RE: Real Chicago Pizza
Sat, 12/24/05 3:33 PM
OK, I've registered for the sole reason of commenting on this thread, it's a pet peeve of mine. I grew up in the Chicago 'burbs, Warrenville, "The Boonies" to those of you that remember John Coleman on Channel 7. I spent close to 25 years there and the rest of my 43 years in just about every region of the rest of the country. I've lived in the Northeast, NYC, New England, the Deep South, Florida, California, and met Chicagoans all over the country. One subject always come up, the rest of the country is clueless when it comes to Pizza. The comment is usually followed with something like, "Yea there's a Pizzeria Uno here, and don't get me wrong, it's something, but I just miss Pizza, like real Pizza, You know?". I've heard this, almost exact phrase uttered by probably a hundred displaced Chicagoans over the years.
Now does this define what Chicago Pizza is? I don't know, but I'll say this, and first let me reiterate the town I grew up in, Warrenville. Chicago Tribune and the Suntimes (even the Today and the Daily News, back in the day) would publish the best pizzerias in Chicagoland and one distant suburban Pizzaria would consistently make the list, and that was Al's Pizza in Warrenville, which on many occasions shared ink in these lists with Home Run Inn (back when there was only one Home Run Inn). Warrenville didn't have much else, but it had Al's. My dad who went to Proviso would take us to Home Run all the time, also excellent. Thick/Thin? Home Run? Did something happen somewhere along the way? Last time I was there was probably in the early '80s and there was nothing thick about it. It was the standard pastry roller, thin to the edge Chicago pizza, amazing, but not thick, and thinner than any pizza I've ever had in NYC.
New Yorkers *can* make pizza, their own style, and occasionally a displaced New Yorker can duplicate this outside of his home town. I've had pretty good replicas of New York Pizzas in Los Angeles and Florida, rare but they exist. But Chicago thin, is a delicacy that the rest of the country knows not. Thin to the edge, a slight seared crispness in the crust, but generally requires a gentle perforating with the teeth to break the small leathery square into a bite size morsel. There is no air bubbles in the crust, nothing bready about it. Straight out of the oven it is insanely hot, but it's at it's best, and requires you to somewhat inhale it, a reverse blowing of sorts. The sauce should make your gums sting from the tomato acids and spices, the sausage should be distinctly spicy and in loose meat ball form, never sprinkled or sliced. Chicago thin, never has corn meal on the bottom of the crust, never has leftover crust edges after consumption. The question was asked, "could you look at a table of thin Pizzas and pick out the one made in Chicago, yes I could, by sight, by smell, yes I could pick one out. Easier than I could pick out a NYC pie and certainly easier than I could pick out a pan pizza actually made by a Pizzeria in Chicagoland.
There are a lot of things that have propagated from their regional roots to the rest of the country. I've lived all over and sampled the original versions of many things. Many never seem to make it out of their home towns successfully, and some only rarely. A great Philly cheese steak hogie is a rare thing outside of Philly, you usually have to coach the preparer to even have a chance, a great New York Pizza is a rare thing outside of NYC. If you haven't had french dip at Philipes in LA, you don't understand the concept, you don't get a bowl of au jus, the best ones are made with lamb and you put hot (like make your nose hurt hot) mustard on them. But Chicago has so many that can't seem to make it out, where are the Italian Beefs? why can't I buy Slotkowski Polish Sausage (and btw kielbasa literally means sausage in Polish, so Jimmy Deans breakfast sausage is Kielbasa, it's "Polish Sausage"), Chicago hotdogs have steamed poppy seed buns, celery salt, no ketchup and dark green sport peppers, not Tabasco peppers or jalapenos.
I've given up these wonderful things so that I don't have to kick big boulders of black ice off my car or carry what now seems strange, that squeegy looking thing with the hard plastic edge and the brush on the other end thingy in my car. Have no desire to ever do that again, I just miss the food. Fair trade for 79 degrees on Christmas Eve? I think so.