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Chicago Essential: Vito & Nick's Pizzeria

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

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[Photographs: Daniel Zemans]

Vito & Nick's Pizzeria

8433 South Pulaski Road, Chicago IL 60652 (map); 773-735-2050; vitoandnick.com
Pizza Style: Chicago Thin Crust
The Skinny: Chicago's best known old school thin crust pizzeria more than lives up to the hype
Price: 14" Sausage is $12.95 and 12" Egg and Fried Pepperoni is $13
Notes: Cash only

Like much public discourse on topics that inspire deep passion, the Chicago v. New York pizza debate suffers from gross oversimplification. Deep dish pizza is routinely held up as Chicago's signature pizza by partisans on both sides. But in reality, there are many Chicagoans, perhaps a majority, who are partial to a version of thin crust pizza that is popular throughout much of the Midwest. And no place better represents that old-school, square-cut, crisp-crust style than Vito & Nick's Pizzeria.

Vito & Nick's, which still requires people under 21 to be accompanied by an adult, opened as a bar in 1923 and started selling pizza in 1949. For decades, it was largely a local secret. But as pizza madness grew, the secret got out. Today, you will not see a serious list of Chicago's best pizza that does not mention Vito & Nick's.

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As is the case at every self-respecting, old-school Chicago pizzeria, a sausage pizza should be an automatic part of every order. In fact, I think it would be great if each waitress (no male servers as far as I know) approached customers and asked, "Would you like anything in addition to your sausage pizza?" The housemade sausage at Vito & Nick's is excellent. The hunks of extra fatty fennel sausage are present in virtually every bite.

The cheese is standard shredded mozzarella that is of sufficient quality; it's neither too chewy nor too greasy. The sauce is virtually non-existent on the pizzas at Vito & Nick's, which is my only complaint about the pies there. The only way to really taste the tomato flavor is to isolate the sauce by pulling the cheese and toppings off.

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As you can see from the picture, the cornmeal-dusted crust is certainly sturdy, but it's also surprisingly pliant. It's not the same type of crispy and chewy combination usually associated with pizza, but it definitely has both textural elements, albeit with some extra crispness. The key to the crust, largely unknown until it was revealed on an episode of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, is that it contains milk.

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There are a dozen or so toppings available at Vito & Nick's but two are given special attention. The menu lists four pizzas available: cheese, sausage, 1/2 cheese and 1/2 sausage, and egg. Other ingredients are available as add-ons, but those are the featured pies. The egg pizza, borne out of the desire to serve a largely Catholic customer base, has long been a Friday tradition. Even today, the menu lists it as being only available on Fridays, but as long as the kitchen has eggs, people can order it any day. And in a sign of changing times, it is commonly ordered with the addition of fried pepperoni.

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The eggs may go onto the pizza over easy but after sitting in the old Blodgett deck oven for a while, the yolks are pretty hard. Upon request, the eggs can be scrambled instead and I'd try that if I ever got the egg pizza again. That said, I'm not going to run back to get it any time soon. The pieces of fried pepperoni that were sprinkled on the pizza were an entirely different story. Salty, fatty, and crunchy, those pork pieces are definitely worth adding to any pizza.

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Deep dish may have solidified its place as the globally accepted definition of "Chicago style pizza," but as long as places like Vito & Nick's are putting out sensational thin crust sausage pizzas, that definition will be woefully incomplete. Located on the far South Side and with decor that includes carpeted walls, Vito & Nick's may not be the most conveniently located and it's not going to win major points for ambiance, but after eating just one square of the pizza, addiction is virtually guaranteed.

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