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[Photographs: Daniel Zemans]

Pat's Pizza and Ristorante

2679 North Lincoln Avenue, Chicago, IL 60614 (map); 773-248-0168; patspizza.info
Pizza Style: Thin crust and pan
The Skinny: Impossibly thin, crisp and flaky crust shines, and the pan pizza is also worth checking out
Price: 14" thin with one topping is $15.10; 12" pan pizza with two toppings is $17.65

Generally speaking, there are a few rules that govern old—school pizzerias in Chicago that specialize in thin crust pies:

  1. The place will make its own outstanding sausage.
  2. Toppings, cheese and sauce will all be heavily applied.
  3. The crust adds little in terms of taste.
  4. If the place also offers a thick pizza, it will not be very good.

Pat's Pizza and Ristorante, which has been serving up pizzas in Lakeview for over 60 years, definitely qualifies as old school and it fits the mold on the sausage front. But when it comes to the other rules, Nick Pianetto Jr. continues his father's tradition of operating far outside the norm. The result is one of the best pizzerias in Chicago.

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Every single person who sets foot in Pat's should order a thin crust pizza with sausage. The housemade hunks of fatty, juicy, and chewy pork are little bombs of pepper and fennel. In a city filled with pizzerias that make magnificent Italian sausage, Pat's ranks among the best. The cheese is surprisingly moist for a commercial shredded mozzarella and always comes out of the old Fauld's oven with some nice browning. The sauce, very conservatively applied for the style, is not particularly exciting, though it does impart a pleasant tomatoey tang.

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I'm sure there's another pizzeria with a crust similar to Pat's, but I've yet to encounter one. The impossibly thin crust is somehow simultaneously crisp and soft and even the inner squares retain their rigidity for the duration of the meal. The crust has no butter in it, but still has a flakiness to it that's reminiscent of phyllo or a firm version of West Indian roti.

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There is no question that thin crust is the way to go at Pat's, but those looking to balance things out with a second pizza or are just in the mood for something heavier shouldn't hesitate to order a pan pizza. On this visit, I got one topped with sliced beef and giardiniera and was pretty happy I did. The giardiniera added a spicy kick that was balanced nicely by a much more generous supply of sauce than was present on the thin crust pie. The sliced beef was stingily applied and was tough to pick out in some bites.

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Typically when older pizzerias that have built their names on thin crust pizza make a pan or deep dish slice, the crust is a disappointing afterthought. That's definitely not the case at Pat's. The very thick crust on the pan pizza at Pat's isn't the marvel the thin crust is, but the slightly buttery crust does manage to be remarkably crunchy without coming across nearly as dense as it appears. Like its thin counterpart, this crust has no problem standing up to the toppings and never loses its crispness.

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According to corporate lore, Nick Pianetto Sr. opened a pizzeria in 1950 to supplement the income he received as a truck driver. More than sixty years later, Pat's is still going strong in the same neighborhood and run by the same family. Here's to hoping they stick around for 60 more.

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