Serious Eats Chicago contributor Daniel Zemans checks in with another piece of intel on the Windy City pizza scene. The Mgmt.

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[Photographs: Daniel Zemans]

Art of Pizza

3033 N Ashland, Chicago IL 60657 (map); 773-327-5600
Getting There: Brown line to Wellington or #9 Ashland bus
Pizza Style: Stuffed, pan, and thin-crust
The Skinny: It's the stuffed pizza that catapults Art of Pizza into serious "Best Of" discussions
Price: 14" stuffed pie with one topping is a shade under $20
Notes: BYOB

When I visited Art of Pizza a few years ago for Slice, I had my first and last disappointing meal there. While I think it's fair to expect consistency from pizzerias, sometimes you have to use a little common sense. On that visit, I went in the late afternoon and ordered slices. Bad idea—I got stuck with pizza that had been sitting in a heated cabinet for far too long.

But over the last two years, I've learned that Art of Pizza at its best is something truly special. I returned last week during the dinner rush to treat myself to some delicious stuffed pizza and to get some pictures to share with the rest of you.

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No matter how many times I eat it, the mere thought of getting my hands on a stuffed pizza induces a Pavlovian response. The golden crust filled with a stunning amount of mozzarella and toppings and topped with a rich tomato sauce brings a thrill that makes the typical 45-minute wait well worth it. But even better is when I remember to pre-order, so I can arrive just as a beautiful pie is getting pulled from the oven.

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I ordered a pizza that was half spinach (in an effort to pretend I was eating something healthy) and half sausage (because pizza should come with meat.) The entire pie was blessed with a massive pile of mozzarella that was stringy without being tough. The lone flaw in the pie was that there was not nearly enough spinach to stand up to the large quantities of every other component of the pizza.

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The sausage, on the other hand, was abundant. The fennel sausage at Art of Pizza is about average by Chicago standards, though perhaps well above average nationally. The gumball-sized hunks were present in virtually every bite of that side of the pizza. The lightly sweet and mildly tangy tomato sauce came with a healthy dose of oregano and remains, for me, the mouth-watering star of the pizza.

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But what really distinguishes the stuffed pies at Art of Pizza from its counterparts throughout the region is the crust. When Nancy's and Giordano's introduced stuffed pizza to the world less than 40 years ago, they transformed a traditional savory tomato-less Italian Easter pizza into a very American treat that looked very much like the well-established deep dish pizza. But the flaky crust remained much more pastry-like than anything else. At Art of Pizza, though, the delicious bottom crust that is thick and crisp, more like a deep dish pizza than other stuffed ones. Though it blurs the style lines a bit, Art of Pizza's stuffed pie is remarkably tasty; worthy of inclusion on anyone's Chicago pizza itinerary.

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