Five years after opening Passero and three years after its expansion and relocation to a bigger space, the owners of the popular downtown Arlington Heights restaurant are getting ready to open their latest venture just down the block: a New York-style pizza joint.
Chuck’s Famous Pizza, at 6 S. Dunton Ave., is an ode to the many pizzerias with “famous” in their titles that dot New York City. It was inspired by a recent visit to the Big Apple, said Matt Peota, the one-time Rick Bayless sous chef who went out on his own to open Passero in 2017.
“We had a management outing in New York City and had a light-bulb moment,” Peota said. “There’s definitely a pizza renaissance going on right now.”
Peota, his wife, Rikki, and their team planned to open a seafood restaurant in the Dunton Avenue storefront space left vacant by Vietnamese eatery Pho An Heights. In fact, the formal name of their limited liability company — Chuck’s Seafood AH — was listed on the Monday night agenda for the village board, which issued the business a liquor license for beer and wine sales.
The seafood concept was an outgrowth of Passero’s so-called ghost kitchen that operated in early 2021 called Chuck’s Dockside, which offered a carryout and delivery menu of clam chowder, bisque, lobster rolls, and coconut and garlic shrimp.
But costs for seafood like crab and lobster became prohibitive, so they pivoted to pizza.
Peota said his pizzeria will have one holdover from that menu — baked clams, on weekends — but otherwise it’ll be focused on the large, foldable New York-style slices and the square Brooklyn/Sicilian-style slices.
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There will be five or six varieties of pizza available by the slice at any given time, or you can build your own, Peota said. Whole pies will be sold, too.
Hot and cold heroes — what might be called submarines elsewhere — will include meatball, eggplant Parmesan and turkey.
“We did research and spent hours and days and weeks in New York City going back and forth,” Peota said. “We worked with pizza makers to make sure we got the recipes the right way.”
Even the interior decor was inspired by Gotham. Highland Park artist Carli Milstein, who grew up with Peota, designed and painted the walls to look like graffitied brick.
“It’s a fun environment. It’s all New York-style. We tried to bring part of New York streets inside the restaurant,” Peota said.
There’s also posters of 1990s grunge and alternative bands like Peota’s favorite, Nirvana, on the walls. The restaurant will have TV shows from the era playing, as well as arcade games.
Village trustees Monday night praised Peota and his team for opening another restaurant in the downtown. Passero is down the block at 3 S. Evergreen Ave.
“I really enjoy your story,” Trustee John Scaletta told Peota. “And I really enjoy that you guys opened in a smaller place; I remember going there and having to sit at the bar because there were no seats available. And it always had great food. And then (it) moved over to a great location with the round front and having the outdoor patio. I really like that.
“I’m amazed that when people talk about downtown Arlington Heights and they talk about their favorite restaurants — these are people that don’t live in Arlington Heights — years ago it was always about La Tasca and Carlos & Carlos, and recently now it’s more about Passero. “Although I have nothing to do with your success, I take great pride in that people are talking about Passero because I’m just so happy that a family business not only started here but grew here.”
Chuck’s — named after Peota’s grandfather Chuck and daughter Charlee — is set to open Nov. 30, with regular hours seven days a week from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.