Chicago Pizza Isn’t Only About Deep-Dish

Published on April 5, 2024

eATLAS’ new Brown Line Pizza Tour Adventure shows off the diversity of both Chicago’s neighborhoods and its pizza culture by sampling six variations of pizza close to six stations on the CTA’s Brown Line, from the Loop to Lincoln Square. The birth of deep-dish will also be part of our Chicago ScavHunt 2024, which will take place between May 31st and June 2nd.

By Dave Lifton (@daveeatschicago)

In previous blog posts, we’ve covered the history of deep-dish pizza and the story of Alice Mae Redmond, who most likely invented it. Deep-dish’s popularity has led to the perception that it’s the only pizza available in Chicago, when the reality is that many variations of pizza can be found throughout the town. Award-winning local food reporter Steve Dolinsky has even dubbed Chicago “Pizza City, USA.”

While deep-dish dominates the pizza discussion outside the city, the thin-crust, also called “tavern-style,” is arguably more popular, and has a high-profile booster in J. Kenji López-Alt. It features a cracker crust, with the sauce, cheese and toppings going all the way out to the edge. But the most distinctive feature is that it’s cut into squares, which creates an ideal-sized slice for a night out with friends. Chicago’s thin-crust originated in the 1940s on the South Side in still-going-strong institutions like Vito & Nick’s and Home Run Inn, and can be found all over town.

With deep-dish and tavern-style dominating Chicago’s pizza landscape, places selling authentic New York pizza—foldable, orange-y triangles with a lip of lightly charred doughy crust—are rare. But Jimmy’s Pizza Café (Lincoln Square), Zaza’s (Lakeview), and Paulie Gee’s Wicker Park are modeled on the slice joints found throughout the New York-New Jersey metropolitan area, and can hold their own with the best of them.

Even tougher to find is Sicilian. Pompei is a Chicago institution, having been on Taylor Street in Little Italy since 1909. You can head to either the Archive Lounge in the Hotel Emc2 (Streeterville) or Sfera Sicilian Street Food (Edgewater) for a slice or two of their sfincione. More commonly seen in Chicago is Detroit-style, which is similar to Sicilian—they’re both baked in a rectangular sheet pan and have a focaccia-style bread below the toppings—but with more cheese that caramelizes at the edges. It’s gained popularity in Chicago thanks to the Jet’s Pizza chain, but you can also check out Five Squared (Goose Island), Paulie Gee’s Logan Square, Pistores (River North), and Union Squared (Evanston).

Two other Sicilian-adjacent styles have found a niche in Chicago. The Slice Shop (Lakeview) serves Grandma-style pizza, which originated on Long Island and typically has a crispier crust than Sicilian and Detroit. Roman pizza combines the doughy interior of Sicilian with the crunchiness of Grandma. Traditionally, Roman pizza is sold al taglio—by the cut—meaning that you tell the person behind the counter how much you want, rather than how many slices. The server cuts the portion and the price is determined by weight. You can sample Roman pizza Bonci (West Loop and Lincoln Park), Pizza Alla Pala (inside Eataly in River North), and Pizza Metro (Wicker Park). Tony Scardino, aka Professor Pizza, sells Sicilian, Grandma, and Detroit-style, plus thin-crust and New York, at his Old Town location, and his West Loop restaurant offers New York and Grandma.

According to the (probably apocryphal) legend, the modern pizza started in 1889 in Naples, and the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (True Neapolitan Pizza Association) requires pizzerias to adhere to specific regulations in all aspects of the pizza-making process. Only four Chicago  restaurants have the stamp of approval from the AVPN: Spacca Napoli (Ravenswood), Forno Rosso (West Loop, Dunning), Coda di Volpe (Lakeview), and Sapori Napoletani (Norwood Park).

However, a number of Chicago pizzaioli, have taken Neapolitan pies and forged their own paths by experimenting with dough recipes, cooking techniques, and innovative, elevated toppings like whipped ricotta, lamb sausage, duck prosciutto, or exotic mushrooms. These artisanal pizzas can be found at Coalfire (Lakeview and West Town), Robert’s Pizza & Dough Company (Streeterville), and Union Pizzeria (Evanston).

Finally, two small parts of the U.S. have their own styles of pizza that are available in town. Quad Cities pizza has been introduced to Chicagoans through Roots (South Loop, West Town). The pies feature a heavily malted crust and a spicy sauce, with toppings underneath the cheese. Instead of triangles or squares, the slices are cut into rectangular strips. Finally, there’s New Haven, Ct., which falls somewhere between Neapolitan and New York pizzas, and is oval-shaped. A popular order exclusive to New Haven is the white pie with clams. New Haven-style apizza, as it’s called, has been named the best in America by many pizza authorities, and it can be had in Chicago at Piece (Wicker Park).

Regardless of which regional variety of pizza you prefer, there’s a place in Chicago that’s bound to have your favorite!

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