Deep-dish pizza (or Chicago-style pizza) is often seen as the least subtle of pizza varieties, and to be fair, it probably is. Far from the puffy crusted finesse of the Neapolitan style, it embodies American indulgence: a strong and solid base on top of which cheese, sauce and toppings can be piled high.
Its origins, however, are far more cunning. Italian immigrants had to adapt their traditional recipes to the coal-fired ovens they found in America, and so they began baking pizza in tins, to protect it from the soot. This new approach found its home in Chicago, and has come to be synonymous with the city’s pizza. And Chicago today undoubtedly has some of the best deep-dish pizza in America. But it also has a superb Neapolitan joint, and a coal-fired pizzeria that produces excellent thin-crust pizzas – an invention that could have spelled the end for deep-dish, had it not already found itself a special place at the broad-minded table of American cuisine.
Let’s kick off with what is technically the home of Chicago deep-dish pizza, Lou Malnati’s. This Chicago staple was created in the 1940s at Pizzeria Uno, by a chef called Rudy Malnati . Rudy passed on the recipe to his son Lou, who opened his own pizzeria, Lou Malnati’s, in 1971. Lou continues to serves some of the best deep-dish pizza in Chicago today, and his pizza is famed for its rich buttery crust and a couple of unique topping combinations.
This loud and lively pizzeria and microbrewery draws in a young and energetic crowd. There are flat screen TVs showing sports, and a well-stocked bar serves a terrific array of craft beers. The pizzas are huge and delicious, with a crispy thin crust, tangy sauce and a varied selection of toppings. If you like pizza, beer and a restaurant with an animated atmosphere, then you’ll fall in love with Piece.
Coalfire serves what it describes as an American twist on traditional Neapolitan pizza: thin, delicately flavored pizza quickly cooked in a blazing coal fired oven. This oven reaches temperatures of 800 degrees, creating a beautifully fresh, crispy crust. The toppings are stripped down and simple, and the restaurant advises guests to have no more than two on their pizza.
As the name suggests, Spacca Napoli bakes traditional puffy crusted Neapolitan pizza in its glorious wood-fired oven. It has a straight-forward pizza menu, listing seven varieties of pizze rosse and seven of pizze bianche. These pizzas emerge charred and bubbling from the roaring oven, the raised crust cradling the bed of carefully-chosen toppings like the rocky shore of some secluded lagoon. They taste damn delicious, too.
So far we’ve seen pizzerias that cook great thin-crust and pizzerias that cook sublime deep-dish. Pequod’s excels at both, loading them with a tangy sauce, tasty cheese, and fresh and delicious ingredients. Its pan pizzas are particularly legendary, and you’ll be hard pressed to locate better deep-dish anywhere else in the windy city. They are great, solid entities, and in contrast to Spacca Napoli’s there’s no suggested topping combinations – you invent it from scratch, and in true Chicago fashion can load as much on top as you wish.