A clinical social worker with a degree from the University of Chicago, Goldsmith was living and working in Florence in the 1980s while his wife, Ginny, was going to art school, and he was absolutely loving it. When the couple returned to the Windy City with their young daughter, Sarah, he felt he had left a part of his soul behind.
The couple bought a building in the Ravenswood neighborhood of Chicago, and Goldsmith began volunteering as a cook at a social service agency serving the homeless of Uptown. On a flight back to Italy for a visit, with an article about his volunteer work on his lap, he struck up a conversation with an Italian gentleman sitting next to him.
“I was wondering aloud about what I was going to do with my life and he said, ‘You should open a pizzeria. Flour, water, salt and yeast: You’ll make a lot of money,’” Goldsmith recalls with a laugh. “When I shared the story with my friends in Italy, they said, ‘Go to Naples. That’s where you go for pizza.’”
And so Goldsmith’s odyssey was launched. He began learning his trade in a town overlooking Naples from master pizzaiola Enzo Coccia, and then he spent 10 of the next 18 months traveling the region, visiting pizzerias, studying menus, earning trust, and embracing the mysteries of the craft.
“In the end, it’s all about the dough,” Goldsmith shares. “It’s literally alive, and so every day you go back to square one. You strive for consistency, but it’s important to have a dialogue.”
Back in the states, he turned his fledgling restaurant into a true temple of italianità, replete with Sicilian tile work, Neapolitan lithographs, stunning mosaics, and a wood-burning brick oven created by third- and fourth-generation artisans.
And that attention to detail doesn’t end with the decor. His pizzas are crafted with flour from Naples, tomatoes from southern Italy, bufala mozzarella from Caserta, and extra virgin olive oil from Liguria.
“Everything we do is light, and we strive to achieve a perfect balance,” Goldsmith asserts. “You want a symphony of flavors, where one element doesn’t overwhelm the other. It’s everything coming together that makes a “capolavoro,” a masterpiece.”
On a menu that features only a dozen antipasti, eight pizze rosse, eight more pizze bianche and a handful of daily specials, you’ll discover items that you can’t find anywhere else this side of the Atlantic.
“We have a cheese that dates back 2,000 years, a minestra with roots in ancient Rome, and wines made from indigenous grapes that were almost extinct until recently,” Goldsmith points out with pride.
The praise showered upon Spacca Napoli by the likes of Zagat, Michelin, LTH Forum and “The Hungry Hound” should come as no surprise. Never one to rest on his laurels, Goldsmith travels back to Italy several times a year to unearth new products and further refine his craft.
And just as each day at Spacca Napoli involves a dialogue with the dough, it also involves collaboration among an extended family of employees, customers and pizzaiuoli around the world.
“This isn’t a business — it’s a community,” Goldsmith concludes.
Spacca Napoli Pizzeria
1769 W. Sunnyside Ave.
Chicago, IL 60640