Pepperoni with ricotta and basil Credit: Courtesy Eat Free Pizza

When living in a world that seems to be perpetually on fire, sometimes you just gotta toss some dough on the flames. At least that’s the MO for Eat Free Pizza, an Instagram sweepstakes-turned-culinary phenomenon that is spreading the good, oven-fired word throughout Chicago.

These no-strings-attached pizzas aren’t shuttled in and out of a fancy brick-walled wood oven but cycled through a standard oven jerry-rigged to blast up to 700 degrees. It’s located in a Ukrainian Village two-flat the address of which is only revealed to the lucky few—usually between six or eight—who snag a spot on the list for its weekly dinner party.

The premise of Eat Free Pizza is simple. Once every week or so, EFP posts a cartoony graphic on its Instagram, @eatfreepizza, beckoning followers to DM for a chance to visit EFP headquarters for a zero-dollar pizza-and-beer dinner. In a matter of seconds, messages fly in, typically topping out at about 100 or so from hungry hounds aching to taste the goods.

Particulars for each order are hashed out one Instagram message at a time, from flavor profiles to reservation slot to dining experience (communal dining table, apartment stoop, or grab-and-go). Toppings might range from dollops of bone-white ricotta to a sweet and simple margherita flecked with basil leaves or a smear of ‘ndjua and caramelized onion—all arranged across a crackling plane of double-baked dough. The certainties of an Eat Free Pizza experience are these: an oven-warmed, open-arms welcome, a char-specked, sheet-pan crust sliced into handheld rectangles, and a night that won’t soon fade from memory.

The Eat Free Pizza trio consists of filmmaker Billy Federighi, 38, and Green Door Tavern manager Brad Shorten, 42, the aforementioned pizzaiolos, and full-time model Cecily Rodriguez, 29, who serves as social media guru for the team. With nearly two decades of friendship between Shorten and Federighi and a marriage between the latter and Rodriguez on the horizon, Team EFP’s pie-in-the sky dreams have been a long time coming.

“It’s been seven years of pizza making and practicing,” Rodriguez says of the ragtag endeavor, which is entirely self-funded save for each night’s rotating sponsored beer offerings. “The dream was always to open up a bar and make pizzas there.”

During those seven years of research and development, the trio has been experimenting with various styles of tried-and-true round pies as well as a laminated on the outside, pillowy on the inside Sicilian-style crust, dialing in each component of the perfect pizza and making the most of local ingredients in the process. They began trying out prototypes on neighbors, but were soon hankering to try out their experiments on new appetites.

“To get into a rhythm, you need to fire off a couple—like making pancakes,” Federighi says. “We couldn’t eat them and didn’t want to waste them.”

And so the three launched the Eat Free Pizza Instagram in March 2018. Originally conceived as a low-key effort to slough off some pies, the Eat Free Pizza premise rapidly circulated throughout the gang’s network of culinary contacts and beer industry reps. Their profile grew further when they were featured on Windy City Live last year.

To date, EFP has amassed nearly 6,000 followers and has hosted the Dove’s Luncheonette crew in their backyard, catered the opening party of the Hoxton hotel, and donated a chance to dine at their “chef’s table” to fund-raisers across the city. Breweries including Wiseacre, Solemn Oath, and Boulevard Brewing Company have contributed frosty bevs to the cause.

Now, more citywide collaborations and a brick-and-mortar home base are on the horizon for the Eat Free Pizza gang. Wherever EFP may land, whether it’s in a proper parlor or another secluded spot, one thing is certain—it’s sure to feel like home or something like it.  v