Column on Pizzeria Uno/Due in Sun-Times

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danimal15
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2006/01/05 15:17:58 (permalink)

Column on Pizzeria Uno/Due in Sun-Times

Mark Brown
Are pizzeria pair now serving a more humble pie?

January 5, 2006

BY MARK BROWN SUN-TIMES COLUMNIST

Memories can play tricks, and nothing ever tastes as good as it did when you were young. I know that.

But after a trip to Pizzeria Due the other night, I couldn't help but think I hadn't been eating the same deep-dish pizza that I fell in love with some 30 years ago, and to which I've remained loyal ever since.

Maybe it was the crust. Maybe it was the tomatoes. Maybe it was my imagination.

To satisfy my curiosity, though, I decided to track down some of the women who would know the most about it: the chefs who prepared from scratch the deep-dish pies that made Uno's and Due's so famous that it became synonymous worldwide as "Chicago style."

And guess what? They tell me it's not my imagination. Over the years, Uno's and Due's really have changed their pizza -- and not for the better, the former chefs say.

This accusation is roundly denied by the restaurants' Boston-based corporate owners, as well as the local manager of the two restaurants.

They say they haven't changed a thing since acquiring Uno's and Due's from the widow of founder Ike Sewell in 1992, except perhaps to require pizza chefs to measure out ingredients instead of estimating, which they say was necessary to ensure a more uniform product.

But Aldean Stoudamire and Elizabeth Thomas told a different story.


'They went the cheaper way'



The two women are among a group of African-American cooks who were the oft-overlooked secret ingredient in Uno's success, providing the "mother's love" that made each pie special.

Stoudamire, 66, spent 38 years cooking at Uno's before retiring as head chef in 1996. During much of that time, her sister, Mary Helen White, was the chef at Due's. Thomas, 70, split 32 years between Uno's and Due's before retiring shortly after Stoudamire.

"They put their heart and soul into those pizzas. You could tell." said Sun-Times restaurant critic Pat Bruno, who observed the sisters while researching his 1981 book The Great Chicago-Style Pizza Cookbook, which included a photo of Stoudamire at work. "They had the feel, you know. The touch. They didn't even have to weigh out the dough."

Both women began under Sewell and continued cooking at the restaurants during the early years of Uno Restaurant Holdings Corp., which now has more than 200 company-owned and franchised units, including locations in South Korea and the United Arab Emirates.

"It had started changing before I retired," Stoudamire said. "Little by little, they started changing."

The new owners fiddled with the recipe, she said. They fiddled with the ingredients. They wanted things done their way.

"After the franchise got in, you was just another number," Stoudamire said. "The franchise guys come in with their own rules and everything."

"When they got new management, they went the cheaper way," agreed Thomas, who said the managers began switching everything from oil to cheese to yeast, although she said they returned to the original yeast after there were problems.


Not talking about franchises


Both women say they have no information on current practices at the restaurants, except comments from friends and family that the pizza doesn't taste the same.

If you're trying to gauge their credibility, keep in mind that I went looking for them. They didn't come to me with an ax to grind.

Stoudamire, for one, seemed perfectly content never to think or talk about pizza again. She lives on her family's farm in Georgia now, taking care of her 99-year-old mother. She rarely even eats pizza these days.

In Chicago we know the pizza sold at Uno's franchises around the country bears little resemblance to the product the flagship restaurants made famous. That's a different story. But we have always been promised the Boston owners were dedicated to preserving the unique character and food of the original restaurants here.


'Why would you change it?'



I received the same assurances Wednesday from Uno's CEO, Frank Guidara, who insisted nothing has changed since Sewell's tenure, not even the pizza ovens. He said the Chicago restaurants still buy the same ingredients from the same local suppliers, contradicting the former chefs. Guidara joined the company last February but said he had checked with others to confirm his information.

"Why would you change it?" Guidara said, noting the success of Uno's and Due's, which have increased sales every year and rank best in the company in terms of fewest customer complaints.

"People must be pretty satisfied," he observed.

True enough, but maybe all those tourists just don't know any better. I didn't say it was bad pizza, just not as good as it used to be.

I was going to say that only in Chicago would we argue about whether a restaurant had changed its pizza recipe. But that's not true. People everywhere take their pizza seriously.

We're just the only ones who know what we're talking about.

#1

13 Replies Related Threads

    danimal15
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    RE: Column on Pizzeria Uno/Due in Sun-Times 2006/01/05 22:20:58 (permalink)
    I posted this article because it squared so perfectly with my experience the last time I went to Pizzeria Due. That was nearly three years ago, I admit, but it sounds like nothing has changed since then. Unfortunately, things have changed a lot from the old days.
    #2
    MilwFoodlovers
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    RE: Column on Pizzeria Uno/Due in Sun-Times 2006/01/05 23:03:28 (permalink)
    I went to a local franchise location and it was nothing like I remember Uno and Due being like when we'd drive to Chicago just to eat. My last Lou Malnati's (in Lincolnwood) was great but that was 5 years ago or so. My last few years have been thin crust but I'm ready to try deep dish again. What do you recommend?
    #3
    BuddyRoadhouse
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    RE: Column on Pizzeria Uno/Due in Sun-Times 2006/01/05 23:12:08 (permalink)
    No big surprise for this Chicago boy. I've been saying this for years. This is tourist pizza folks. All hype and no substance. Once again, I must recommend Burt's Place in far flung Morton Grove. I won't do my usual commercial for them; if you want details I've spoken of them many times in previous postings in other topics. They are unlisted, though, so here's the phone number: (847) 965-7997. Enjoy.
    #4
    sizz
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    RE: Column on Pizzeria Uno/Due in Sun-Times 2006/01/06 00:10:56 (permalink)
    quote:
    danimal15 Posted - 01/05/2006 : 22:20:58
    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Unfortunately, things have changed a lot from the old days.


    Danimal........you better not wish for the "good old days"............... For if this were the good old days in Chicago and Mark Brown wrote that story and you posted it here for all to see ........ Both you and Mark would be found tomorrow morning floating face down in the Chicago River........... so much for what things where like in good old Chicago.

    My history with Pizzeria Uno started only two years ago when Linda and I made a special trip into Chicago just to sample Pizzeria Uno's deep dish pizza .We needed a bench mark to judge all deep dish pizzas. Our waitress at Uno's told us the very same thing that Mark Brown wrote in his article, almost to the word that "In Chicago we know the pizza sold at Uno's franchises around the country bears little resemblance to the product being served here at this the flagship restaurants that made Chicago style famous".
    Of all the deep dish pizzas we have had throughout this country we fond none better then Chicago's Pizzeria Uno's
    #5
    The Travelin Man
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    RE: Column on Pizzeria Uno/Due in Sun-Times 2006/01/06 02:46:41 (permalink)
    quote:
    My history with Pizzeria Uno started only two years ago when Linda and I made a special trip into Chicago just to sample Pizzeria Uno's deep dish pizza .We needed a bench mark to judge all deep dish pizzas. Our waitress at Uno's told us the very same thing that Mark Brown wrote in his article, almost to the word that "In Chicago we know the pizza sold at Uno's franchises around the country bears little resemblance to the product being served here at this the flagship restaurants that made Chicago style famous".
    Of all the deep dish pizzas we have had throughout this country we fond none better then Chicago's Pizzeria Uno's



    I think, in a way, you are confirming what BuddyRoadhouse and danimal are saying. They claim that the Pizzeria Uno/Due experience from ten-plus years ago is different from todays. I don't think that either of them said that the new experience is BAD -- just not as good as it once was. Since your experience only started two years ago, you have no benchmark comparison from previous years. While your Uno's experience may have been the best that YOU have ever had, it doesn't mean that it wasn't better at some time previously -- and that there are not better places that a local Chicagoan could find.
    #6
    sizz
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    RE: Column on Pizzeria Uno/Due in Sun-Times 2006/01/06 12:02:16 (permalink)
    quote:
    stevekoe Posted - 01/06/2006 : 02:46:41
    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    quote:




    I think, in a way, you are confirming what BuddyRoadhouse and danimal are saying. They claim that the Pizzeria Uno/Due experience from ten-plus years ago is different from todays


    Stevekoe ........................ Yep that is exactly what I was trying to say .....
    We on the west coast never knew what a deep dish pizza was supposed to be like.... Linda and I have visited a few franchised Pizza Uno's here on the coast and wondered what the hullabaloo was all about. We were always told by folks in the know that this stuff was not the real "Chicago style".... As you can see right off the bat the franchised restaurants are not even called Pizzerias there called Pizza Uno's
    Now I'm wondering is the writer Mark Brown talking about the one and only Pizzeria Uno / Due or was he critiquing the whole franchise as one. He really didn't say but what he did say, and I agree, was the franchised pizza was different from pizza of long ago..... Yah ............... no kidding, so is everything else.
    Case in point, and most older folks will agree, today's tomato does not taste like a tomato of yesterday and mozzarella cheese made at a modern dairy couldn't possibly be the same as the cheese of yesterday. Even the wheat flour used in making the foundation of a deep dish pizza is altered in many ways from the flours of yesterday...
    I'm so glad my deep dish pizza experience just started and I'm not hindered by what it used to taste like, for I already have hundreds of foods stashed in my minds memory that do not taste like they used to...... don't you?

    As for Burt's Place , "been there done that" ............. I think Burt's pizza does not fall into the Deep dish pizza category although it is baked in a traditional black deep dish pan the pizza itself only rises to half way up the pan making it what I would call a thick crust pizza or half way between a deep dish and a thin crust..... I think Burt's should call it's pizza "Cleveland Style" ......lol. You know half way between New York and Chicago.
    #7
    Michael Hoffman
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    RE: Column on Pizzeria Uno/Due in Sun-Times 2006/01/06 12:26:13 (permalink)
    All the franchises I have seen here in Ohio, and one in Milford, Connecticut, are Pizzeria Uno.
    #8
    sizz
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    RE: Column on Pizzeria Uno/Due in Sun-Times 2006/01/06 13:33:21 (permalink)
    you could be right Michael ............. The original franchise and spin off of Pizzeria Uno is called Uno Chicago Grill so I cant say where the Pizzeria Uno your talking about came from.
    Pizza Uno another franchise can be confused with Pizzeria Uno There are a million of "UNO's" out there and to a non native Chicagoan it's all very confusing where all I want while on the road is a "deep dish pizza"

    is this the place your talking about? http://www.unos.com/index.html
    #9
    BuddyRoadhouse
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    RE: Column on Pizzeria Uno/Due in Sun-Times 2006/01/06 14:49:43 (permalink)
    quote:

    As for Burt's Place , "been there done that" ............. I think Burt's pizza does not fall into the Deep dish pizza category although it is baked in a traditional black deep dish pan the pizza itself only rises to half way up the pan making it what I would call a thick crust pizza or half way between a deep dish and a thin crust..... I think Burt's should call it's pizza "Cleveland Style" ......lol. You know half way between New York and Chicago.


    fpczyz, I try not to be one of those guys who gets all defensive whem someone disagrees with one of his faves. I agree that Burt's pizza doesn't rise all the way up the side of the pan. However, I would argue that no Chicago style pizza rises all the way up the side of the pan, nor would you want it to (okay, I admit it's been years since I've been to either Uno's or Due's; maybe they do rise all the way up. But, I reiterate, why would you want that much bread?). An inch and a half of bread seems a bit much to me. On the other hand I have seen stuffed pizzas that hit that mark. Of course with the ingredients stuffed into the middle included in that measurement, you're still getting roughly the same amount of bread you would get in a normal pan style pizza.

    All of this aside, fpczyz, how did you like the pizza?
    #10
    danimal15
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    RE: Column on Pizzeria Uno/Due in Sun-Times 2006/01/06 23:15:49 (permalink)
    I'll have to try Burt's Place at some point. There just isn't a lot of top-quality Chicago-style pizza up here on the North Shore, aside from the original Lou Malnati's in Lincolnwood, which is in a class of its own.

    The author of the column, by the way, was referring to the original Pizzeria Due, one block north of the original Pizzeria Uno. Both sell the same pizzas. Neither has anything to do with the franchise Pizzeria Uno's in other cities. They're probably still better than the "Chicago-style" pizza available elsewhere around the country, but I think for the best authentic Chicago pizza they are no longer the place to go. I've heard good things about Gino's East, though I wasn't impressed the one time I ate there years ago. So for now, it's Lou Malnati's in Lincolnwood (and not their other locations in Chicagoland) when I want the best Chicago-style pizza. It's almost as good as Pizzeria Uno and Due were 25 years ago.
    #11
    mr chips
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    RE: Column on Pizzeria Uno/Due in Sun-Times 2006/01/08 02:33:13 (permalink)
    This news makes me a little sad. I wish I could have tasted the pizza of a decade ago.
    #12
    sizz
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    RE: Column on Pizzeria Uno/Due in Sun-Times 2006/01/08 15:03:34 (permalink)
    quote:
    BuddyRoadhouse Posted - 01/06/2006 : 14:49:43
    As for Burt's Place , "been there done that"
    All of this aside, fpczyz, how did you like the pizza?


    Pizza is a lot like sex it's all good except some are just a bit better then others........you know what I mean Buddy ?? .......sure, I liked Burt's Pizza, it was good ........... But as a rookie, in my search for the Chicago deep dish pizza I expected it to be what is common to deep dish pizza ........ Deep! Burt's is not deep.
    .......... As a tourist I went to Chicago to experience the famous Deep dish pizza and found it at Pizzeria Uno and another place I thought met my expectation..Carmen's in Evanston... now I know what a deep dish pizza is............. Me personally I like the New York wood burning oven style pizza............here is a pic of a deep dish at Carmen's and at the bottom a pic of Linda at UNO's


    #13
    bjanuary
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    RE: Column on Pizzeria Uno/Due in Sun-Times 2006/03/11 10:44:26 (permalink)
    I've eaten at both the original location in Chicago and the ones in the suburbs--it's basically the same lousy, greasy mess, made with cheap soybean oil. Same recipe as Malnati's (and after the last Malnati's I had, I vowed never to return again, it was so grasy-bad!).

    It is bad pizza.
    #14
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