6649 North Lincoln Avenue, Lincolnwood IL 60712 and 30-plus additional locations (map); 847-673-0800; loumalnatis.com
Getting There: #11 Lincoln Avenue bus to Lincoln & McCormick, walk about 15 minutes northwest on Lincoln
Pizza Style: Deep dish
The Skinny: Chicago's most successful pizza chain continues to deliver impeccable pizza
Price: 14-inch "Malnati Chicago Classic," about $23
In the beginning, there was Rudy Malnati Sr., a great pizza man who, depending on who you believe, either invented deep dish pizza or was merely a critical player in its establishment at Uno's. Rudy Malnati Sr. begat a few children, but only two of them are important for our purposes: Rudy Jr., founder of Pizano's, and his older half-brother, Lou Malnati, who decided to open his eponymous Italian pizzeria in the predominantly Jewish suburb of Lincolnwood on St. Patrick's Day in 1971.
Today there are 31 locations throughout the Chicagoland area (though just five within city limits.) The proliferation of Lou Malnati's, perhaps the quintessential deep dish pizzeria, belies the foolish claim that deep dish is merely for tourists. And if you know anyone who thinks deep dish pizza is not delicious, a simple trip to Lou Malnati's is all they need to see the error of their ways. These well-balanced mountains of flavor are simply outstanding.
When I first reviewed Malnati's for Slice, I focused on the excellent gluten-free pizza which consists of appropriately chewy mozzarella and thick tangy tomato sauce atop a crust made entirely from sausage. While delicious and a particularly good option for those who cannot eat gluten or are desperately avoiding carbs, for the rest of us, there is simply no excuse for visiting Lou Malnati's and not devouring a deep dish pizza with a Buttercrust (a word the company has apparently trademarked).
Both the regular crust and Buttercrust are delicious pieces of bread, with an ideal crisp and crumbly texture that holds together under the large quantities of cheese, toppings and sauce. But the heavy dose of butter that permeates the second option is well worth the 75 cent surcharge. My frequent order, The Lou, automatically comes with a Buttercrust and is topped with spinach, mushrooms, sliced tomatoes, and a blend of mozzarella, Romano, and cheddar cheese.
But sometimes, I crave some of Malnati's well-seasoned (but relatively lean) sausage. Order a sausage pie, and the meat covers nearly every inch of the pizza. Caught in the moment, I sometimes forget to order a butter crust with my sausage, which means I get a delicious pizza rather than a spectacular one.
I won't make that mistake again now that Malnati's has added the Malnati Chicago Classic to their menu. It's a sausage pizza with a butter crust, just how I like it. Inexplicably, the pizza actually costs 75 cents more than the regular sausage pizza with a Buttercrust—there's supposedly extra cheese, though I'm not sure I detected it. Minor marketing surcharge aside, this pizza is Lou Malnati's at its finest. And that means it's one of the best deep dish pizzas known to man.