Fans are taking to Joel Reno’s pizzas and creative Italian fare at Pistores Pizza & Pastry in River North, but it’s been a journey for the chef and wife Andrea Reno before the restaurant opened in late December at 546 N. Wells Street.
Prior to the pandemic, Joel Reno worked as executive pastry chef overseeing the restaurants at the Encore Boston Harbor. They reluctantly moved to Boston in 2018 but were determined to make things work on the east coast. But the Encore (with a casino and hotel operated by the embattled Steve Wynn) shut down in March 2020: “The pandemic was rough,” says Andrea Reno.
The Renos (who met while Joel taught and Andrea was a student at the French Culinary School) left Boston in December 2020 for Las Vegas before returning home to the Midwest. Joel Reno spent five years at Michelin-starred Everest. His resume also includes stops at Tru and Charlie Trotter’s. Now back in Chicago, 58-seat Pistoles is serving up some special pizza with two featured styles to start: a loving made Detroit square pie and a unique thin crust that Joel Reno has been perfecting for years. It’s not ultra thin like Chicago’s tavern-style or Boston’s cracker crusts.
But it’s not just about pizza. Andrea Reno is an experienced cake baker (she also drew the wall art for Pistores). She now has the space to expand her operations to make customized cakes for private events. But beyond that, there’s also a daytime cafe component to Pistores with pastries, gelato, and Metric coffee.
When Joel Reno left Chicago in 2010, he moved to San Francisco to work at Quince, and he’s bringing the Bay Area’s restaurant’s devotion to seasonality to Pisores. He’s creating his own cheese blend and topping his pies with premium ingredients. Customers won’t taste pedestrian button mushrooms on Pistoles’s pies. Joel Reno isn’t sure what pie will emerge as the customer favorite. He’s partial to the meatball with seasoned ricotta, mozzarella, and olives. There’s also Mary’s Pesto Pie which is named after his late aunt.
“She really loved the pie,” Joel Reno says. “It’s simple: tomatoes and a little bit of cheese with nice basil pesto on top.”
Detroit-style pizza has found an audience outside of the Motor City with pizzerias as far as New York and LA aping the square-cut pies with a buttery crust and caramelized edges. Pizza Hut even trotted out its version and the chain doesn’t even have a location in Detroit proper. The style dates back to back to the 1940s, but — much like Chicago-style deep dish and tavern-style — didn’t gain popularity until marketers pushed the “Detroit-style” label. Joel Reno lived in Detroit and that’s where his love for places like Buddy’s grew. But his version will be a little more amped-up compared to what eaters would find in the Mitten.
Beyond pizza, there are small and larger plates like a short rib parmesan sandwich, vegetable bouillabaisse, and an olive oil custard with braised artichokes and roasted mushrooms.
The menu will change. He also wants Chicago to enjoy dishes like an Alsatian Tarte flambes with a thin crust, Fromage blanc, bacon, and onion. Joel Reno also mentions a Turkish-style pie with lamb and pickled veggies that diners roll up to eat.
Joel Reno has also befriended Ahmad Haj, the co-owner of the Al’s Beef franchise down the street. Perhaps a collaboration could be in the works down the line. Not that anyone in the history of the world has ever attempted to put Italian beef on a pizza.
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Pistores Pizza & Pastry, 546 N. Wells Street, cafe opens from 8 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 8 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 8 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. on Sunday; full service starts at 10:30 a.m. daily.