Pizza trocpical, Pizza y Pan Pa' Ya Credit: Nick Abad

Name two great tastes that taste great together.

Chocolate and peanut butter, of course.

Burgers and fries. Duh.

Raisins and pizza?

Uhhhhh . . .

Hold on now. That makes perfect sense in Colombia, where pizza tropical—cheesy pies topped with some combination of pineapple, cherry, raisins, and/or plum—is a thing.

Fruit pizza, my friends. Deal with it.

And it’s also a thing at Pizza y Pan Pa’ Ya, a relatively new Colombian bakery and pizzeria in Albany Park that sprang to life when esteemed churrascaria Brasa Roja pulled up stakes and started spinning their chickens across the street.

Clockwise from top left: bunuelo, <i>pan de piña</i>, <i>pan de coco</i>, <i>pan de bono con guayaba</i>
Clockwise from top left: bunuelo, pan de piña, pan de coco, pan de bono con guayabaCredit: Mike Sula

PyPP’Ya, let’s call it, offers a trio of distinctly Colombian-style pizzas including a familiar Hawaiian, with ham and pineapple, and a pollo con champignon that shouldn’t appear to anyone as too far out of the strike zone. And then there’s the tropical, on which dried fruit and jam is blanketed by a uniform layer of molten cheese. It isn’t half bad if you approach it as if it’s not really a pizza at all, but a sweet pastry. After all, it manages to satisfy three primal cravings in one slice: sugar, bread, and melted cheese. I haven’t been as impressed with the audacity of a South American snack item since the infamous perro caliente.

The pizza crust is a very thin, dense, crunchy cracker style
The pizza crust is a very thin, dense, crunchy cracker styleCredit: Nick Abad

But what’s most curious about the pizza at PyPP’Ya is the crust, which is a very thin, dense, crunchy, well-done cracker style that bears no resemblance to Chicago’s own cracker crusts. You can top it with more orthodox ingredients to your taste, or you can order any combination of the above on a deep-dish crust. But despite the prominence of the pizza, what has most people swinging through the doors is the broad array of Colombian pastries, breads, and sweets crafted each morning in an adjoining kitchen whose doings you can observe from the sidewalk outside if, like me, you tend to freeze and gape in the presence of steady, confident dough handling.

Bakery case at Pizza y Pan Pa' Ya
Bakery case at Pizza y Pan Pa’ YaCredit: Mike Sula

But probably the most irresistible items are the lightly fried doughy cheese balls known as bunuelos, which have a light but tight crumb that almost tastes of equal parts cheese and yuca flour. These are gluten free, just as are the equally alluring cheesy-bread variations, pan de bono (with corn) and pan de bono con guayaba (with guava). There are glistening, yolk-shellacked loaves of sweet, eggy challah-like bread, and wheat-flour pastries such as the pan de piña (pineapple), coconut bread, arepas, empanadas, and doughnut-like roscones, filled with guava or caramel. Containers of chilled custards and cups of thick, raisin-sprinkled arequipe (aka dulce de leche) fill another case, while rounding things out are a handful of typical Colombian breakfasts such as the milk soup changua, tamales, or the hash of rice, beans, potatoes, and eggs known as calentado.

To drink there is an assortment of freshly squeezed juices and licuados, housemade yogurt (kumis), the oatmeal drink avena, and masato de arroz, a thick, mucilaginous fermented rice drink that has a sweet-and-sour taste like a cross between horchata and pulque. (The latter not to be confused with the ancient, yuca-based Peruvian drink catalyzed by human saliva.)

Ultimately, the right thing to do, whether you’re staying or going out with your pastries, is to first take a seat and order at least one of these items with a cafe con leche or sugar cane tea (agua de canela), and take a few civilized moments to yourself before pushing on with the problems of the day.

Buen provecho!

Pizza y Pan Pa' Ya
Pizza y Pan Pa’ YaCredit: Mike Sula

Pizza y Pan Pa’ Ya, 3125 W. Montrose, 773-463-2617