Chicago Essential: Pizzeria Due
619 N. Wabash Avenue, Chicago, IL 60611 (map); 312-943-2400; www.unos.com
Pizza Style: Deep Dish
The Skinny: This tourist-filled destination still shows why Chicago first made its way onto the national pizza scene
Price: Medium Sausage is $19.29; Medium Spinach with Mushrooms is $22.29
Even casual fans of pizza know that deep dish pizza first came on the scene at the restaurant we now know as Pizzeria Uno. Fewer people are aware that the restaurant was originally called The Pizzeria when it opened in 1943 and was later renamed Riccardo's Pizzeria after co-owner Richard Novaretti, known as Ric Riccardo. In 1955, Riccardo and business partner Ike Sewell opened a second location a block away, which they named Pizzeria Due and simultaneously renamed their first place Pizzeria Uno. Today, both serve the same delicious pizza—a vastly different product than Uno Chicago Grills serves across the country.
As big of a deal as Pizzeria Uno and Pizzeria Due are in the story of Chicago pizza, it's relatively rare to find actual Chicagoans eating there without a companion from out of own. Because both locations are internationally known and located in the heart of tourist country, the waits at both places can be too long for locals who can choose from with ample neighborhood offerings. While the decision to avoid the lines is understandable, the unfortunate consequence is that many Chicagoans are missing out on some seriously delicious pizza.
The sausage pizza features an onslaught of peppery fennel sausage pieces in a wide array of sizes. The juicy hunks of pork are on the pizza for the entire (approximately 45-minutes) cooking process and anoint the top of the pizza with a pool of sausage juice. The sauce, a tangy and very chunky pile of tomatoes, shines through in every bite.
The thick layer of cheese is decent commercial mozzarella that is, like everything else about the pizza, present in abundance. The pizza is unquestionably on the heavy side, but everything balances out very well thanks in large part to the thick crust.
The recipe for the crust at Uno's and Due's has been attributed to a number of people, as discussed in some detail in the comments of the recent post on Gino's East. Regardless of who actually invented it (my money is on some kind of combination of Rudy Malnati Sr. and Alice Mae Redmond) or whether the current version is the same as the original, the crust at Uno's and Due's today is a fine piece of golden bread with a very crunchy exterior and some extra flavor, apparently from both corn oil and olive oil. If I'm going to be picky, I'll say it's a bit too crunchy and not quite on par with Lou Malnati's (reviewed here) or Louisa's (reviewed here).
The spinach pizza at Uno's is a specialty pie that's strikingly similar to "The Lou" at Lou Malnati's, which was founded by a son of the Rudy Malnati, who was heavily involved in the founding of Pizzeria Due. The Lou comes with three kinds of cheese, spinach, mushrooms and sliced Roma tomatoes. The spinach pizza at Due's and Uno's also has three cheeses, spinach, and, according to the menu, mushrooms are recommended as an optional addition. I have no idea which came first, but while Due's spinach pizza with mushrooms is good, it's no Lou.
I'm not positive what the three cheeses are as nobody I asked at Uno's would give me a straight answer, but there's definitely mozzarella some kind of yellow cheese (likely a low-quality not remotely sharp cheddar). I think the third cheese is Parmesan sprinkled on top, which is a pretty weak way of getting to a "three cheese" pizza. Communication problems aside, this was a very good pizza that my dining companion actually preferred to the sausage. For my tastes, I'm a big fan of the fresh spinach pairing with the excellent sauce and crust, but the orange cheese did nothing for me.
With better deep dish options available in Chicago, and the long lines at Uno's and Due's (far more true in the case of the former), it's understandable that so many in town leave these places for tourists. But with some advance planning, they're both manageable. Pre-orders and to-go orders are allowed and the waits aren't that bad at off-peak hours. Due's and Uno's are definitely worth a visit for a delicious piece of pizza history.