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Last Friday night, I went out on a date with a lovely young woman to a restaurant called Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder. It’s an institution that’s been around since the 70s, known specifically for their “Pizza Pot Pies.” Sure, it’s not pure Chicago Deep Dish style, but its got the same ingredients and same culture.
We put our name on the list (they don’t take reservations), and had to wait two hours for a table. That’s okay, we walked over to Sedgwick’s in Lincoln Park and had a few drinks. Me, a double Tito’s and soda. Her, a double Jameson and ginger. We made it back in time to walk right in and sit down.
We ordered our personal pizzas and were told that it could take 30-45 minutes for them to come to us. “No problem,” we said, “We’ll take a bottle of Cab while we wait.” The bottle came and we poured our glasses heartily. We laughed. We talked. We stared intimately into each other’s eyes. When the food finally came, we had a healthy drunk to us that only enhanced the flavor of the mozzarella, the onions, the sauce, and the flaky crust. In that moment, we looked at each other and reached for the bottle of wine at the same time, only to touch fingers and giggle shyly, knowing that sparks were flying.
Why do I bring this up? Well, back in the month of February, one of our fellow writers put out a column about how New York/New Jersey pizza was the best there is. I read it and felt personally victimized. My immediate reaction was to write a rebuttal, but if there’s anything I’ve learned over the last few months, it’s to never write anything when you’re angry. Well, I’ve had a month and a half to think about it, and I’m ready.
I understand hometown pride. I understand owning your take, even if it’s wrong. Shit, I’ll even understand folding your pizza in half so that nothing falls off. What I’ll never understand is trying to glorify the trash culture that is pizza without even trying to improve it.
When it was first invented, pizza was sold by street vendors as an inexpensive alternative to the luxurious food that the wealthy minority ate. They sold it as flatbreads with various toppings on it. And that’s how thin crust pizza became known: as an inexpensive, garbage food that was eaten by people who couldn’t afford anything else.
That is, until 1943, when a couple Chicagoans came along and made this bitch luxurious. There’s meat. There’s veggies. There’s sauce, and cheese, and a flaky crust that makes you feel good about all of the bad decisions you’ve made up until that point. You can fork-and-knife that motherfucker or dig right in; but having the option is what really sets it apart.
Look, I get it. This is a big pill to swallow. I’m sure a lot of you have been raised your whole life to think that your style of slice was best. Whether you’re from New York or New Jersey, St. Louis or Detroit, or somewhere weird on the west coast where they aren’t really doing anything of substance, you really can’t compete with Chicago Deep Dish, and that’s because we make an event out of it.
If you’re anywhere else, your slice was probably intended to be a cheap meal on the go. You’re in a rush on the way to a meeting, and you’re not going to get a chance to eat for the rest of the day. You stayed late at work and now you have to meet up with your brother-in-law who sucks at cooking for dinner. You need something quick and on the go, and so you grab a slice and head out. Well, my friend, what’s separating that from McDonald’s?
Here in the Second City, we make an event out of our pizza. It’s luxurious. We place our order, order a few drinks, and really get to know the group we’re with. Laughter is had. We have full conversations and enjoy each other’s presence. Deep Dish Pizza isn’t about the way you eat it. It’s about the people you’re with. It’s about the experience. It’s about everyone simultaneously sliding their fork and knife into that sucker and watching the cheese overflow onto their plate, and slowly looking around at everyone drooling at the piece they’re about to devour.
That’s not to say we don’t fuck with thin crusts. You can’t have deep dish every time; that’s just how it is. You don’t have 30-45 minutes to wait every time you want pizza. We’ll do thin crust if we have to, but when we do, we’re thinking about how much better it would be if we were chomping on some buttery crust with the remainders of some mozzarella and tomato sauce on it.
It makes sense to think that your local pizza joint has the best pizza. It’s what you know, it’s what you love. What sucks is that if you truly feel that way, then you haven’t been exposed to the best kind of pizza available in the United States: Chicago-style Deep Dish Pizza. Once you have, it’s all you’ll be dreaming of every time you get one of your shitty slices, covered in weird Provel cheese or doused pools of grease. Use a fork and knife, use your hands, but either way, dominate that Deep Dish pie and never look back..
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