"Once the bowl is cut open, the toppings, sauce, and cheese pour out onto the plate. It's not pretty but it tastes good."
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.
On February 14, 1929, Al Capone's gang left its South Side base on a trip to the North Side for a rendezvous with Bugs Moran's gang. Moran had ordered two unsuccessful assassination attempts on Capone and had taken to repeatedly insulting Capone in the press, and Capone decided it was time to teach Moran a lesson. So a group of Capone's men headed to the S.M.C. Cartage Company, which was a known front for a bootlegging operation. Two of the South Siders were dressed as police officers, and they ordered seven of Moran's men to line up against a wall. At that point, a couple more of Capone's men came in and all of them opened fire with machine guns and shotguns. Capone was in Florida at the time and was never arrested for his involvement. Indeed, Capone remained free until Kevin Costner came along and put him away for tax evasion.
The gruesome murders are now known as the St. Valentine's Day Massacre and took place at 2122 North Clark Street. Across the street, at 2121 North Clark, on a site where a couple of Capone's men allegedly sat as lookouts 80 years ago, sits the Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Company, which has been serving up pizza pot pies since 1973. Yes, you read that right: pizza pot pies.
Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Company
2121 North Clark Street, Chicago IL 60614 (map); 773-465-0087; chicagopizzaandovengrinder.com
Pizza Style: Pizza pot pie
Oven Type: Gas
The Skinny: Three words--pizza pot pie
Price: Half-pound pot pie, $10.75; meatball grinder, $11
The first thing you'll notice upon arrival at Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder is the line. I got there at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday, half an hour after they opened, and there was already a 35-minute wait. By the time I was seated, the estimated wait was more than an hour. No story about entering the restaurant would be complete without mentioning the genius who serves as the host. His name is Jesus and he has worked there for about a decade. Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder takes no reservations. And when you enter the restaurant, Mariano greets you and asks how many are in your party. You tell him, and then you are done. He doesn't ask for a name and he doesn't write anything down. But even when the waits are long (I once waited well over an hour), Jesus remembers the exact order of customers and how big their parties are. The man is a genius.
The pizza pot pie consists of pizza toppings, cheese, and sauce in a baking dish that is covered with the pizza crust. Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder only has two versions of the pot pie on its menu: with and without mushrooms. They come in two sizes, one pound or half-pound. The pot pies come with sausage, but vegetarian pies can be special-ordered ahead of time.
When our server arrived at the table with the pot pie, she turned it upside-down and pried the crust off the outer rim of the bowl. When she was done, we were left with essentially a bowl made from pizza crust that was filled with a lot of sauce, cheese, and sausage. Once the bowl is cut open, the toppings, sauce, and cheese pour out onto the plate. It's not pretty but it tastes good.
The crust, which the restaurant describes as a "triple-raised Sicilian bread-type dough," is chewier than most crusts, but the texture works well in balancing out the fairly runny sauce, cheese, and sausage. Speaking of the sauce, it is homemade from plum tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, onions, and green peppers. The sausage is homemade from Boston butts. I didn't taste a whole lot of seasoning in the sausage, but the meat had some good flavor to it. The mushrooms, which we opted for, are large, fresh, and uncut. The cheese is allegedly a special blend, but it tasted like mozzarella.
In addition to the pizza pot pie, Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder also serves up, unsurprisingly, oven grinders. Since I had already gone a fair bit away from most people's definition of pizza, I decided to go a step further and order a meatball grinder. I was wavering on whether to take that leap, but my decision was made easy when I discovered that the tomato sauce on the grinder is identical to the sauce in the pizza pot pie.
The meatball grinder, like the pizza pot pie, comes with a lot of sauce, cheese and meat. The heavy bun proved to be no match for the particularly wet tomato sauce and it soon disintegrated. The meatballs themselves were too dry, but the sauce largely fixed that problem.
Unfortunately, the sauce and cheese failed to make the meatballs taste particularly good. They weren't bad, just not very good. This was my first grinder at Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder and it was good enough that I'll try a different one next time I go back. That said, I don't anticipate going back any time soon. That's not to say the pizza pot pies are bad. They're pretty good and definitely worth trying for the novelty of it. But I don't think they're worth waiting in line for up to an hour or longer for. That said, hundreds of people clearly disagree with that assessment on a daily basis.
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