I like carbs -- enough that living without them sounds dreadful. So, when I heard buzz about fast-casual Eshticken, known for its zero-carb crust, skepticism crept in.
Some advice, right out of the gate: forge on. There's no need to concern yourself about an unfulfilling meal. There is traditional, flour-based crust, too, but the carb-free take is a pleasant surprise and what really sets the place apart. (More on that later.)
Eshticken4660 Hoffman Blvd., Hoffman Estates; (847) 747-0000; eshticken.com
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Setting: Casual, contemporary, family-friendly pizzeria
Cuisine: Pizza, most notably with zero-carb crust
Entrees: $6.90 to $22.59
Accepts: All major credit cards
The space is inviting, in a fast-casual sort of way, with a 14-seat high-topped table and additional table and banquet seating. Pendant lighting illuminates cheery red walls at this neighborhood-y and jovial spot that draws a local crowd of loyalists with no sign of changing their allegiance. The one problem is the "covered" windows -- it's hard to tell whether the place is open or not. (Go ahead and give the door a tug.)
There aren't many appetizers to choose from, so we started with the doughy, garlic butter-bathed knots, set beneath a shower of Parmesan and parsley with marinara for dipping. The marinara was rather plain and didn't rock our world. More flavor-forward was the batch of plump, meaty chicken wings, sporting a garlic-Parmesan dry rub instead of finger-licking sauce. They came off as healthier than their deep-fried cousins from Buffalo.
Other fist-course options include marinated, panko-crusted chicken tenders, fries, a couple of no-frills salads and spicy lentil soup.
Moving on, there are three sandwiches to choose from as well, including one employing the aforementioned tenders, which are tucked into a pretzel roll. Sounds good, but we instead went for the Philly, a thin-sliced steak, onion, mushroom and pepper hand-held swathed in cheese and served on a pretzel roll. Is it classic? Nope, but it sure was good.
Two kinds of pasta are available, too, including a riff on the restaurant's OMG mushroom pizza, made with a rich, creamy sauce.
What we really came for, though was the pizza. The pies measure up at 14 inches, which is to say they're not exactly large. And they aren't inexpensive either. But there's more craftsmanship than usual at play, and the fresh ingredients shine. As a result, we didn't mind. Our choice, the garlic-sauced white pizza was finished with mushrooms, ricotta and spinach. And that zero-carb crust? It's different, but in a good way. What makes it "no carb" is kind of a secret (hint: it's way-thin, crisp chicken and it costs $4 more).
You can build your own pie, selecting from typical ingredients (sausage, pepperoni) or less-common toppers (banana peppers, onion strings, kalamata olives). Mind you, the house versions are hard to ignore, be it Buffalo chicken ranch, Philly or the breakfast-like Windy City that comes crowned with dried meat and scrambled eggs. Calzones of the design-your-own variety are an option as well.
Desserts are limited to cinnaknots, a variation on the garlic knots, that are dusted in cinnamon sugar and served with sweet, creamy cannoli sauce for dipping. But don't miss "Mama Haam's" rice pudding, a lush, comforting family recipe that alone could justify a trip.
As for service, the place could not be friendlier. It's clear they believe in their product.
• Restaurant reviews are based on one anonymous visit. The Daily Herald does not review restaurants it cannot recommend.