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Chicago Essential: Finding Religion at Pizano's Pizza & Pasta

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[Photographs: Daniel Zemans]

Pizano's Pizza & Pasta

864 N. State Street, Chicago IL 60610 (map); 312-751-1766; pizanoschicago.com
Pizza Style: Deep Dish and Thin Crust
The Skinny: This is one of the best pizzerias in Chicago and could be the only one that is among the elite in both deep dish and thin crust
Price: Medium deep dish with sausage and mushroom is $21.30; medium thin crust with garlic, basil, and tomatoes is $18.75
Notes: Two other locations, one in downtown Chicago (map) and one in Glenview (map)

Rudy Malnati Sr. and Abraham (last name unknown) may have lived several thousand years apart, but they have a surprising amount in common. Both men played a central role in shaping the way people think about critically important topics, both begat two sons who carried on their fathers' respective teachings, and, sadly, the generations that followed are at odds with one another despite being far more similar than different.

For those unfamiliar with the Book of Rudy, he was at Uno's (reviewed here) from, if not the beginning, then very close to it, and there are some who think that he is actually the genius behind deep dish pizza. His son Lou eventually joined him there before going on to start his legendary eponymous pizzeria (reviewed here). Rudy Malnati had another son, Rudy Malnati, Jr., who started Pizano's. While Pizano's, with just three locations, is a much smaller operation than Lou Malnati's, there's no question that its rank among the top pizzerias in Chicago is just as secure.

The toppings at Pizano's are traditional and the restaurant allows diners to build their own combinations, or choose from a handful of preselected combinations. I opted for a Jack Brickhouse, a deep dish pizza with sausage and mushrooms. The juicy and pleasantly chewy hunks of sausage are outstanding and the flavorful, fresh mushrooms get some extra chew from being baked on top of the pizza.

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The sauce on the deep dish pizza, more like a chunky tomato medley than a traditional sauce, is particularly bright and fruity thanks to far less seasoning than typically goes in a deep dish sauce. The pure tomato flavor is so good that I was left craving more. The cheese is also applied with a relatively restrained hand, which allows every element of the pizza to shine through (which is why Pizano's is my go-to pizza for introducing people to deep dish).

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There are a ton of great thin crust pizzerias in Chicago, and a lot of places that make outstanding deep dish or stuffed pies. But there are very few that excel in both the thick and thin arena. None do both as well as Pizano's.

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The Mark's Special comes with sliced tomatoes, a little basil, and a whole lot of fresh garlic. The combination of the under-saucing, which is a constant on thin crust pizzas at Pizano's, and the fact that it's early in the year to get a ton of flavor from fresh tomatoes, means the garlic takes over this pizza a bit, but thanks to an outstanding butter crust this pizza is a winner.

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The thin crust at Pizano's is automatically made with butter, while the deep dish (pictured above) relies on oil (unless the customer specifically requests butter). For the review, I went with the default crust on both, but ordinarily I get butter for extra flavor and extra crispness. Even without it, this is a crisp, crunchy and chewy piece of bread that would be addictive even if served bare. With the butter, it makes a truly special crust.

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Because there are so many similarities between Pizano's and Lou Malnati's, it's easy to fall into the trap of pitting them against one another. But the bottom line is that both places put out pizzas that are among the best in Chicago, pies that are so good that eating them can be a religious experience.

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