Editor's Note: Whether you're a tourist or an office worker in downtown Chicago, you can get sick of eating at chain restaurants all day. So we've started a series to get you the lowdown on where to find a great and affordable lunch.
My search for a good slice of pizza in the Loop continues. It's still a little surprising to me that there aren't a ton of places that sell pizza by the slice for lunch, since you can get in, get out, and be done. And even when I do find a place, sometimes it's not that good, which makes me cry deep within my pizza hole.
Paulys Pizzeria is located right by Columbia College on South State St, which makes sense because college kids and pizza are good friends, especially after a night of utter mayhem. Paulys does, fortunately, sell single slices for a quick and affordable meal. Their menu is huge—there's a ton of items, not just a few slices and some sides as an afterthought.
A few years ago, Nick thought it'd be funny if I ordered a garbage salad from every restaurant I went to that had a garbage salad on the menu. You know, because we're a hilarious bunch, and those are the things we food writers find funny. So, keeping with tradition, I did order a garbage salad ($8.99) to appease his garbagey wishes. [Editor's Note: You don't know how happy this makes me.]
The first thing you'll notice about the salad is its heft. Just by holding it, you'll know there's enough for two meals packed into the plastic container. It has a ton of ingredients, too, including spring greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, artichoke hearts, hearts of palm, chicken, salami, Kalamata olives, pepperoni, egg, bacon, red onions, blue cheese, croutons, and a side of ranch dressing. Phew! You'd think that with that many ingredients, it'd be a noisy mess, but the salad works well. The only element I don't enjoy is the blue cheese; it's very strong, with a gritty texture. Otherwise, it's a fun salad with a loud flavor.
Something I don't often see here in Chicago are garlic knots ($2.99 for six). The first time I'd ever seen them was at Sbarro (aka the original home of pizza disappointment), of all places. In terms of form factor, I love the fact that they're actual tied knots of dough. Paulys knots are extraordinarily garlicky, so much that they end up being bitter. If you've got a meeting or a date that day, you might want to avoid them for the sake of your breath. The dough is crisp and crackly on the outside, but somewhat dry on the inside. A healthy dose of pizza sauce somewhat helps offset the dryness.
While they don't sell single slices of deep dish, Paulys does make personal deep dish pizzas. The sausage deep dish ($7) is quite a beast—the chewy, bready crust holds up to the large pile of cheese, sausage, and sauce on top. It's surprisingly good, and in my humble food-faced opinion, it's better than the single slices of thin crust pizza (more on that in a bit).
Along with the garbage salad, they serve a garbage slice ($4.59). It's not nearly as busy as the salad (which is a good thing); toppings include sausage, pepperoni, green pepper, onions, and mushrooms. I've seen other pizzerias call this combination "supreme." It's a tried and true combination, with salty fatty meat and savory mushroom cut by sharp onion and bitter bell pepper. The crust, however, is its downfall, as it's slightly too thick and soft. The ratio results in a doughy slice.
Normally, as a Chicagoan, I like a plain sausage slice ($3.99), but it's not nearly as satisfying as the garbage slice because there's simply a lot less overall flavor. It would definitely benefit from some more sausage, since there's a fair amount of empty space on each slice.
And of course, for you Slice'rs, here's your upskirt shot. The crust is unevenly cooked. There's no char to speak of, and the crust ends up being chewy and doughy. It works for the deep dish, however, but less so for the thin version.
Paulys Pizzeria proudly advertises that they use a blend of Grande brand mozzarella and provolone. It has a slightly thicker chew to it which eventually gets to be rubbery as the pizza cools off, so it's best eaten hot.
Stick with the deep dish pizza and avoid the chicken parmesan sandwich ($7.99). The chicken has a processed texture and isn't particularly outstanding.
Overall, I still feel like Paulys isn't quite consistent, but for a fast lunch or a late night pizza booty call, you could definitely do a lot worse. But my restless Loop pizza journey continues. I haven't found lunch pizza nirvana quite yet. If any of you wonderful Loopers have a favorite slice place downtown, I'd love if you toss me a few comments below.