I just flew in to the Windy City and I had to have a deep dish pizza for my first dinner tonight.
I can hear my producers yelling at me now. I was starving and the pie’s aroma overwhelmed me. I didn’t think of the food porn still shots until I was sated. This was all that was left of the pie when I remembered I needed a photo.
Luckily for me there’s a branch of all 4 close to the hotel I stay at during my frequent trips to Chicago so I’ve had them all. Lou Malnati’s is one of my go-to places too. They’ve been making deep dish for decades.
While I love a good deep dish my favorite pizza is a true Neapolitan thin-crust pie encircled with a puffy dark crust. That one’s in and out of a wood burning beehive oven in 60-90 seconds. You have to wait for these deep dish pies for about 40 minutes so you gotta be patient.
“That speaks to what we think about it,” says spokeswoman Meggie Lindberg. The chain discontinued its Neapolitan offering since so few customers ordered it, she says.”
My choice this time is the Chicago Classic with Lou’s trademarked Buttercrust that costs 75 cents more and worth every penny. Layers of sausage, tomato sauce and extra cheese atop the almost flaky buttery crust, it’s a 3-inch high slice of heaven.
Chicago-style pizza has been on my mind lately and luckily in my mouth too. I had one when I was in Chicago a couple of weeks ago. I love the classic pie with sausage but I lost the vote and we ordered a vegetarian instead. It was a good pie but I was disappointed. I still needed a sausage deep-dish.
San Francisco’s Patxi, Little Star and Zachary’s make deep-dish but they were too far away. North Beach’s Capos will open soon on Vallejo Street with deep-dish on the menu. But I couldn’t wait so I had to make my own.
Deep-dish isn’t that difficult. The dough is very pliant and bakes well in a home oven. It doesn’t need really high oven temperature and takes about a half-hour in the oven to get a golden crust and fully baked interior. It’s worth the wait, trust me.
Sorry about the missing slice in the picture. This was my first deep-dish pizza and we had to see how it turned out. We couldn’t help eating that first piece as soon as the pie was cool enough to cut.
Most eat deep-dish with a knife and fork but I like to pick it up as soon as I can and eat it by hand. The buttery crust is sturdy but tender with a slight crunch from the polenta mixed into the dough. The bottom layer of mozzarella oozes out of each slice. You get those long melted mozzarella strands (telephone lines) with each forkful. The savory fennel sausage mellows in the sweet oregano-infused tomato sauce. Every mouthful is a texture and flavor treat. A slice of deep-dish can fill you up but I’m a pizza pig and can’t stop with just one.
Serve your deep-dish pizza with a simple green salad and you’ve got a meal worthy of “The Windy City.” Substitute your favorite sauteed vegetables, onion, bell pepper and black olive or mushrooms sauteed with fresh oregano maybe. The filling choices are endless.
This 10-inch pan deep-dish serves 4 and the dough recipe is enough for 2 pies. I’m making another one in the morning with the leftover dough for my office-mates. To satisfy everyone’s diet it’s back to a vegetarian pie. I’ll nestle a filling of crimini and porcini mushrooms sauteed in garlic-infused EVOO with fresh oregano between the mozzarella layer on the bottom and the tomato sauce on top. Should be a good breakfast.
While in The Second City I wanted some of its legendary dishes, but no fancy restaurants this time. I’m on the prowl for tasty Chicago casual food. Here’s some of what I found.
Manny’s is about 2 miles outside of downtown. They’ve been making Jewish deli food since 1942. You order your food at the counter then go find a table and you don’t pay until you’re on your way out. Must be a deli tradition – same M.O. at Katz’ in NYC’s Lower East Side.
Don’t hold up the line figuring out what you want to eat. The guys behind the counter will tell you they only have 9 items and everything’s on display right in front of you – so hurry up people are waiting. I got a corned beef sandwich. The counter guy who’s been slicing corned beef and pastrami here since he was a kid just kept slicing and slicing. I thought he’d never stop! He grabbed a fist full and dumped it on rye bread, cut it in half, and miraculously threw it all on a plate in one fell swoop.
“That’s crazy, who can eat all that?” I demanded.
“Not me anymore,” the counter guy said.
Here’s my sandwich overflowing with about 2 pounds of meat! That’s a potato pancake on top. You can’t even see the 2 dill pickles buried on the plate. A bowl of matzo ball soup and a Dr. Brown’s cream soda rounded out my lunch.
I did a pretty good job on the corned beef. It was lean but had just enough fat to give it rich flavor. The potato pancake was creamy inside with a nice crunchy exterior – fatter than I’m used to, but delicious. And the chicken soup and matzo ball were some of the best I’ve had.
Giordano’s makes a dynamite stuffed pizza but I wanted deep-dish. So what’s the difference? Deep-dish is made with a cornmeal dough and baked in a deep pan brushed with olive oil to give the crust an almost fried finish. Stuffed is built like a deep-dish but also has a top layer of regular dough that’s topped with sauce then baked.
Luckily, Gino’s East was just a few blocks from my hotel. My deep dish had a thick side crust with a distinctive cornmeal flavor that holds up well to the mozzarella-sausage filling and sweet tomato sauce. It takes 45 minutes to bake so don’t go when you’re starving! If you can’t wait for you next trip to the Windy City try Patxi’s in Hayes Valley, the Marina and several other locations for great deep dish or stuffed pizza.
Chicago street food sold from sidewalk carts or stands has a long and proud tradition. You can still see hot dog carts here and there as you walk the city. I was on the prowl for 2 of the best – Italian Beef and Chicago Dogs.
I love Chicago’s Italian Beef sandwich. One of my favorites is at Al’s Beef. Al Ferreri started Al’s Beef in Little Italy in the 1920s. Story is that during the Depression meat was scarce. At weddings and other large family gatherings they sliced the meat thin and made it into panini so everyone would get some. It was so popular the family started selling Italian Beef sandwiches from a street stand and then moved to the store still on Taylor. Italian Beef supported the family for 70 years or more – they sold the business in 1999 and now there are several places all around Chicagoland still using Al’s original recipe.
Here it is in all it’s sloppy glory. The beef is long-cooked – sliced thin and served with sweet fried peppers or with a spicy hot pepper giardiniera on a roll. Be sure to tell them to “Dip it!” so the roll gets dipped in the pan gravy to add more flavor. Al’s Italian Beef is tender and moist and the gravy is fantastic with just a hint of black pepper heat. Even being “dipped,” the roll held up well – the sandwich was 5-napkin messy but easy to pick up and eat.
Portillo’s downtown and other Chicagoland locations, and Billy Goat Tavern downtown and at O’Hare, make a fabulous Italian Beef sandwich as well. In North Beach, Tony’s Slice House on Stockton near Union makes a great Chicago Italian Beef sandwich. That’s where I go when I need a fix.
A Chicago Dog is a balanced meal on a bun. They take a boiled or charred Vienna Beef hot dog and drag it through the garden – resto talk for piling on all the veggies. Here’s a Gold Coast Chicago Dog on a poppy seed bun with dill pickle spear, hot sport’s pepper, tomato wedges, chopped onions, neon green relish and yellow mustard. The crowning glory is a heavy sprinkle of celery salt to tie everything together. To be honest I settled for Gold Coast. I wanted to go to Superdawgs but it’s all the way out near O’Hare and you know what that expressway trip is like. Ugh! And Hot Dougs usually has a line around the block. No way it’s just a hot dog.
Well, my diet this Chicago trip might not have been the healthiest but it was the tastiest. Fear not – Chicagoans eat healthy. Here’s a street farmer’s market I stumbled upon off State Street on a rainy morning. All is not lost – I stocked up on some fruit for my hotel room!
Next time in town I’ll try to temper my appetite for all this casual food and enjoy some of the great Chicago chefs and their restaurants.
I love the Windy City – the architecture, dozens of distinct neighborhoods with their own character, diverse and friendly people, great cultural institutions, and fantastic food.
I’m in Chicago on business. Surprise – I wanted to visit Little Italy. Guess what? It’s hard to find.
Chicago had a vibrant Little Italy on and around Taylor Street southwest of downtown where 100,000 Italian immigrants once lived but it ain’t what it used to be. As in other cities this Italian community is all but gone. It was undone in the 1950s when the University of Illinois demolished much of the old neighorhood for a new campus and University Village. Another reminder of how lucky we are to have a still vibrant Italian community in North Beach.
Italian-American friends here don’t like my perspective – Little Italy is still there they say and, more importantly, Italian culture pervades Chicagoland. Italian restaurants and markets are spread all around. It’s true – a contained Italian diaspora – but the original vibrant core ain’t no more.
There are a few bakeries, markets, old-line restaurants and Our Lady of Pompeii Church, but they aren’t the big draw – San Francisco’s Joe DiMaggio is. They installed a statue of North Beach’s favorite son as part of the Italian-American Sports Hall of Fame. Joe never lived here but he’s a Little Italy magnet now.
(Sorry for the cheesy underwear picture. Seward Johnson’s giant Forever Marilyn arrived on Michigan Avenue near the river a couple of months ago and she’s as popular as ever. Most ooglers love to get under Marilyn’s skirt and take pix of her panties. You would think that there are plenty of famous Chicagoans worthy of a new statue – but it’s Marilyn who is the latest out-of-towner with big crowds.)