Author Topic: Midwest Pizza Pilgrimage Take 2  (Read 4061 times)

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Offline Mad_Ernie

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Midwest Pizza Pilgrimage Take 2
« on: April 16, 2010, 09:44:48 PM »
Almost a year ago I took my family on a trip that extended from our home in the Kansas City area up through Iowa and Illinois into the suburbs of Milwaukee, WI.  Over the course of that trip we sampled 5 different pizza establishments with the only caveat being that they would have to be places that we would not be able to visit near our home.  That trip and my reviews of those places are documented here:
http://www.pizzamaking.com/forum/index.php/topic,8700.0.html

From April 9-14 of this year we again made a similar trip, this time extending up to the suburbs of Chicago (Schaumburg, to be exact).  Once again there were five pizza restaurants that I visited that included everything from Midwestern thin/cracker crust to deep-dish to Neapolitan in terms of type of pizza.  For the most part, I stuck to my tried-and-true toppings of sausage (Italian, if possible) and mushrooms.

Perna’s Pizza

Our first stop was in Rock Falls, Illinois.  We noticed a sign for a restaurant called Perna’s Pizza, so we drove in and arrived right at opening time on a Friday.  We were the only customers in this quaint, old family restaurant that looked like it had been around for 40+ years (a stone outside was dated 1962).  Taking a look at the menu, we ordered a regular sausage and mushroom pizza.  My wife had a salad and we received complimentary bread while we waited.  The salad was most likely from a plastic bag.  I asked if the bread was homemade, and was told “yes”.  I’ll mention more about the bread later.  I noticed well after we ordered that Perna’s had slices available for lunchtime – had I known or been told that fact when we arrived, I would have opted for a slice or 2.  Our pizza was ready in about 15 minutes. 

The style of pizza here is decidedly Midwestern/Bar-style, thin, crackery crust based.  http://slice.seriouseats.com/archives/2008/01/a-list-of-regional-pizza-styles.html?ref=skybox1
My initial impressions were a reminder of the pizza we had eaten at Primo Joe’s Pizza in Dixon, IL on our previous trip in 2009.  However, I have to say that after the first couple of bites, all links to any other pizza I might have eaten in my lifetime were broken.  In a nutshell, the pizza we had at Perna’s was totally bland, devoid of any flavor from crust to toppings.  The mushrooms were the canned variety.  The sausage was flavorless, let alone having any spice or redeeming quality to it.  The sauce was minimal, but what I could taste might have possessed some flavor.  As for the bread I mentioned earlier, it was equally as tasteless as the pizza, perhaps more so.  I suspect they use the same dough for the bread as their pizza crust. 

It would be hard to describe what my impressions are of Perna’s Pizza.  Was it bad?  Well, it certainly wasn’t good.  It’s hard to describe an eating experience when there is no flavor on which to comment. 

All in all, I would not go back, nor recommend it to anyone who still has their taste-buds intact.  Not a good way to start off a pizza crawl across the corn-belt.

To be continued ...
Let them eat pizza.


Offline Mad_Ernie

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Re: Midwest Pizza Pilgrimage Take 2
« Reply #1 on: April 17, 2010, 10:23:19 PM »
Pope’s Pizza (www.mypopespizza.com)

After my first experience, it took more than 48 hours before I ventured out in search of more pizza.  This time, I made a purely nostalgic trip to a family pizza restaurant I remember from my childhood.  Adam Kuban from Slice.com often invokes the Pizza Cognition Theory in his interviews, which states: “The first slice of pizza a child sees and tastes becomes pizza for him (or her).” http://slice.seriouseats.com/archives/2009/12/sam-siftons-pizza-cognition-theory.html
In my own case, I think that is pretty close to accurate.  I don’t really recall what my first taste of pizza was, but most likely it was a Midwestern/Chicago thin/Bar-style pizza with Italian sausage from a college town in central Illinois.  I am old enough to remember when Domino’s pizza actually tasted good, and was quite different from what they call pizza and sell today.  Probably half the pizzas I ate as a kid were cut in slices and the other half in squares (i.e. party/tavern cut). 

This long-winded introduction is to serve as an explanation as to why I chose Pope’s Pizza in Elk Grove Village, IL.  For the brief 17 months that my family lived there in the early 1970’s, the one pizza restaurant I can remember patronizing, mostly on Friday nights, was Pope’s.  Or at least, what is now called Pope’s Pizza, because according to their history, in those days it was known as a franchised Jake’s Pizza restaurant.  I took my 2-year old daughter with me, sans wife, and we walked in on a Sunday evening.  It looked vaguely like I remembered it: triangular shaped front entrance that reminded me of Village Inn pizza restaurants, with dark, old hardwood tables and chairs, and a bar.  We were shown to a table and given a menu by the bartender.  I ordered my usual pizza in a small size; my daughter opted for the grilled cheese and fries.  Aside from a large private birthday party, we were the only patrons in the place while we were there.  I started getting nervous.  “What if this is another Perna’s experience?”  “What if the pizza here isn’t nearly as good as I remember it?”

I chatted with the owner, Alexander Pope, along with some of his family, while we waited.  He’s turned most of the chores of running the place over to his daughter Sherry these days.  After about the obligatory 15 minutes, our dinner was delivered to our table.  The pizza looked like I remember most of the pizzas I ate as a kid: thin, crackery crust with sauce to the edge.  And it was party cut.  I dove in to a tiny ‘corner slice’.  Pretty good.  I went in for more.  And more.  While my 2-year old wrestled with her adult-sized grilled cheese and dipped her fries in ketchup, I devoured my small pizza in minutes.  I wish I had ordered a medium. 

Good, you ask?  Yes, to me it was quite good. 

Great?  Excellent? 

Well, let’s just hold up here for a minute.  To me, I would label my pizza experience at Pope’s as “very good”.  But consider the nostalgia factor for me.  Even I would not call it the best pizza I ever had, and probably not even in the top 10.  But after Perna’s, and calling upon all of my mental faculties to conjure up what I thought a typical old family pizza parlor should have as pizza, Pope’s definitely fit the bill.  The crust was crisp and actually had flavor to it.  The sauce also possessed flavor, but not overpowering by any means.  I am guessing it is probably something like Hunt’s tomato sauce with some oregano, onion and garlic powder thrown in, but hey, it worked for me.  The cheese was mostly mozzarella, but I detected a little something more, possibly parmesan or provolone.  The sausage was much more reminiscent of the Italian sausage to which I am accustomed, but more of a sweet variety, not hot-and-spicy.  The mushrooms were fresh, although I’ve seen better.  Overall, I detected a definite saltiness to the pizza, but which ingredient(s) provided that taste, I couldn’t say for sure.  Oh yes, and the grilled cheese and fries were standard and tasted good, too, but it’s pretty hard to mess those up.

For me, Pope’s restored my faith in old family-oriented Midwestern pizza restaurants.  It’s the kind of place you have little family reunions at, take your little league team to after the game, or just get the family together and say, “what the heck, let’s just go out for dinner tonight as a family”.  After starting out with the Perna experience, I needed to get back up on the horse and ride that crazy pizza beast again, and I’m glad I did.  Pope’s is unpretentious when it comes to pizza and who they are ... and really it is nothing special (except maybe to me).  But they’ve been doing it for 38 years amidst a much bigger and more populated suburb of Chicago than when I lived there back when they were brand new, with lots more competition around, even just within a three-block radius.  So, they must be doing something right.  My only real complaint is I thought the final bill was a little higher than I expected.

Would I eat Pope’s pizza again?  You betcha!
Let them eat pizza.

Offline Mad_Ernie

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Re: Midwest Pizza Pilgrimage Take 2
« Reply #2 on: April 19, 2010, 09:30:05 PM »
Barnaby’s Family Inn (http://barnabysschaumburg.com/)

There has been a fair amount of traffic on pizzamaking.com lately about Barnaby’s pizza.  Though fewer locations exist today, there are still several that remain.  At their height in the 1970's, Barnaby’s was definitely a force to be reckoned with in northern Illinois.  The location in Schaumburg, Illinois is one of the oldest locations and, as I found out, is still going strong today.  They, like Pope’s, are an old family-oriented pizza restaurant with low-lit interior; dark, hardwood tables and benches.  They still use deck ovens in plain sight.  And in a couple nods to the old Shakey’s restaurants 1) their cooks prepare the pizzas behind glass in full view, and 2) you are given a number when you order, which is called out over a loudspeaker when your pizza is ready. 

This was another father-daughter adventure, with Dad once again ordering a small pizza and Daughter going for cheesiness: mac-n-cheese, to be exact.  Barnaby’s offers pizzas in two sizes: 10” and 14”, although for lunch they do offer a 7” version.  I thought I could handle the 10” just fine, so I went with the proverbial small with sausage and mushrooms and a single trip to their salad bar.

The pizza was ready in about 10 minutes.  This pizza was again in a party/tavern square cut.  The crust is distinct for a few reasons: 1) the edge is crimped like a regular dessert pie crust, 2) a very fine cornmeal is used when making the skins and sliding the pizzas into their deck oven, and 3) the taste and texture is also closer to a pie crust than most pizza crusts.  More on the crust in a second.  The sauce was similar to Pope’s, but with a little more herby flavor to it.  The cheese was salty and appeared to be a blend of 3-4 varieties, probably mozzarella, cheddar, provolone, and possibly parmesan.  The sausage was good, but no better than Pope’s.  I think the mushrooms were fresh, but I honestly had trouble in the low lighting being totally certain of that fact. 

Okay, the crust of Barnaby’s pizza.  In addition to my comments above, the flavor and texture on my palate were also rather unique.  There is definitely a fair amount of fat that goes into the crust.  Butter is definitely present, but there may be some shortening used, as well.  The crust was not exactly a cracker style.  It was more crumbly and flakey than like what I expect from a true cracker crust.  In essence, I thought the Barnaby’s pizza crust was a slightly tweaked version of a pie crust in terms of flavor and texture.  It had some characteristics of a deep-dish crust but not exactly.  Bad?  No, just different.  But for me, it was just different enough that I was not altogether fond of it. 

Would I eat Barnaby’s pizza again?  Yes, but probably only if someone else was paying for it (and roughly the same meal I had at Pope’s cost me $6 more than at Barnaby’s).  I would not choose to go to Barnaby’s myself, but if someone else were going, I might tag along.

Let them eat pizza.

Offline Mad_Ernie

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Re: Midwest Pizza Pilgrimage Take 2
« Reply #3 on: April 19, 2010, 09:33:26 PM »
Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria (http://www.loumalnatis.com/)

On the advice of frequent pizzamaking.com poster BTB, although we were staying in Schaumburg, I chose to take the family out to Lou Malnati’s in Elk Grove Village instead.  I also checked out some ratings on the internet regarding the Schaumburg and EGV Lou’s restaurants, and they seemed to support BTB’s assessment of the two locations, as well.  So, our last night in the Chicagoland area, I took the whole family out for pizza.  Yes, even the wife went along on this occasion.  Since my BTB-inspired homemade deep-dish pizza is her favorite, I thought I owed it to her to treat her to some authentic Chicago deep-dish pie, and also to make up for our mistake of trying Perna’s. 

Oddly enough, I have never been to a Lou Malnati’s pizza place.  At least, not that I can remember.  As I previously said, growing up I was largely exposed to Midwestern/Chicago thin crust style pizzas.  The deep-dish/stuffed crust variety didn’t really make a big splash until the mid-to-late 70’s, and even today the thin-crust variety is still probably the preferred style of most pizza restaurants in Chicagoland.  I like deep-dish pizza, but only if it is done right.

The first thing I noticed when stepping into Lou Malnati’s in Elk Grove Village is the décor was decidedly anti-pizza parlor.  In fact, I would describe it as more hunting lodge/steakhouse in its interior design.  Pinewood everywhere: walls, ceiling, furniture.  Animal heads and mounted fish on the wall (what is a yak-head doing in a pizza restaurant?).  Wrought-iron, wheel-shaped chandeliers hanging from the ceiling.  Get the picture?

The pizza this time was the 9” deep-dish with Italian sausage, mushrooms, and this time I went a little crazy and had them add garlic to the mix.  We were told it would be 35 minutes until our pizza was ready, but I was prepared for that, so we sat back and watched our daughter pick at her dinner.

In probably less than 35 minutes, our pizza arrived in its pan and we were served.  In a nutshell, Malnati’s knows what they’re doing.  And obviously, they had better know what they’re doing.  Excellent deep-dish pizza, period.  The crust was crunchy and crumbly at the same time, with a nice hint of butter that wasn’t overplayed.  The sauce was chunky and full-bodied texture to it with a definite fresh taste.  The cheese was pretty much mozzarella and plentiful.  The mushrooms were fresh and helped add to the overall taste, as did the garlic.

The only criticism my wife and I would have is their sausage was actually not as flavorful as we both expected.  For a city and a pizza restaurant that claim sausage as their number one topping, I think Marc and his family might want to relook at their recipe.  It turns out that adding the garlic to this pizza actually was a wise forethought and brought the flavor profile up a notch that might have otherwise been marred by a less flavorful topping.

Would I go back to Lou Malnati’s?  Of course!  Can’t wait to go back and have some more on my next visit (or maybe I’ll try ordering a few frozen pizzas shipped to my house and just see how it stacks up).


« Last Edit: April 20, 2010, 01:36:40 PM by Mad_Ernie »
Let them eat pizza.

Online Pete-zza

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Re: Midwest Pizza Pilgrimage Take 2
« Reply #4 on: April 20, 2010, 12:44:04 PM »
ME,

I'd like to commend you for another job nicely done. You have a wonderful writing style that I wish I had.

Peter

Offline Mad_Ernie

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Re: Midwest Pizza Pilgrimage Take 2
« Reply #5 on: April 20, 2010, 01:28:34 PM »
ME,

I'd like to commend you for another job nicely done. You have a wonderful writing style that I wish I had.

Peter

Peter, coming from you, that is the highest compliment that I could hope to receive on this forum. :)
Thank you, thank you, thank you.  ;D

There is still one more to come.  And as is fitting, it was the best, in my opinion.

-ME
Let them eat pizza.

Offline Essen1

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Re: Midwest Pizza Pilgrimage Take 2
« Reply #6 on: April 20, 2010, 07:59:31 PM »
ME,

That must have been a total joy ride! Great reviews, bro.  ;D

Mike

"Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new."  - Albert Einstein

Offline Mad_Ernie

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Re: Midwest Pizza Pilgrimage Take 2
« Reply #7 on: April 20, 2010, 09:21:03 PM »
Red Rossa Napoli Pizza (http://www.redrossa.com/)

On our way home from our long journey, we stopped in the Des Moines, IA area for lunch.  I had checked out pizza restaurants that might be close to our route, and Red Rossa popped up as a good possibility.  Located in the western suburb of Clive, Red Rossa Napoli Pizza appears to be a new chain from the looks of their website, although they currently only have two locations: the one in the Des Moines area and one in Sioux Falls, SD.  From their website and comments I read on the internet, it appeared they were doing an authentic Neapolitan (or perhaps as close to Neapolitan as one can get for this type of set-up).  Since I am a fan of nearly all types of pizza, and rarely do I get to try Neapolitan style (or at least, good Neapolitan), I made an effort to arrive early for lunch at Red Rossa.  As it turns out, arriving right around 11 AM was a good idea, because the customer traffic really picked up shortly thereafter.

The décor was like most of the nuevo Neapolitan restaurants that are cropping up around the USA.  The wood-fired oven plays an almost front-and-center part of the operation.  The pizza-making process is all in the open and full-view of anyone who comes in.  I saw dough balls sitting in a plastic tub being taken out and dusted with a fair amount of bench flour before being hand-shaped into 10” circles and passed along to the sauce person.  There were five people handling the whole process from taking the orders to getting the pizzas to the tables, and they were hopping!  I ordered a margherita pizza and my wife ordered a lunch special of a half-pepperoni pizza and salad.

Okay, the pizza.  They appear to all be 10 inches in diameter.  I do not claim to be any kind of expert when it comes to Neapolitan-style, but I have to say this was an excellent example of that style in appearance, taste, and texture.  Decent leoparding on the crust with some good char (although a little bit more wouldn’t have hurt my feelings).  I am estimating it took maybe 2 minutes or a slightly more from the time it entered the oven until they pulled it out.  The taste was fantastic!!!  Not only was the crust thin and flavorful, but the sauce had just the right amount of flavor – fairly simple, not overstated, not much (if anything) in the way of herbs or spices.  The mozzarella cheese was just the right amount and tasted just right.  I could’ve used a little more basil and perhaps there could have been a little more leoparding on the crust, but these were very minor points for me.

Well, after finishing off the margherita pizza, and my wife chose to order some chocolate gelato, I decided to order another pizza!  After all, what goes better for dessert after a great pizza but another great pizza, right?  So I looked at the menu and ordered a marinara.  It had more sauce than I expected, no cheese (of course), and some garlic sprinkled over it.  This one was at least as good as the first pie!  I demolished this pizza like nobody’s business.  I guess it’s safe to say Red Rossa was my favorite pizza on this pilgrimage, and my wife's favorite, too.

Would I eat Red Rossa pizza again?  Not only would I eat it again, but I’m beginning  a campaign  to bring a Red Rossa restaurant to the Kansas City area. :D

So to summarize, for this second pizza pilgrimage through the nation’s heartland, I would rate the pizzas I sampled as follows:

1. Red Rossa
2. Lou Malnati’s
3. Pope’s Pub & Eatery
4. Barnaby’s Family Inn
5. Perna’s Pizza
« Last Edit: April 21, 2010, 01:15:51 PM by Mad_Ernie »
Let them eat pizza.

Offline widespreadpizza

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Re: Midwest Pizza Pilgrimage Take 2
« Reply #8 on: April 20, 2010, 09:33:07 PM »
ME,  that looks like american bread flour to me,  any idea what they were using?  Also,  the tiny blisters indicate a cold fermention.  And btw,  that doesnt mean I think thats a bad thing,  just curious.  -marc
« Last Edit: April 20, 2010, 09:34:40 PM by widespreadpizza »


Offline Mad_Ernie

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Re: Midwest Pizza Pilgrimage Take 2
« Reply #9 on: April 20, 2010, 10:35:44 PM »
ME,  that looks like american bread flour to me,  any idea what they were using?  Also,  the tiny blisters indicate a cold fermention.  And btw,  that doesnt mean I think thats a bad thing,  just curious.  -marc

I don't know what flour they use.  I think you're right on the cold fermentation.  There was noticeable condensation on the tub the dough balls were in. 
Let them eat pizza.

Offline Jackie Tran

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Re: Midwest Pizza Pilgrimage Take 2
« Reply #10 on: April 21, 2010, 12:21:23 AM »
Mad E, very cool write up, nice photos, and fun to read.  Thanks for taking the time to do that.  I wish more ppl had the same spirit. Cheers.   

Offline Mad_Ernie

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Re: Midwest Pizza Pilgrimage Take 2
« Reply #11 on: April 21, 2010, 09:13:03 AM »
Thanks, Tranman.  ;)
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Online norma427

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Re: Midwest Pizza Pilgrimage Take 2
« Reply #12 on: April 21, 2010, 12:31:15 PM »
ME,

That was a great report on all the places you ate pizzas.  I could almost imagine myself being there and seeing what you saw.   ;D
Great pictures, also.

Thanks for the trip,

Norma

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Offline Mad_Ernie

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Re: Midwest Pizza Pilgrimage Take 2
« Reply #13 on: April 21, 2010, 01:07:51 PM »
Thank you, Norma.  I've enjoyed following your adventures in the land of pizzamaking.  Your experiments continue to give me ideas and helpful hints.

-ME
Let them eat pizza.

Offline Mad_Ernie

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Re: Midwest Pizza Pilgrimage Take 2
« Reply #14 on: April 21, 2010, 01:13:04 PM »
ME,

That must have been a total joy ride! Great reviews, bro.  ;D

Danke, Essen.  ;D
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Online norma427

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Re: Midwest Pizza Pilgrimage Take 2
« Reply #15 on: April 21, 2010, 01:14:56 PM »
Thank you, Norma.  I've enjoyed following your adventures in the land of pizzamaking.  Your experiments continue to give me ideas and helpful hints.

-ME

ME,

Thanks for saying you enjoy following my adventures..I also love them..glad to be able give you some ideas.   :)

Your recent review of Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria, really made my want to try that style of pizza, again.  I never really tasted their pizza, and only have tried to make that style of pizza a few times, but by the pictures and your report, I was really hungry for a slice.

Thanks again,

Norma



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Offline Essen1

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Re: Midwest Pizza Pilgrimage Take 2
« Reply #16 on: April 21, 2010, 01:36:24 PM »
Danke, Essen.  ;D

Nichts zu danken, ME. Gern geschehen!  ;D
Mike

"Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new."  - Albert Einstein


Offline BTB

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Re: Midwest Pizza Pilgrimage Take 2
« Reply #17 on: April 28, 2010, 09:44:44 AM »
Really great report, ME.  The pictures almost makes me feel like I was there with you guys.  Glad you enjoyed the EGV Malnati's, which I've long thought was the 2nd best of their group of restaurants (next to the Lincolnwood original).  I'm looking forward to returning soon for some great Chicago area pizza this summer.
                                                                                         --BTB

                                                               

Offline Mad_Ernie

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Re: Midwest Pizza Pilgrimage Take 2
« Reply #18 on: April 28, 2010, 11:42:14 AM »
Thanks, BTB.  Your recommendation of the Elk Grove location for Malnati's was spot-on.  What more can you say than great deep-dish pizza and they certainly know what they're doing? 

I'm curious as to your assessment of Malnati's Italian sausage.  We were surprised it did not have as much flavor as we expected.

-ME
Let them eat pizza.

Offline BTB

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Re: Midwest Pizza Pilgrimage Take 2
« Reply #19 on: April 30, 2010, 10:05:43 AM »
Malnati's pizza sausage is probably their number one most requested ingredient and in a large way contributed to the phenomenal success of the Malnati pizza business, so I think it is unlikely that Marc Malnati could ever be talked into changing the sausage blend.  For me, at least, I do think it is very good and has a light but distinct garlic flavor to it.  I wonder if the garlic ingredient you had as an added ingredient, ME, didn't cover it up somewhat. 

It is not a sausage that includes heavy amounts of Italian herbs and spices and contains no fennel seeds that is frequently found on many other style pizzas.  But the sausage on all the deep dish pizzas that I recollect were all of a mild and not heavily seasoned variety.

At the restaurant, you usually can get shakers of hot peppers, basil and oregano to spice things up if one desires.  But fennel or anise seeds and some other things will unlikely be found in their sausage.  Which I guess is a "different strokes" thing.

                                                                               --BTB

Offline Mad_Ernie

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Re: Midwest Pizza Pilgrimage Take 2
« Reply #20 on: April 30, 2010, 04:05:06 PM »
BTB:

Thanks for that clarification.  Very informative, and I understand Malnati's approach better now with regards to their sausage.   I think you are right on 2 specific counts:
1) I think the garlic we added just boosted the garlic flavor and covered up what was already there, and
2) I am used to what I consider to be more traditional Chicagoan Italian sausage which includes fennel seed and some more herbs which I did not detect in our pizza's sausage.

Like you said, different strokes for different folks.  :)

-ME
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Offline BTB

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Re: Midwest Pizza Pilgrimage Take 2
« Reply #21 on: May 01, 2010, 03:43:07 PM »
ME, in my lifetime of eating at all the great Chicago thin crust pizzerias, I have a definite preference -- like you -- for sausage with a lot of fennel and other herbs and spices (but not hot).  But I came to be acclimated to the different kind of Italian sausage that seems to be more prevalent in deep dish style. But I, too, love a more Italian spiced sausage, esp. with fennel, for thin crust pizzas.  Boy, I wish I could have some of those great pizzas right now . . . (mouth watering . . .).  I don't know if you've ever had sausage spiced with some quality anise before, but it, too, is among the best spiced sausage for pizza that I've had.  A small 3 or 4 pizzeria group in Chicago's south suburbs is famous for that.

                                                                                --BTB