Nothing says Chicago like deep-dish pizza. This unique pie stands out with a crisp, biscuit-like crust that comes up the sides of a three- inch pan. It’s thick with cheese and other ingredients, and then topped with a chunky tomato sauce and baked for 30 to 45 minutes. Chicago is heavy with pizzerias that offer this iconic pie with both locals and tourists proclaiming loyalty to their favorites. but does it play outside of the windy City? The answer is yes, but in this global market of savvy customers, authenticity is the name of the game.
In 1943, Ike Sewell created Chicago-style deep-dish pizza and opened Pizzeria Uno in down- town Chicago. The concept later morphed into Uno Chicago grill, and now, 69 years later, boasts 136 domestic units in 24 states. “Customer expectations are high with deep dish,” says Chris Gatto, vice president of food and beverage and corporate executive chef for this boston-based chain. “They have an expectation of what Chicago-style pizza tastes like, and they expect a consistently great product every time they order it. we invented this pizza and we take a lot of pride in its authenticity.”
Authentic Chicago-style pizza dough contains quite a bit of oil, says Gatto. “you need that oil because the dough bakes for such a long time in the oven,” he says. “it almost fries, giving you that crispy, buttery texture that you want. remember, it’s not being baked on the oven deck. it’s in the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, so it needs that fat to get crisp.” Gatto also says oiling the deep-dish pan is important. The pie cooks in a 400 to 450 F oven.
The popular Number ono build at Uno’s Chicago grill sees mozzarella topped with sausage, peppers, onion, mushrooms and pepperoni, then finished with a bit of mozzarella and romano. Another best-selling pie is the Chicago Classic, which features crumbled sausage, mozzarella and romano. “our pizzas are hand-craft- ed. we shred our own mozzarella. we do everything in the back of house,” says gatto.
Although classic pies still rule, Uno’s has innovated within the Chicago-style pizza category,featuring such pizzas as its Farmers Market Pie, which stars caramelized onion, spin-ach, sun-dried tomato, plum tomato, roasted eggplant, pesto, and a blend of feta, mozzarella and romano. And in October 2011, the chain rolled out a nine-grain deep-dish pizza crust as a more wholesome option for diners. “Deep dish crust is sacred,” says Gatto. “how do we make it better-for-you and still taste really good? we think we answered that with this crust.” The whole wheat/ brown-rice flour dough boasts: rye flakes, sunflower kernels, yellow- corn grits, barley flakes, flax seeds, soy grits, tritcale flakes, millet seed and oak flakes. it makes up 10 to 15 percent of pizza orders.
Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria boasts a rich tradition in Chicago, too. The first one opened in 1973 and it now has 34 throughout the Chicagoland area. “Authentic Chicago-style deep dish is meant to be a meal, not a snack. it’s almost like a casserole with all the flavors melding together,” says Jim D’Angelo, chief operating officer of Lou’s. “The crust has to be firm enough to hold everything, but flaky and crisp. And when we add meat to the pizza, it’s not dotted on the pizza. it’s a heavy amount of meat. Finally, the sauce has to be a chunky tomato sauce.” Lou’s offers both a regular crust and its signature buttercrust.™ “sausage is king in Chicago, but the Lou does really well, too,” he says. That vegetarian pie features fresh spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes and a blend of mozzarella, romano and cheddar.
Operational challenges shouldn’t be overlooked, he advises. “We’re in a microwave-minute kind of a world,” says D’Angelo. “The biggest challenge is getting your customer to understand that these pizzas take at least 30 minutes to bake. we try to train them to pre-order, so they’re only waiting 10 minutes instead of 30.” baking a pie for that long requires a level of artistry, says D’Angelo. indeed, working the oven is reserved only for experienced cooks at Lou’s. “The human element is a big part of Chicago-style pizzas,” he says. “you need to know when to rotate or move the pizza to get it to cook evenly and cook off some of the moisture from the ingredients.” Fresh vegetables on pizzas, which cook for a long time in the ovens, throw off a lot of moisture that needs to evaporate. “our oven guys need skill and experience to know how to bake these so they turn out beautifully every time,” says D’Angelo.
Tony Manzella, owner of Tony’s Little italy in Placentia, California, includes Chicago-style pizza in his repertoire. in fact, Tony’s was located in Chicago back in the 70’s, but he transported the busi-ness to the west Coast, lured by sunnier weather. “i have customers who fly in from Chicago to get my Chicago-style pizza,” he says. “I’ve been making pizza since i was 14 years old. i take a lot of pride in my pizza.” The best-selling pie at this 27-seat shop is the Tony special, featuring sausage, green pepper, mush- room and onion. Toppings include the traditional pepperoni and mushrooms, but perhaps influenced by location, diners can also choose from artichokes, chicken and jalapeño. “The secret to authentic Chicago-style pizza is in the dough, in the sauce,” Manzella says. “But i can’t give away my secrets.”
CHICAGO’S OTHER LEGACY: STUFFED PIZZA
Stuffed pizza is deep-dish pizza’s much younger sister. While deep-dish was invented in the 1940s, stuffed pizza made its debut in the early 1970s. Based loosely on the traditional Scarciedda, or Easter pie, made in Turin, Italy, it sports a flakier, milder crust than deep dish. It also stuffs even more cheese into the pan than a deep-dish pie and then adds a thin crust over the cheese, sandwiching it, essentially, then finishes with tomato sauce. Chicago stuffed pizza has its own loyal following, with locals debating over which stuffed pie reins supreme. Chicago contenders include Nancy’s Pizza, Giordano’s Famous Stuffed Pizza and Edwardo’s Natural Pizza.
Katie Ayoub is a frequent contributor to Pizza Today. she’s based in Naperville, Illinois.