One of my cookbooks on pizza, The Great Chicago-Style Pizza Cookbook, first came out in 1983. If my math is correct, that was 25 years ago. Holy pepperoni, pizzaman, that’s a long time ago. Yes, even though this book is still in print, I honestly admit that it is in dire need of an update. And the reason I am thinking that way is because so much has changed over the years relative to Chicago pizza. Nevertheless, all of the pizza restaurants that I mentioned in my book are still in business, which is a testament to not only the popularity of pizza, but the idea that if you make a good pizza people will come (and come, and come).
Each of the restaurants in the book have a different style of pizza: deep-dish; stuffed; thin crust; Italian bakery and variations on all of those themes. What are not in the book are pizza places using wood-burning ovens. The reason for that, believe it or not, is that there weren’t any pizza places with wood-burning ovens in Chicago in 1983. Hard to believe, but it’s true.
I am here to tell you that all of that has changed. There are (at least, as I write this) a dozen pizza places that are working with wood-burning ovens. On top of that there are countless restaurants using ovens with chambers that are gas-fired. In short, the landscape of Chicago-style pizza has changed dramatically.
The earth may have moved here in Chicago, but the foundation of Chicago-style pizza is still rock solid. And that foundation was built when Pizzeria Uno opened in 1943, and Chicago was introduced to deep-dish (also known as pan) pizza. It tasted good back then and it still tastes good today, and this deep-dish pizza became the benchmark on which all pizzas (at least those after 1943) were measured. How so? It had to do with every part of that pizza: crust, cheese, tomatoes, toppings, the finished product. Also in the deep-dish game we find Gino’s East, which got going in 1966. Another big hit right from the start.
The hits just kept on coming. Next on the deep-dish scene was Lou Malnati’s (Lou worked at Uno’s for a number of years). Another fine pie. Malnati’s opened its first location in Lincolnwood, a suburb of Chicago, in 1971, and now has some 25 locations spread around Chicagoland.
On the thin-crust side, we have to look to Home Run Inn and acknowledge its contribution to the Chicago pizza scene. Home Run Inn got going in 1947. Actually it was a bar on Chicago’s near south side that just happened to serve pizza. I first tasted Home Run Inn when I got to Chicago in 1967. I got hooked on this pizza back then and I am still hooked on it today.
Relative to stuffed pizza, we go into the same year as Home Run Inn –– 1967. For those not in the know about stuffed pizza, it’s like a deep-dish pizza (same style of pan is used), but there are two crusts. One crust is fitted into the pan (the dough overlapping the sides of the pan). The filling (toppings in other words) goes into that deep well. Another thin sheet of pizza dough goes over the filling and the two pieces of dough are crimped together (like a two-crust fruit pie). Now the tomato sauce goes on top and the pizza gets baked.
But –– and there’s always a but in situations like this –– all of these new pizza places, and I am referring to those new woodburning oven places that are serving Neapolitan-style (a.k.a. thin crust) pizzas, are getting their slice of the pie, so it’s boiled down to which place can do a pizza better than that place. Pizzeria Uno (and its sister restaurant, Pizzeria Due) will always get its share of business (the crowds waiting outside to be called to a table are testament to that), and so will institutions like Giordano’s, Home Run Inn, Lou Malnati’s, Gino’s East and the rest.
The variety and style of pizzas that are so abundant in Chicago makes my home city a very unique place, so the idea of what Chicago Style pizza is all about anymore is this: It’s all about a city where pizza is part of the atmosphere, part of the fabric, part of our daily lives. And that is what makes Chicago the Pizza Capital of the World (sorry, Naples, but it’s true).
Here is a recipe for deep-dish pizza, the pizza that made Chicago famous.
Chicago-Style Deep-Dish Pizza
Yield: One 12-inch deep-dish pizza (scale up in direct proportion)
8 ounces of sliced part-skim low-moisture mozzarella cheese (about 11 slices)
10 ounces ground pork, mixed with
2 teaspoons fennel seed,
1 teaspoon salt,
1 teaspoon pepper.
(Press the meat into a patty that is almost as big as the pan.)
1½ cups ground tomatoes mixed with
1 teaspoon oregano and
1 teaspoon basil
2 teaspoons grated
1/4 ounce active dry yeast (not instant)
3/4 cup warm water
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup corn oil
2½ cups flour (11-12 percent protein, a soft flour)
2 teaspoons salt
In the bowl of a stand mixer, blend the yeast into the water. Add the sugar and corn oil. Mix to combine. Add the flour and the yeast. Mix to combine and run the mixer for about 4 minutes at medium speed. The dough should clean the sides of the mixing bowl. Rub the dough ball all over with olive oil. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth. Let the dough rise for 2 hours. Do not punch it down.
Spread and push the dough across the bottom and up the sides of a 12-inch by 2-inch deep pizza pan.
Lay the slices of cheese over the crust, overlapping the slices to cover the dough. Add the pork sausage patty. Spread the tomatoes over the sausage. Sprinkle on the Romano cheese.
Bake in a preheated 475 F oven for 20 to 25 minutes until the crust is golden brown and pulls away from the sides of the pan. Let the pizza sit for 3 to 4 minutes before cutting.