Delicious, C-House Leaves Me Grasping for a Definiton of Pizza

Daniel Zemans, our man in Chicago, checks in with another piece of intel on the Windy City pizza scene. Daniel also blogs about Chicagoland pizza with his friends on the Chicago Pizza Club blog. --The Mgmt.

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[Photographs: Daniel Zemans]

C-House Fish & Chops

166 East Superior Street, Chicago, IL 60611 (map); 312-523-0923;
Getting There: Red Line to Chicago Ave.
Pizza Style: Flatbread
Oven Type: Grill
The Skinny: This ain't pizza, but it's delicious
Price: 4-by-11-inch pies, $10 each

I've long been amused by those who eagerly declare that certain styles of pizza are, in fact, not pizza at all. Ed Levine's allegation that deep dish pizza is actually a casserole is the most prominent inaccurate claim, but Ed's so good natured about it that I've actually encouraged him to say it. There are plenty of others who are far more aggressive in dismissing pies that 99 percent of the pizza-eating world would call pizza without hesitation.

In comments on this site, I've seen people dismiss a wide variety of pies as not being "real" pizza. Victims of online hostility have included all pizzas cooked in a pan, pizzas with too much cheese, pizzas without cheese, pizzas with odd toppings, white pizzas, dessert pizzas, and even Margherita pizzas. But like bad weather and crying babies on airplanes, they are mere annoyances that I accept I cannot change and instead try to enjoy. In this case, that means being periodically inspired to try to come up with my own solid definition of pizza. I've always maintained a more catholic view of it all, routinely accepting everything so identified as pizza. That said, my limits were tested a couple of weeks ago at Crust and broken on a recent trip to C-House Fish & Chops, Marcus Samuelsson's Chicago outpost that offers three different pies at lunch.

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My oblong pie had smoked trout, roasted beets, cream cheese and arugula. The smoked trout was outstanding; it was moist, rich and fatty with a nice level of smokiness that did not overpower the fish. The cream cheese turned out to be much more cream than cheese, and the roasted beets brought in some nice rustic sweetness that balanced out the mild bitterness of the fresh arugula.

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Those room temperature toppings were all placed on a piece of dough that was cooked on a grill before any toppings were placed on it. The well-seasoned crust was outstanding and was an ideal blend of crisp and chew that so many crave in certain styles of pizza, and the combination of flavors was delicious. But there is no way that I can call this thing a pizza; it's a composed salad served on dough.

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My second pie was mildly more pizza-like thanks to the inclusion of melted Pleasant Ridge Reserve, a pretty spectacular Beaufort-like cheese from Wisconsin. The rest of the toppings, roasted apple, small hunks of chewy (in a good way) bacon and some Vidalia onions, were also delicious. As with the other pie, the crust on this one was grilled before the toppings were added. This one wasn't a salad, but the combination of cooking technique, lack of sauce, and absence of any more traditional toppings makes it really hard for me to call this a pizza.

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My questioning of these two dishes as pizza is in no way a repudiation of C-House. After all, as at Crust, the pies here are clearly identified as flatbreads, not pizzas. Of course, pies are also called flatbreads at places like Terzo Piano (reviewed here) and American Flatbread Company (reviewed by a Slice reader here), and those things are most definitely pizzas.

So now I'm back to where I started, pondering the definition of pizza. Even as I dismissed the apple and bacon pizza, I recognize that if I'd had it in a place that also offered multiple pies with tomato sauce and mozzarella, I might have had a different reaction. And whenever I think of what might be a good definition, I immediately think of multiple exceptions. I suppose I'm left deferring to the masses in that if I think most people would consider a particular pie to be a pizza, I'm inclined to agree. Anyone have a better rule?


Organic Flatbreads at Crust Stretch Pizza Boundaries
Flatbread Company: 'Wonderfully Wonderful'
Terzo Piano: A Masterpiece in the Art Institute of Chicago