Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A slice of Chicago pie


Here in Chicago we're obsessed with pizza. But we're not the only ones. Serious Eats whips up a list of regional pizza styles and has this to say about our beloved pies:

Deep Dish

I don't know if I need to elaborate much on deep dish, since, like New York–style, you already know what it's about. And I'm not trying to knock it here, but it is more like a casserole than, say, focaccia. It's cooked in a deep pan, with a deep, thick, buttery crust, and a chunky tomato sauce. Lots of cheese, lots of (and/or copious amounts of) toppings.

The crust is parbaked in the pan before toppings are added, usually a layer of sliced mozzarella, followed by meats and veggies, then sauce, then grated cheese. Unlike New York–style, it's eaten with a knife and fork. How 'bout a neat little clip from a story in the July 20, 1997, edition of the Chicago Tribune:

Chicago-style pizza may owe its existence to a bad enchilada. When partners Ike Sewell and Ric Riccardo planned to open a restaurant, Sewell, a native Texan, wanted to feature Mexican food. But one of the sample meals the partners tested made Riccardo so sick that he rejected Mexican food entirely. Riccardo suggested pizza, which he had encountered in Italy--as indeed many American servicemen were doing during World War II. Sewell's complaint with pizza was that it was insubstantial, little more than an appetizer--and readily available in Chicago's Little Italy neighborhood besides. Sewell wanted a substantial, meal-size pizza. After some experimenting, the partners devised something with a thick crust and plenty of cheese. Pizzeria Uno opened on this date at the corner of Ohio Street and Wabash Avenue. Chicago has contributed many dishes to American cuisine, among them shrimp DeJonghe, chicken Vesuvio and the Italian beef sandwich. But none has been so widely imitated, nor so closely identified with the city, as Chicago-style pizza. Pizzeria Uno, however, was not an overnight success. In the early days, bartenders distributed free sample slices to introduce customers to the new pizza. "Fortunately," Sewell said, "we had a very good bar business."

Like Neapolitan–style and New York–style, deep dish has traveled far from its birthplace. Although, with a few notable exceptions, good deep dish is still hard to find outside Chicago.

Stuffed Pizza

Another Chicago specialty that is often confused with deep dish because of its similarity. It's assembled and cooked in a similar manner to deep dish, but it has a top layer of crust and is usually taller and more densely packed with toppings.

Chicago Thin Crust

Another form of pizza prevalent in Chicago, though it seems that folks outside the Windy City mostly overlook this style when talking about Chicago pizza. It's thinner than New York–style and crunchier, though it's also more tender and flaky. Almost pastry-like. I think this crust style of this pizza has much in common with the bar pizza or tavern pizza I've had in New York City and also with the independent pizzeria pizzas I've had in Milwaukee. The Chicago thin-crust has a smooth, highly seasoned sauce. Toppings are added under the cheese, which is typically mozzarella. Often cut into a grid of square pieces (instead of pie-shaped wedges) in what's known as the "party cut" or "tavern cut." (See also "Midwest-style," below.)


Variations, I believe, are found throughout the Midwest—from Ohio to Milwaukee to Chicago to wherever. I'd even go so far as to say that the "Chicago-style" pizza just above is really a variation of "Midwest-style." The Midwest style is round, thin, very crisp yet tender-flaky, and is party- or tavern-cut into the grid. Sauces and topping preference may differ from city to city and region to region, but this style seems to crop up often in the heartland.

No comments: