Even though it easily destroys us every time, my husband and I are pizza obsessed. In fact, our pizza obsession recently took us to Chicago in the dead of winter just to try deep dish.
Everyone thought we were nuts for visiting Chicago in January. We heard stories about people cracking their car windshields just by trying to de-ice them, but it was really cozy to wander through the city in search of the next warm, yeasty pizzeria. It only flurried while we were there and I was a little sorry it didn’t snow harder. Chicago at its coldest would’ve been an experience. In three days, we stopped at six of the highest ranked deep dish spots on Yelp and here’s what we found.
We rode on the El, explored the Pedway, and did the mandatory tourist stop at the Bean in Millenium Park, but with limited time and a specific pizza agenda, most of our time in Chicago was well spent eating and then walking it off to prepare for the next stop.
Pizza in Chicago is nothing like the fold and eat slices we grew up on in New York, especially Brooklyn, where thin crust is all the rage (minus L & B Spumoni Gardens, of course). We were expecting a soul warming pizza casserole, and that’s what we found at our six top picks.
This first stop seemed fitting since our only previous experience with deep dish was the Pizzeria Uno chains we’d gone to birthday parties at as kids. But while the five year old me didn’t understand why pizza had to be eaten with a fork, the older me was pleased when the server brought our pizza to the table and did the customary first slice removal, hacking through layers of cheese, sauce, and crust with a knife, carrying that first slice to our plate and slicing the umbilical-like cheese cord connecting back to the mother pan. That first slice had a rugged yeastiness to it and a knife and fork was absolutely necessary.
Visiting the original Pizzeria Uno was satisfying. Everything had an authentic worn out look about it instead of that imitation look that the other locations have tried to copy. And the pizza was excellent. If we’d had more time, I would’ve liked to take one of their pizza making classes.
Pizzeria Due is up the block and I wish they hadn’t stopped naming them by number. I would’ve liked to know whether the Pizzeria Uno I ate at as a kid was really Pizzeria 900 or something.
The most traditional deep dish pizzas have a layer of cheese, sauce, and sausage baked on top of a thick crust. We went for the traditional here, which was like lasagna without the noodles. This was our second stop, and at this point in the trip, I wondered if this entire trip was a good idea. Deep dish is delicious, but it’s filling enough not to think about food until the next day, which wasn’t going to cut it if we were going to do this trip as planned. We bundled up to walk off our entire day of eating while the Blommer Chocolate Company roasted cocoa beans in the distance.
Giordano’s was a late night stop for us. Housed in a sports bar, it had that quick pizza feel that comes from places where men congregate for wings, which is why the pastry-like crust at Giordano’s was surprising. The pizza was light and full of veggies and while we couldn’t fold it, we were able to pick it up and eat it without a fork and knife.
Giordano’s: Easily the most pastry-like crust of the pizza we tried and among the lightest.
This was a breakfast pizza stop for us. The pizza here was, again, delicious and by far the cheesiest slice of all our stops. The graffiti’d walls at Gino’s are one of the things that makes it most memorable, especially the sign by the bathroom door that forbids writing on the walls.
This was one of the last stops on our self-created pizza tour and one of our favorites. By this point in our trip, our deep dish palates were more refined and we had a strong basis of comparison. Pequods is also a sports bar and we were surrounded by games on a million TV’s, while we waited for our pizza. Pequods had one of the crispiest crusts, soft on the inside, but crispy on the bottom, and a layer of caramelized cheese stuck to the pan, which didn’t last very long. I’m glad we stopped here later in our trip or I might’ve been tempted to just eat here the whole time.
Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder
This was our last stop before heading to the airport. These guys are known for their spin on deep dish. The ambiance here was unique to the other deep dish places we tried. It had lots of wooden, cozy booths with a Swiss cottage feel and candles on the tables, very unlike the sports bar theme we saw in many of the others. It fills quickly, so getting there right as they opened was key, and even then there was a line.
Before our trip, we saw a video on how they make their deep dish: They bake the crust on top, so it’s like a pizza pot pie full of cheese, spicy sauce, and mushrooms. This was a favorite for us. We left with three frozen pizzas for our families and the knowledge that Chicago Oven Grinder will ship their pizza if we’re ever in the mood for it.
Overall, we’d give this idea a million thumbs up and are looking forward to our next spontaneous food journey. Chicago has so much more to offer than pizza, but this trip was reserved for one purpose.