Serious Eats: Chicago

Delisi's Pizzeria & Bar: A Fully Restored Neighborhood Institution

Daniel Zemans, our man in Chicago, checks in with another piece of intel on the Windy City pizza scene. Daniel also blogs about Chicagoland pizza with his friends on the Chicago Pizza Club blog. --The Mgmt.

10282008DelisisOutside.jpgDelisi's has been a fixture in Lincoln Square/Ravenswood for decades. It sits on the industrial west side of Western Avenue, across the street from Rosehill Cemetery, the largest cemetery in Chicago and final resting place of 11 Chicago mayors, a vice president of the U.S., and Oscar Mayer. Likely by virtue of its location (a place with little foot traffic in a neighborhood largely devoid of major landmarks or institutions that would bring in people to visit), Delisi's has not yet made its mark on the pizza consciousness of Chicago despite having some very serious devotees.

About nine years ago, the Delisi family sold the place, and it has gone through a number of ownership changes since then, the most recent occurring just eight weeks ago. When I went this week, one of the new owners explained that the pizza is largely unchanged from the original, but he added an important caveat. It seems the last owner made a few cost-saving changes to the ingredients, but those changes have been undone. This was a nice way of saying that the last owner sucked and if your only experience at Delisi's came in the last year and a half, you should give it another try.

Delisi's Pizzeria

5806 N. Western Ave, Chicago IL 60659 (map); 773-784-6320

Because the main cook has been at Delisi's for 15 years, it was not hard to restore Delisi's to its former standard, as there was ample institutional memory in place. I had never been to Delisi's before, so I cannot compare the current pizza to any of the older models. But I can say that Delisi's is a much-better-than-average pizzeria and that any serious Chicago pizza connoisseur should check out.

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We ordered a thin-crust with roast beef and a pan pizza with sausage. When the pizza came, we were surprised to see two thin-crust pies, one roast beef and one sausage. Our disappointment turned into elation when the owner told us we could have the thin sausage pizza on the house and that he'd start on the pan pizza right away. The crust on the thin pies is not quite as thin as traditional bar pizzas in Chicago, but it's close. And, frankly, that extra bit of heft was needed to support the healthy (or is it unhealthy?) amount of cheese and toppings on the pizzas. The roast beef was juicy, although as sliced roast beef often is, a little bland. The sauce was good, but there very little of it.

While they got the type of crust wrong on the sausage pie, the kitchen did put the extra sauce on that pizza, which was a very good thing as the sauce provided some good balance for the salt in the sausage. Like the roast beef pizza, the sausage thin crust has a very nice amount of meat on it.

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The pan pizza was more similar to a deep-dish pizza than a pan pizza, the difference being that a deep-dish pizza has a thicker crust. The crust at Delisi's is not as thick as the more traditional deep-dish pizzerias, but at about half an inch, it's definitely thicker than a pan pizza. Far more notable than the thickness of the crust was its texture--not nearly as dense as other deep-dish crusts. I would have preferred a little bit of flavor in the crusts, but I was still plenty happy with it. The sauce on the deep-dish/pan pizza was unlike any I have ever seen. A mixture of whole peeled tomatoes and tomato paste, it was the chunkiest sauce I have ever had on a pizza, and I thought the texture was great. Unfortunately, the sauce was pretty unseasoned, and the amount of it, combined with the chunk of high-quality, gooey cheese, almost completely masked the flavor of the sausage.

I am a firm believer that I shouldn't have to add seasoning to a pizza. I almost never make use of any of the little jars out on the table. But this pizza, because there was so much tomato in the sauce, needed more salt. And a generous sprinkling of Parmesan made a huge difference and made the pan pizza very good. My only remaining critique of the pan/deep-dish was that it could have used more sausage. Although, in Delisi's defense, I say that about any sausage pizza where I don't get meat in every bite.

Delisi's also sells stuffed pizza, which I did not get to try on this visit. But the other pizzas, particularly the thin crust, were good enough that I will go back to try it.

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