Someone once said the pizza you grew up on is the pizza you’ll love for life. So maybe it makes sense that I've never been a fan of deep-dish pizza. And there are certainly a lot of passionate devotees of deep-dish in Chi-Town. However, last June an issue of Chicago Magazine ranked the top 25 pizzas in the Chicago and just six deep-dish joints cracked the list.
Mike Royko, the Jimmy Breslin/Pete Hamill of the Windy City, who celebrated it in his Chicago Tribune column (particularly Billy Goat Tavern of “Cheeborger, cheeborger, no fries, cheeps" fame) despised deep-dish pizza. To him it was a perversion of the traditional thin crust pizza being made by Chicago’s Italian community before Ike Sewell started the deep-dish concept at his original Pizzeria Uno in 1943.
Back in 1993, Royko railed against “deep-dish pizza” as not really representing Chicago pizza much the same way he ridiculed tourists and all others who ask for ketchup on their Chicago hot dogs. But when in Rome, er, Chicago, do as the Chicagoans do. I tried to choose a representative mix of the “best of” deep-dish pizza.
First stop the original Lou Malnati’s in Lincolnwood. A veritable sports memorabilia shrine, Malnati’s had a classic Midwest family atmosphere. As I would repeatedly be warned, deep-dish is made to order and takes 45 minutes (maybe DiFara isn’t so bad after all). I sampled cheese, pepperoni, and my base comparison for all pizza: sausage. They all came with Malnati’s “buttery” crust.
And that was the problem. If the flakey, rich crust surrounded an apple or blueberry pie I would ’a loved it. But as the foundation for pizza… meh. Ironically, the highlight for me was the gluten-free Atkins-friendly “crustless” pie which was not formed with pie crust at all but with… wait for it… sausage! They press the sausage into the pan in lieu of crust and fill the meat base with cheese and sauce. Now that may be something novel.
Pizzeria Due, the sister to the original Uno down the block was more of the same 45-minute-flakey crust. Sausage was good, the cheese a generic Wisconsin mozzarella. Charming atmosphere.
The best was Giordano’s, the double-crusted stuffed pizza, which you can use to work your biceps — the boxed medium sausage pie weighs five pounds. At least this qualifies as a true “pie” and the sausage, cheese, and sauce ratio was much higher compared to the others so the crust was not so dominant.
I’ve seen similar bizarre religious pizza devotion when I traveled to Old Forge, Penn., the so-called “Pizza Capital of the World,” where the pizza is equally alien to the Neapolitan, or New York standard-bearer. But to each his own. By the way, I also agree with Royko that anyone who puts ketchup on their dog should be shot.