies that size should be enough.  The second unpleasant surprise was when I was told that, unlike with the thin crust pizzas, there were no specialty or combination options for deep dish; we would have to pay an extra dollar per topping.  So, the standard combo of pepperoni, sausage, peppers, onions and olives would increase the price of $16 to $21.  Like I said, I was committed.  For the second pie, we ordered one that was half sausage and half just cheese.  I made sure to specify the just cheese thing three times since we had a vegetarian in the group.  Only one additional topping meant this one was a relatively cheaper $17. 

My sister’s boyfriend and I were the ones dispatched to pick up the pizzas, and we timed our departure so that we’d get to Bono’s about 20 minutes before the pizzas were to be done so that we could hit Fred Meyer and buy some soda.  I poked my head in for a time estimate and were told that the pizzas were ready and they’d just been waiting for us to show up.  I was really irritated by this, having no idea how long my food had been aging under heat lamps or something.  Regardless, we paid the bill and stuck the pizzas in the trunk so we could dash over and pick up our drinks.  All of this plus a fifteen minute drive meant the pizzas were pretty luke warm by the time we got them home.

Before we go any further, I want you to look at the Google Images results for “Chicago Pizza”.  Seriously, go ahead.  I’ll wait. 

Welcome back.  So, I opened up the first box, and that is what I saw:

No, it doesn’t come with cards.  Those are for perspective.

First of all, I have to give them points for being so generous with the sausage.  So generous in fact that it spilled over onto the side that was supposed to be plain cheese.  And what was with all the extra crust standing up around the edges?

Deep dish pizza?

Remember those pictures I just had you look at?  Hell, scroll up and look at the picture from their own menu.  Are they using stock photos or something?  Actually yes, THEY TOTALLY ARE USING STOCK PHOTOS.  This thing is supposed to be a pie, and it has about the same amount of substance as a pizza from the freezer section of the grocery store.  There wasn’t even any sauce on it that I could detect.  How pathetic would a plain cheese pizza in this style be?  I opened the other box and was confronted with much the same thing, just with a wider variety of toppings and a ladle or two of sauce dumped on top of it.  While we were in the kitchen staring at these in disbelief, my mother came in.  After a quick look, she said “There’s no way those are twelve inches”, and went to get a measuring tape.

Words fail me, I’m still too angry.

The sausage pizza was roughly 9 1/2″ across.  The combination was closer to 9 3/4″.  Neither was anywhere close to twelve inches.  After a brief discussion, it was agreed that I would call to complain and see what they had to say.  I told the young lady who answered the phone that I wanted to speak to a manager, and she immediately told me that she was passing me to the owner, a woman named Pamela.  I briefly described the situation to Pamela, who apologized and said she was going to have me speak to the pizza manager, which raised my eyebrow.  I forget the man’s name, but I briefly explained the situation again, and then there was some conferring on the other end of the phone before the pizza manager came back and told me that the 12″ described on the menu was a typo, and the deep dish pizzas are actually only 10″.  This made the price even more shocking, as far as I was concerned.  I reiterated that the pizzas were not even ten inches across, barely had any toppings, and that one of them had been made wrong despite my having gone over it several times with the woman who had taken my order.  The pizza manager apologized, but then went right back to trying to justify that what I saw as blatantly false advertising was merely just a typographical error.  This seriously went on for almost five minutes, with me trying to explain that the whole situation was insulting at best and consumer fraud at worst, and by this time I was in such a state of disbelief and so angry that I was actually laughing.  Since it was obvious that nothing was going to be done about the situation other than him basically saying “Oops” over and over again, I told the pizza manager that he could explain it any way he wanted, but a lot of people were going to hear about this.

After hanging up the phone, we pried the slices loose from the inappropriate paper they were sitting on which had come apart and stuck to the cheese, and zapped them in the microwave.  My mother and sister were too disgusted to eat the stuff at this point.  One of the children just plain didn’t like the pizza.  For my own part, I thought the sausage one was decent for a pizza with a cracker-thin crust and no sauce.  The sausage was good and there was a lot of it, and that’s all there really is to say about that one.  The combination pizza had so much sauce dumped on top of it that it was really the only thing I could taste, the other toppings lending not much other than a little texture.  I didn’t even notice any pepperoni, though I’d paid for it.  At some point while we ate, Pamela left me a voicemail offering me a couple of complimentary thin crust pizzas, and once again explaining the typo situation.  As far as I was concerned, it was too little too late.  I did not want any more of their food, even for free, and repeated smoke-blowing about the typo thing just kept making me angrier.  And lest you think this is just some kind of personal vendetta, check the posts from other people on their Facebook page.  More of these kinds of comments are cropping up by the day.

My sister’s beau and I agreed that the two pizzas were worth about $20 total, $25 at most if we wanted to be really generous.  Not inedible at all but definitely not worth a return visit.  As of today, their website menu still shows the deep dish pizza as being 12″.  I haven’t been back in to see if they’ve fixed their in-house menus, and I have no intention of returning to do so.  Today as I was balancing out my checkbook, I came across this…

Wow.  That typo certainly gets around, doesn’t it?  It’s lucky they’re an independent business, this is the kind of thing that results in lawsuits these days.

Food:  Nothing special.  I will continue to get my dogs at Taste of Chicago and my Italian beef from Jerry’s.  Chicago-style pizza?  I guess I’m just out of luck.  C-
Value:  No matter how many inches you get for the price, it’s still too much.  D+
Service:  They’re either lying to me or to everyone else.  Take a ruler, kids.  F
Atmosphere:  It was pretty pleasant the first time I went.  I’m sure it’s busier and noisier now, but either way I won’t be going back.  B
Final Grade:  D-