Editor's note: I'm pleased to introduce you all to Daniel Zemans, our man in Chicago. Daniel and his friends have been blogging about pizza in the Windy City on the Chicago Pizza Club blog. He'll be dropping by here on Slice with the deets on the eats in this pie-mad city. --The Mgmt.
Greetings from the Pizza Capital of the World!
This is the first in what will be a weekly series on pizza in Chicago. For those unfamiliar with Chicago--and having spent three years in New York myself, I know many of you are--allow me to give a brief introduction full of references to your fine town.
Chicago is in Illinois, one of the many states in this country that does not sit next to an ocean (and is therefore a great mystery to many in New York, where I'd imagine most of Slice's readership lives). Over time, Chicago has been famous for a few different reasons. In 1893, the city made its first splash on the international scene when it was chosen over New York and a few other cities to host what would be the wildly successful World's Columbian Exposition.
To most of the world, the Chicago World's Fair, as the event is commonly known, symbolized Chicago--until Brooklyn-born Alphonse Capone attained a level of power that no gangster ever had. Capone remained Chicago's enduring image until Brooklyn-born Michael Jeffrey Jordan mastered basketball and sports-marketing in a way that nobody ever had. While Jordan remains Chicago's most widely known icon, he is soon to be displaced by New York–educated Barack Obama (Columbia '83).
Just as Capone did with gangland violence, Jordan did with basketball, and Obama is doing with politics, Chicagoans have taken pizza and elevated it to a level previously unimaginable. Scale the pinnacle of pizzadom, after the jump.
Chicago pizza is an altogether different beast than New York–style. As this series progresses, I will explore all three varieties of Chicago pies: deep dish, stuffed, and "bar pizza," our version of thin crust. One common difference is that Chicago pizza, even in its thin incarnation, has more cheese, more toppings, and more sauce than New York pizza. Additionally, Chicago pizza is typically sold by the entire pie and is a much more group-oriented food than its New York counterpart. In fact, almost none of the best pizzerias in Chicago even offer pizza by the slice. When possible, I will offer references to New York pizza, but as you can imagine, there will not be many opportunities to do so.
I am starting this series with Pizzeria Uno, not because I think it is the best Chicago has to offer, but because it is the one the rest of the world most associates with my hometown.
Uno's, as it's commonly known, has been serving deep-dish pizzas since the style was invented there in 1943. While the company is now based in Boston, has expanded to more than 200 locations from Chicago to California to Saudi Arabia, and is inexplicably getting close to unveiling a low-calorie, gluten-free deep-dish pizza, the original pie is still served at the same spot it was developed at in downtown Chicago more than 60 years ago. (I have been told that the version of pizza sold at Uno's outside of Chicago is significantly different than the original, but I have never tried it, so I have no idea.)
I don't know any Chicagoans who eat at the original Uno's other than when taking guests from out of town. In fact, while there are more than 200 locations around the world, only three of them are in Chicago's city limits—the original, the one at O'Hare Airport, and Pizzeria Due, the second Uno's, which opened in 1955 a block away from the original in response to the pizzeria's rising popularity.
Anyhow, because of Uno's fame and location, it is generally flooded with tourists and it's common for people to wait more than an hour or two to be seated. To speed the process along, they ask you to place your pizza order when you put your name down. That policy ensures that diners do not have to wait as long to eat once they sit down (deep-dish pizzas take more than 45 minutes to cook). There is a bar, but it only has a few seats. So your best bet is to either go at an off-peak time or else put your name down and leave for a while.
For those of you who have never seen a deep-dish pizza, it may seem odd. At Uno's, the crust, which contains some corn flavor, a noticeable amount of butter and garlic, is made fresh every day, and has the texture of a slightly heavy piece of toast. The next layer is not sauce but rather cheese--lots of cheese--another 3/8 to 1/2 inch thick. The toppings are placed on top of the cheese. As is the case with the crust and the cheese, there is a much greater amount of toppings on a deep-dish pizza than a New York slice.
Of particular note is the sausage, which comes in a patty the size of the pie (or, in my case, the half of the pie with sausage; the other half was covered in pepperoni). While a little on the salty side for my taste, the sausage is definitely better than average. The top layer on an Uno's deep-dish pizza is the sauce, which is much chunkier than is typical in New York.
In addition to the meat-covered pie, I tried an individual size of the Spinoccoli (above), which has spinach and broccoli as well as some cheddar, feta, and romano cheese mixed in with the mozzarella. I had never had this pizza before, and I was pleasantly surprised. There seemed to be substantially more spinach than broccoli on it, but that was fine with me. The combination of cheeses worked well together. The spinach added a fair amount of moisture to the pizza, but when the crust is as thick and sturdy as Uno's is, that doesn't cause a problem.
When Ike Sewell first offered deep-dish pizza at Uno's, he probably had no idea that he was permanently elevating the bar for pizza around the world. For that reason alone, Uno's is worth a visit by every self-respecting pizza connoisseur. The fact that you can still get an excellent pie in the original location is an added bonus. Just be prepared to wait a while to eat.