let's kick off the new year with some actual chicago pizza!
Me and the SO decide to get out of the city during the holidays every now and then. A few times we've headed up Chicago way (Geneva/St. Charles) on some of these occasions to visit their side of the family. A fun loving group who enjoy a few glasses of wine and games. The card and box kind, not the mind ones prevalent around the holidays. It is what makes it easy to go there and not worry about anything but enjoying the time.
On this last trip up, I made the casual comment that, while I've had deep dish Chicago style pizza before, I'd never actually had pizza from Chicago while being in Chicago. Fortunately, there were enough take charge relatives around to help remedy this situation. After a brief and heightened discussion about which spots were better for take out, which had better pizza and so on, I thought maybe I had opened a can of worms for everyone to argue about. But, in the true spirit of the holidays, a mutual agreement about what to get and a plan was put into place to make my off-hand statement a reality.
A few calls were made and when dinner time neared, me, the SO and cousin S popped in the car and headed out to pick up pizzas from 3 specifically selected purveyors of the deep dish pie in the area. We even threw in a thin crust one from one of the spots just for giggles. We also decided to to a blind taste test to see which one several of us liked the best. I'll cover the winner at the end. Till then, here is what we got.
First stop was Gino's East to get this seemingly little deep dish cheese pizza. When the girl at the register handed us the box, I was like, "seems kind of small." You know I like my portions on the big side. Cousin S was like, "here, hold it." When I got the box, it was like holding a couple of bricks. Small in size, but feeling kind of heavy. This was a true cornmeal crust with its slightly sweet cornbread like flavor. I wouldn't be surprised if there was a little bit of semolina flower in there too just to add some crunch. It is like a thick almost crunchy cornbread because of it. This style of crust is one of my favorites and Gino's does a good version. I guess being from the South makes me a sucker for cornbread in general and then when you turn it into a pizza crust, I'm sold.
In true Chicago style, you have the crust on the bottom, a thick layer of mozzarella, then sauce with toppings. I think in general I prefer this way as keeping a layer of cheese between the sauce and crust helps the crust from being soggy and suffering from the dreaded "soggy tip syndrome". Even though this is a thick crust, I still think it is a brilliant idea and wish places would practice the same thing on a thin crust.
Here we have Giordano's deep dish with sausage, mushrooms, onions and green peppers. The big difference here, this is not a cornmeal crust, it is a thick white flour crust. Parts of it were also on the slight doughy side, not in a bad way though. It still had crunch for such a thick crust. The sauce was a little on the sweet side, but that was balanced out with the toppings and all that lovely cheese. This is probably pretty similar to the kind of deep dish your neighborhood pizza place does when they want to copy Chicago style. Thick, hearty and filling.
This was another of those looks small weighs a lot pizzas, this time from Lou Malnati's. (Funny note, every time someone said the name of the place me and the SO thought they were saying Illuminati's and we were like, umm, okay. Then when we drove up to the spot we were like oh! LOU Malnati's! Yeah, we had a lot of wine that week.) The crust was cornmeal like the first, a plus, though while deep dish, the top part of the crust around the outer edges was a little thinner. I think the other thing about it was, to me, it had a taste almost like beer to it. Like there was extra yeast in the mix. Not unpleasant or anything, just not my personal flavor profile. Though I suppose it is one way to get your beer and pizza fix in one bite. But it did have the crust, cheese then sauce layering thing so it wasn't all bad. I mean, it is not like I wasn't going to eat it.
And this was the thin crust they decided to get because, why not? There were a lot of mouths to feed! It was the exact same crust as the deep dish just thin. Still had the same flavor. But props, it was super thin and crunchy even though it was sauce on the crust then toppings and cheese. Again, it was pizza and good enough.
As far as the taste test went, as a blindfolded group we ended up picking Giordano's based on overall flavor. I picked it too and as a complete bite it was the better of the three. Though if I'd had my druthers, I'd take the toppings from Giordano's and put them on Gino's East crust and then it would be pizza heaven.
There you have it, my Chicago deep dish experience, while actually in Chicago. Let's face, it was really just a great excuse to have a crap ton of pizza, like you need it. I definitely got my fill of pizza and in the end, they were all pretty good and I got to enjoy some very good cornmeal deep dish crust. If that ain't a great Christmas present, I don't know what is. Wait, cake, it's a great present, but that's a whole other post.