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 quest to find good pizza in the Loop has been kind of frustrating. When you think about it, pizza is a pretty great lunch food. A slice is portable and easy to eat when you're in a rush, it's convenient and usually quick if you're getting it from a little stand. Plus, it's usually not a mess (unless you're me, in which case everything is a mess). Oh, and a minor detail: it tastes great. But despite how awesome pizza is, there's a lot of places in the Loop that struggle with the basics.
As I nosed through Google Maps (yes, sometimes I do that to find new places), a little stand called Pat's Pizza on South Clark called out to me. Could this be the place I'm looking for? Before you get too excited, the menu does say in very small print that they're not affiliated with the revered Pat's Pizza up north, reviewed here.
For some reason the personal 8" pizza is not listed on the menu; I had to ask the lady on the phone if they had anything smaller than a 12", considering that's a lot to commit to in case you were just ordering for yourself. Good thing I asked. They have an 8" pepperoni pizza ($6.25) that's enough for one person. The crust is thin, almost cracker-like but a hair thicker, with a satisfying crisp crust. There's a light layer of sauce, a thin layer of cheese, and just the right amount of pepperoni. The pepperoni to pizza ratio is spot-on; there's not too much, and not too little. Overall, it's a balanced little package and definitely recommended.
Growing up, the pizza topping combination of sausage, green pepper, onion, and mushrooms was the only thing I knew. It was, and still is, my father's favorite combination. Like father, like son, as they say, because it's my favorite combination, too. The 12" Pat's Special ($17.30) is that classic Chicago blend. I thought that a 12" pizza wouldn't justify that price, but it's actually a ton of food. And rather than a pale pie with a few brown spots, this one sports a caramelized top in some places.
There's a lot of toppings hidden under that hot cheese blanket, and that's a good and bad thing. While I love the heft of each square slice, there's a lot of green pepper and onion, resulting in a lot of extra moisture. That moisture makes eating the pizza harder as the toppings and cheese tend to slide off unless you've got that puppy on lockdown with an anchor finger to secure the food in place as you bite into it. The large chunks of sausage are plentiful and dispersed throughout, and it's seasoned with more garlic than fennel. And the crust pieces are all caramelized, giving the crisp crust (it's the same as the personal pie) an extra kick of flavor. If you plan on ordering this one, just ask for easy onions and pepper and you'll be good to go.
Love it or hate it, Pat's Pizza also has stuffed pizza on the menu. I don't eat it often because it's so heavy, but a few times a year a cheesy gut bomb is fun to eat, no matter what some of you think. (Cue the angry commenters about stuffed pizza...now!) I'm still fascinated with it, though. The 12" sausage stuffed pizza ($15.00 plus $2.40 to add sausage) is photogenic, too. It's got a fluted crust and everything.
It's definitely packed with my favorite dairy product, and when piping hot, the cheese stretches for about a mile before you have to cut it short. The application of the sauce is heavy, but when you've got that much cheese, it's almost a requirement. It's a thicker, sweeter sauce, but I did detect a lot of tomato paste added to it, giving it a slightly metallic flavor. Unfortunately, the crust is a little too dry—some more fat in the dough would have made it much better.
But the real issue is with the sausage. After my first bite, I knew something was different. And after I flipped its lid, I realized that rather than using chunks of sausage, which is what I was expecting, Pat's uses a crumbled version that has very little seasoning to it. It's a strange choice, and not the best one.
I have a personal rule—whenever I go to a pizza place (at least in Chicago), just stick to the pizza. The other items on the menu never seem to be as good. I wish I had stuck to my own rule, because the Italian beef just seems like a complete afterthought. The meat is dry and doesn't stand up to the other options in the Loop.
So would I consider this trip a success? I'd say for the most part, yes. The thin crust pizza is crisp and it hits the spot, but make sure you go easy on the vegetable toppings so you're not playing slip-n-slide with your lunch. However, there was one mysterious thing on the printed menu that wasn't shown online during my research, called the "Upside-Down Pizza." It sounds like the unicorn of pizza, the sasquatch of pies. If any of you have tried it, let me know in the comment section. I can't stop thinking about what I missed.