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  • Writer's pictureNatalija Ugrina

The Ultimate Guide to Chicago Deep Dish Pizza: History, Hidden Gems, and Must-Visit Spots

Chicago is a city famed for its towering skyscrapers, fierce winds, and, of course, its legendary deep dish pizza, which has captured the hearts (and stomachs) of food enthusiasts all over the globe. This isn't your typical pizza—oh no! Imagine a rich, buttery crust that's deep enough to hold a lavish bounty of melted cheese, a medley of hearty toppings, and a robust tomato sauce, all layered in harmonious decadence. This pizza isn't just a dish; it's a full-blown culinary event. So, grab your forks and knives (yes, you'll need them!) and join me as we delve into the scrumptious saga of Chicago deep dish pizza, unearth some of its best-kept secrets, and discover the top spots to savor this iconic Chicagoan delight. Let’s get our pizza adventure rolling in the Windy City!

chicago deep dish pizza at giordanos

Birth of a Chicago Staple

The inception of the Chicago deep dish pizza dates back to 1943, in the kitchen of Pizzeria Uno. While it is widely accepted that Ike Sewell and Ric Riccardo were the brains behind the concept, the actual recipe for the first deep dish pizza came from their employee, Rudy Malnati Sr., who was pivotal in shaping the dish’s distinctive characteristics.

chicago deep dish pizza

The idea was simple yet revolutionary: to create a pizza that was more than just a quick bite; something that was hearty enough to be a meal in itself. The result was a pizza that defied all existing norms—it was deep, had a thick crust, and was reverse-layered, with ingredients piled in a way that seemed almost upside down to traditional pizza aficionados.

Unlike other pizzas, the deep dish pizza is baked in a round, steel pan that resembles a cake or pie tin. This gives the pizza its characteristic high edges, allowing for copious amounts of cheese and sauce. Fun fact: the sauce is layered on top of the cheese to prevent the cheese from burning due to the longer baking time required for the thicker dough.

Pizzeria Uno: The Original

Pizzeria Uno's deep dish pizza quickly became a hit, defining the culinary landscape of Chicago. The restaurant's success led to the opening of Pizzeria Due in 1955, located just a block away from the original. This expansion was a testament to the growing popularity of deep dish pizza, and it set the stage for other pizzerias to try their hand at this burgeoning style.

The Spread and Evolution

As the popularity of Chicago deep dish pizza grew, so did the number of establishments offering their takes on the iconic dish. Each brought something unique to the table, often tweaking the basic formula with different blends of cheese, varieties of sausage, or even slight modifications to the crust. This period of the 1970s and 1980s saw the evolution of deep dish pizza into a dish with numerous interpretations, each reflecting a different facet of Chicago’s diverse culinary scene.

The Malnati Legacy

The Malnati family continued to be influential in the world of deep dish pizza. Rudy Malnati’s son, Lou Malnati, opened his own pizzeria in 1971, which emphasized high-quality ingredients like Wisconsin mozzarella and exclusive sausage blends. Lou Malnati's Pizzeria remains one of the most revered names in the deep dish pizza scene today, celebrated for maintaining the traditional craftsmanship and authentic flavors initiated by its founders.

Deep Dish Goes National

By the late 20th century, Chicago deep dish pizza was no longer just a local delicacy. It had gained national attention, with food critics and pizza enthusiasts from coast to coast singing its praises. The deep dish pizza became a symbol of Chicago, much like jazz in New Orleans or the cheesesteak in Philadelphia.

Lesser-Known Facts About Chicago Deep Dish Pizza

  1. Reverse Layering: The construction of a Chicago deep dish pizza is unique with cheese directly on the dough, followed by meats like pepperoni or sausage, vegetables, and finally, the sauce. This layering technique helps manage the moisture and ensures a perfectly cooked crust.

  2. Cooking Time: It takes about 30 to 45 minutes to bake a deep dish pizza properly, significantly longer than the typical pizza. Patience is key!

  3. Local Ingredients: Many Chicago pizzerias pride themselves on sourcing local ingredients, from the tomatoes for the sauce to the flour for the dough. This commitment to local sourcing helps define the authentic taste of Chicago deep dish pizza.

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Where to Try the Best Deep Dish Pizza in Chicago

Pizzeria Uno and Pizzeria Due: Start where it all began. Pizzeria Uno, and its sister restaurant, Pizzeria Due, located just a block away, still serve some of the best deep dish pizzas in the city. The ambiance is as authentic as the pizza itself.

Lou Malnati's: No deep dish pizza tour is complete without a visit to Lou Malnati's, run by the son of Rudy Malnati. Their buttery crust has won numerous accolades, and their commitment to quality ingredients like Wisconsin cheese and vine-ripened tomatoes keeps locals and tourists coming back.

Pequod’s Pizza: For something a bit different, check out Pequod’s Pizza, renowned for its caramelized crust, which is achieved by adding cheese along the edge of the pan, creating a crispy, almost burnt-like finish that is utterly addictive.

Labriola Chicago: A newer contender, Labriola Chicago offers a deep dish pizza that perfectly balances a crispy crust with lush, rich toppings. A must-try for any deep dish aficionado.

The Art of Pizza: Named the best deep dish pizza in Chicago by multiple polls, The Art of Pizza is a less touristy spot with a devout local following. Their stuffed pizza, a variant of deep dish, is particularly noteworthy.

Giordano’s: Famous for its stuffed pizza, a close cousin to the deep dish, Giordano’s offers a pie that's practically overflowing with cheese and has a loyal following. Their pizza is a testament to the rich traditions of Italian-American cooking, making it a must-visit for both tourists and Chicago natives alike.

Wrapping It Up: The Deep Dish Experience

Let's take a moment to appreciate the journey from a quaint 1943 kitchen to the global stage—Chicago deep dish pizza isn't just food; it's a slice of history, innovation, and community spirit baked into a golden, cheesy, saucy delight. This pizza does more than just fill you up; it serves you a piece of Chicago's soul.

Imagine sitting down at the legendary Pizzeria Uno or discovering the delights of a newer gem in the city—each bite is like a time capsule, encapsulating decades of culinary craftsmanship and the vibrant culture of the Windy City. So, next time you're in Chicago, remember, diving into a deep dish pizza is more than a feast for your taste buds—it's an immersive experience in a storied piece of Chicago’s heart and heritage. Ready to take a bite out of history?

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