We needed a break, some time together. I had been away for most of the past two months, so the prospect of taking a plane again wasn’t really appealing. But I was convinced that it was for a good cause, and that I could get some baseball game out of it.
We picked Chicago. We got our flights, got a good deal at the Hilton Palmer House and set out fo Chicago. We made it intact, despite slight delays, we checked-in promptly, we unpacked very little and we decided that lunch was needed.
The Palmer House concierge was called on to advise us on a good lunch place nearby, in the heart of what is known in Chicago as The Loop. I hinted strongly that I was quite keen to discover Chicago’s Deep Dish Pizza.
There you have it, folks. If Oprah goes there, it must be the place to go to. So we made our way there, a quick walk from our hotel.
The ancestor of Pizano’s, Pizzeria Uno, was opened in 1943. Rudy Malnati Sr. would develop and feature the Deep Dish Pizza, an original creation that would become emblematic of the Windy City.
The first Pizano’s was opened in 1991 on State Street by his son, Rudy Malnati Jr. There are now three other locations, with another one to open soon.
We arrived after the lunch rush. You can easily see how cramped this place can become, tiny tables, very close together. Lots of stuff on the walls, old food critics review and of course, a reminder that Pizano’s thin crust pizza is Oprah’s favorite. It feels authentic, with lots of dark wood and checkered table cloths.
We sat down, ordered a couple of beers and looked at Pizano’s menu, which feature Appetizers, Soups, Salads, Traditional Italian Chicken Dishes, Pasta, Sandwiches and of course Pizza – thin crust or deep dish.
A Deep Dish would be our main, for sure. But we were hungry now, and the fair 30 minutes warning to allow the pizza to cook meant we needed an appetizer to share.
Since it’s hard to share a soup, we ignored that section. We looked instead at the different options in the Appetizers’ section. There were lots of Italian classics (Fried Calamari, Portobello Mushrooms, Bruchetta, Toasted Ravioli), Garlic Bread variations and a few items that seemed out of place (Quesadillas, Chicken Fingers, Chicken Wings). We settled for a true Italian classic: Sausage & Peppers ($8.50).
Sausage and Peppers is such an Italian classic, and there are so many variations. It is of course, a stapple of Italo-American cuisine.
Pizano’s version featured two grilled Italian sausage and a very colorful combination of bell peppers, cooked with onions and finished off in a white wine sauce.
The dish looked good, if a bit sloppy. The sausage was great. Meaty, juicy, good balance of spice and herbs, and cooked just right.
The peppers had been sauteed, skin-on, and not roasted. Since the goal was to finish them in a sauce, I can see that the goal is to keep a crunchy texture and avoid soggyness.
The sauce was fine, lots of flavour, herby and earthy, but it was somewhat fatty, unfortunetaly. No matter, it just meant we wouldn’t dunk too much bread in it as we awaited our “Mark’s special”, a combination of Sliced Tomatoes, Basil, and Fresh Garlic.
Soon enought, our server brought it in its Deep Dish Splendor, served directly in a cast iron skillet:
A deep dish pizza differs from a regular pizza in a few ways. The crust is thick and deep, as the dough is pushed into a cake-style steel pan; the toppings are assembled in reversem, with cheese on the bottom, followed by toppings, and then the sauce.
Pizano’s DDP totally looked like what I imagine. The crust was crunchy, crispy, flakey. The dough is obviously hand-tossed and pressed into the pan, giving it a home-made, rustic feel. The tomato sauce was rich, fairly smooth but with some tomato chunks still present. Not a very complex sauce, though, quite simple, it is mostly a vehicle for the rest of the ingredients, not to star of the dish. The toppings were simple (garlic, basil, tomato slices) but their presence was felt, without being overpowering, no doubt because of the freshness of the produce.
The best part though, had to be the cheese. Ooey, gooey cheesy-goodness! They stacked slices of mozarella, ensuring a dense, deep layer of cheese, and since the pizza is cooked at 600 degrees, well, it is melted throughout and served piping hot! Careful!
This was our first Deep Dish Pizza, but certainly won’t be the last!