Author Topic: My Visits to Chicago -- An Extended Pizza Crawl  (Read 554 times)

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Offline RockyMountainPie

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My Visits to Chicago -- An Extended Pizza Crawl
« on: May 22, 2016, 09:06:59 PM »
I lived in Chicago for 4 years while in my late 20's and of course, ate a lot of pizza.  When people came to visit from out of town, I'd usually take them to Pizzeria Uno or Gino's East, but the rest of the time I mostly ate at nearby places that were not particularly famous. 

I no longer live in Chicago, but in recent business trips to Chicago during the past 3 years I decided to seek out some of the well-known pizza establishments and take some pictures in order to review them here.

The restaurants I visited are:

1. Vito & Nick's
2. Giordano's
3. Pat's
4. Gino's East
5. Flo & Santos
6. Pizano's
7. Aurelio's
8. Malnati's

First up, Vito & Nick's

Located on Pulaski, Vito & Nick's struck me as the perfect, old-school, neighborhood pizza joint.  There's really nothing commercial or polished about the place.  Blue Christmas lights hang above the bar and everything  except the flat panel TVs  looks dated from at least the 1970's or before.

When I visited, I could tell most of the customers were "regulars" as they knew all the waitresses on a first name basis and asked about waitresses that weren't there that day.  It's the kind of place where people might yell at the TV while watching a baseball game and the customers were decidedly for the White Sox.

I ordered a small pizza with  half Italian sausage and half sliced beef.  It didn't disappoint.  The sausage was extremely greasy and incredibly flavorful!   The thin crust was tender, but crisp in a way that didn't interfere at all with the flavors from the sauce and cheese.  It was consistent with crusts I've made at home using milk in the dough.  I also liked the sliced beef topping and I kept going back and forth from side to side of the pizza trying to decide which half I preferred.  More "research" will be required to answer that. :)

One of the patrons near me ordered a Jason's Favorite sandwich with beef & sausage served on garlic bread with cheese and green peppers  and it looked amazing as well.  If I lived in this neighborhood, I am sure I would become a regular at this restaurant. 

 If you're looking for an old fashioned Chicago thin pizza, you can't go wrong at Vito & Nicks's.   Make sure to bring cash though because they don't take credit cards.

« Last Edit: May 23, 2016, 12:29:21 AM by RockyMountainPie »

Offline RockyMountainPie

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Re: My Visits to Chicago -- An Extended Pizza Crawl
« Reply #1 on: May 22, 2016, 09:09:36 PM »
More Vito & Nick's pictures:

Offline RockyMountainPie

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Re: My Visits to Chicago -- An Extended Pizza Crawl
« Reply #2 on: May 22, 2016, 09:16:43 PM »
 Next is Giordano's.  Prior to my visit, I had in my mind that Giordano's was one of those "just for tourists" places and I wasn't particularly excited about going there.  Man, was I wrong!  This stuffed crust pizza was superb.

I visited the Randolph Street location (twice!) and ordered a small stuffed sausage pizza.  It's way more than one person can eat.  Even after purposely skipping breakfast I could only eat less than 3 pieces.   In the kitchen I noted a dough sheeter in use and the Cutler oven.  This oven has a "ferris wheel" inside and can handle a massive volume of pizzas simultaneously.  For more info on Cutler ovens and the company founder, Alan Cutler, see this Chicago Tribune article from 1992: http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1992-09-13/features/9203230585_1_oven-walls-bagels-baked

The Giordano's sauce, when tasted by itself, reminded me of a really good quality marinara sauce.  You could put this on pasta or in a lasagna with no modifications at all.  The most notable flavors I detected were garlic, oregano, and a hint of onion.   This, combined with loads of shredded Stella mozzarella cheese and sweet sausage, made for a memorable and satisfying dining experience. 

The crust, surprisingly, while good, wasn't particularly special.  It was more "bready" than I expected -- not rich and oily like the crusts of other deep dish pizza places such as Gino's East.  On its own, the crust is kind of bland and I even found myself not eating all of the crust edges to save room for more cheese, sauce and sausage.  I think of this crust more as a sturdy vehicle for delivering  the rest of the pizza to you, rather than as something  you would crave on its own.  The to-go boxes are the best I've ever seen: sturdy cardboard with flaps on the sides to keep the box securely closed.

The parmesan cheese packets given with pizza is made by an Illinois -based company called Mama Francesca.  I assume this is the same cheese sprinkled on the pizza just before it is baked.  By going to the Mama Francesca website I found that this cheese can be purchased by the public at Target stores and other locations.  I found 3 varieties at my local target store in the non-refrigerated aisle near other grated cheeses.

One more hint:  Order your pizza online ahead time through their website and the pizza will be ready for you when you arrive.
« Last Edit: May 22, 2016, 09:29:01 PM by RockyMountainPie »

Offline RockyMountainPie

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Re: My Visits to Chicago -- An Extended Pizza Crawl
« Reply #3 on: May 22, 2016, 09:20:57 PM »
More Giordano's pictures

Offline RockyMountainPie

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Re: My Visits to Chicago -- An Extended Pizza Crawl
« Reply #4 on: May 22, 2016, 09:30:51 PM »
Giordano's side view and Mama Francesca Cheese:
« Last Edit: May 23, 2016, 12:34:08 AM by RockyMountainPie »

Offline RockyMountainPie

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Re: My Visits to Chicago -- An Extended Pizza Crawl
« Reply #5 on: May 22, 2016, 09:36:46 PM »
Next we have Pat's Pizzeria  in the South Loop at 628 S. Clark.  Their  website says that they are not affiliated with the Pat's Pizza on N. Lincoln Ave., however some Yelp reviewers claim that the pizza at the two locations is about the same and one reviewer said the recipes were from the same family, but they had split up.  Maybe a forum member will know the relationship if any between the two "Pat's"

Pat's Pizzeria on S. Clark  is primarily a delivery or take out location with very limited seating.  I had nowhere to go, so I ate my pizza at the counter on one of the few stools.

I ordered a small sausage pizza.  I noticed the sausage was applied uncooked (like all decent Chicago-style pizza) and the skins were brought out, pre-formed, on some sort of paper similar to parchment paper.   I saw this same technique used on this video from the Pat's Pizza location on N. Lincoln Ave:

The pizza came out hot and crispy with plenty of tasty sausage and melted cheese, and a tomato sauce that was tangy and sweet.  In examining the texture and appearance of the bottom of the crust, I concluded that this dough was likely made with shortening or lard rather than oil.  Also, I think they use breadcrumbs on the peel rather than any kind of flour -- a technique also seen in the above referenced video.  In addition this location used a carousel type oven, similar to the one seen in the video at the Lincoln Ave. Pat's.

This pizza was great!  It was much less greasy than Vito and Nick's but still tasted fantastic.  I feel anyone working in this part of Chicago would be hard pressed to find a better thin crust Chicago pizza.
« Last Edit: May 23, 2016, 12:37:11 AM by RockyMountainPie »

Offline RockyMountainPie

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Re: My Visits to Chicago -- An Extended Pizza Crawl
« Reply #6 on: May 22, 2016, 09:41:30 PM »
Another Pat's Pizza picture showing the breadcrumbs:
« Last Edit: May 22, 2016, 09:48:37 PM by RockyMountainPie »

Offline RockyMountainPie

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Re: My Visits to Chicago -- An Extended Pizza Crawl
« Reply #7 on: May 22, 2016, 09:45:18 PM »
Next we have the River North location of Gino's East.  I went to this location with a large group.  The pizzas were selected by someone else, so I wasn't able to try my standard sausage and cheese pizza that I usually order at Chicago establishments.

The pizza I did have, I liked.  The crust is the real standout for me at Gino's East.  Its texture and yellow color remind one of cornbread, but the yellow color is from the corn oil and food coloring reportedly used in making the dough.  I don't remember too many other specifics on this pizza,  but I do remember eating every last bit of crust from multiple slices by dipping it in the pizza sauce and feeling very satisfied with the pizza. 
« Last Edit: May 23, 2016, 12:39:06 AM by RockyMountainPie »

Offline RockyMountainPie

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Re: My Visits to Chicago -- An Extended Pizza Crawl
« Reply #8 on: May 22, 2016, 09:47:07 PM »
More Gino's:

Offline RockyMountainPie

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Re: My Visits to Chicago -- An Extended Pizza Crawl
« Reply #9 on: May 22, 2016, 10:20:29 PM »
What happens when a Polish woman (Flo) meets and marries an Italian man (Santo)?  You get Flo & Santo's Pizza & Pub.  I heard about this one because it is on the list of the Chicago Pizza Tours website.   I've never been on an official pizza tour, but I figured they might know about good pizza places to try.  The website author says the pizza there reminds him of "southside" pizza so I decided to give it a shot.

The Flo & Santos interior is modern with exposed duct work and fresh looking coats of paint on the walls.  The sign outside the building says "Flo & Santos Pizza & Pub," but inside a similar sign reads "Flo & Santos Pizza and Peirogi" The menu is also modern with offerings such as a pizza with eggplant, black olives, sun-dried tomatoes, and sweet corn, topped with sriracha .

I wanted to try a more traditional pie, but was also curious about some of the modern toppings.  In the end I decided to try some of each by ordering a small pizza with half Italian sausage and sautéed onions and half of their daily special:  pesto, fire roasted tomato, chicken, mozzarella, and goat cheese. 

I noticed a dough sheeter and a white dough docker with spikes in use as can be seen in the photo next to the Hobart mixer. 

I thought the pizza crust was very good and it reminded me of Vito and Nick's.   Like Vito and Nick's, I think this dough probably has some milk in it also.  The pizzas were baked in regular Bakers Pride deck ovens.  And I think cornmeal was used on the paddles to launch.  Burnt bits of cornmeal can be seen in some of the photos.  I couldn't taste any char, however. 

The pizza I ordered looked a bit strange with its 2 totally different halves.  The half with the sausage and sautéed onions didn't look very good to me because the sautéed onions turned totally black during the bake.  (Note to self:  If using sautéed onions on a pizza, ALWAYS add them post-bake!)    The sausage was good and not overly greasy.  It tasted strongly of fennel.

To my surprise, I liked the pesto and fire roasted tomato half of the pizza better than the sausage.  The goat cheese really rounded out the flavors, providing a nice, salty taste to counter balance the pesto.
« Last Edit: May 23, 2016, 12:42:12 AM by RockyMountainPie »

Offline RockyMountainPie

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Re: My Visits to Chicago -- An Extended Pizza Crawl
« Reply #10 on: May 22, 2016, 10:27:22 PM »
More Flo & Santos
« Last Edit: May 22, 2016, 10:37:28 PM by RockyMountainPie »

Offline RockyMountainPie

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Re: My Visits to Chicago -- An Extended Pizza Crawl
« Reply #11 on: May 22, 2016, 10:42:12 PM »
More Flo & Santos pictures


Offline RockyMountainPie

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Re: My Visits to Chicago -- An Extended Pizza Crawl
« Reply #12 on: May 22, 2016, 10:44:57 PM »
Next review is of Pizano's Pizza & Pasta on State Street.  Pizanos's was founded in 1991 by Rudy Malnati Jr.   Rudy Malnati Jr. is the brother of Lou Malnati and uncle of current Lou Malnati's  restaurant owners Marc and Rick Malnati.    Rudy Malnati Sr. was a pioneer in Chicago deep dish pizza at Pizzeria Uno in 1943 and later at Pizzeria Due, which the article mentions, opened in 1955.  If all of this sounds confusing, it is.  These articles might help to clarify the relationships, but they don't settle the question of who actually "invented" deep dish pizza. 

http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2009-02-18/news/0902160221_1_chicago-pizza-deep-dish-pizza-ric-riccardo   

http://sportsmockery.com/2014/12/solving-chicago-deep-dish-pizza-mystery

Hanging on the wall in the State Street Pizano's location is this 1956 newspaper article from the Chicago Daily News.  It is one of the pieces of "evidence" sited by the Malnatis that Rudy Malnati Sr. was an originator of the Deep Dish style of pizza.  The fact that the article provides help on how to pronounce the word "pizza" (peet-sa) tells me that in 1956 pizza had not yet become a regular meal for people living in the Chicago area.   

I was with a small group on this occasion and so we ordered one thin crust and one deep dish, though not with the toppings I would have chosen.   Both pizzas were sort of underwhelming to me.  The deep dish pizza wasn't all that "deep" and while passable, it wasn't insanely addictive like Gino's had been for me.  The crust on the thin pizza was not as good as other Chicago thins I had because it lacked the texture and tenderness I've come to expect in Chicago thin pizzas.   The cheese, sauce, and toppings were not all that memorable for me.
« Last Edit: May 23, 2016, 12:44:11 AM by RockyMountainPie »

Offline RockyMountainPie

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Re: My Visits to Chicago -- An Extended Pizza Crawl
« Reply #13 on: May 22, 2016, 10:51:14 PM »
Another disappointment for me was my experience at Aurelio's at 1212 South Michigan Ave.  It got off to a poor start when I sat at a booth for a full 10 minutes with no one acknowledging my presence at all.  No waitresses or service people were in sight, so I finally went back up to the front door and asked if anyone wanted to take my order.

But I thought, "Ok, as long as the pizza is good, I can let the poor service slide."  I ordered my customary small thin crust pizza with sausage and waited.   When the pizza arrived I was surprised to see that it was cut in triangular slices rather than with the "tavern cut" in squares.  Wasn't this supposed to be authentic Chicago thin pizza??  The picture on the front of the menu shows the pizza cut into squares.  I liked the idea of serving the pizza on a rack, presumably to help keep it crisp.  But that was about the only thing I liked about the pizza.

The cheese was not "real" mozzarella or any other quality cheese.  It tasted processed and rubbery rather than creamy and  gooey.   The sauce was sweet but bland, similar to a Chef Boyardee sauce you might find in canned pasta.  Not good.  The thin crust was not very thin and also tasted fake.  I'm sure this pizza was cooked in a conveyor oven like Little Caesar's and Dominoes uses.    The sausage was not as good as any of the sausage I had from the other pizzerias I had been to and also could have come out of a can.  Maybe Aurelio's served good pizza in former times, but I can't recommend their product to anyone in its current state.
« Last Edit: May 23, 2016, 12:03:12 AM by RockyMountainPie »

Offline RockyMountainPie

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Re: My Visits to Chicago -- An Extended Pizza Crawl
« Reply #14 on: May 22, 2016, 11:04:22 PM »
More Aurelio's pictures

Offline RockyMountainPie

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Re: My Visits to Chicago -- An Extended Pizza Crawl
« Reply #15 on: May 22, 2016, 11:08:46 PM »
My final review is of Lou Malnati's Pizzeria.  When I lived in Chicago in the 1990's Malnati's was primarily in the suburbs.  Since I lived in the city it wasn't on my radar and I never had the chance to try it.  I've made many Malnati clones at home thanks to the experts on this forum but I really was looking forward to trying the real thing.

I went to the Malnati's River North Location at 439 N. Wells.  The place was crowded and I had to wait a little while but ended up grabbing a seat at the bar.  I ordered the special, which I thought was extremely inexpensive since it included  a cup of soup (I went for clam chowder), a personal Deep Dish pizza, and a drink, all for $8.95.

The clam chowder came out quickly and was fantastic!  I didn't expect great soup at a pizza place.  Then the personal deep dish pizza was served and I could barely force myself to snap a few pictures before digging in.  The crust -- now THAT  is how crust should taste.  In his video on the Malnati's website,  Marc Malnati describes the crust as thin, flaky, and buttery and you know what?  He's right!  That's exactly how it was.  It's the best crust of any of the Chicago pizzas I've had, even better than Gino's East.  The video also shows that they do a bulk ferment and then cut off pieces of dough, weigh them, and press them into the pans.

 The sauce tasted very simple and very fresh.  It really tasted like no seasonings at all were added to these high quality tomatoes, but I ended up putting a little salt on top of the pizza.  The cheese was rich and creamy and fully melted and the sausage was good, but perhaps not quite as good as Giordano's.  Overall, I would consider this  pizza as excellent and not to be missed if you are visiting the area.

My ideal pizza would combine a Malnati's crust with the sausage and sauce from Giordano's.  The cheese from either restaurant would be fine as both are great.  Time for me to get to work on a hybrid!  :)
« Last Edit: May 23, 2016, 12:48:27 AM by RockyMountainPie »

Offline RockyMountainPie

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Re: My Visits to Chicago -- An Extended Pizza Crawl
« Reply #16 on: May 22, 2016, 11:16:41 PM »
More Malnati's photos

Offline jkb

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Re: My Visits to Chicago -- An Extended Pizza Crawl
« Reply #17 on: May 23, 2016, 05:57:27 AM »
I can't believe SafeSearch didn't filter any of this out.

Offline Pete-zza

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Re: My Visits to Chicago -- An Extended Pizza Crawl
« Reply #18 on: May 23, 2016, 11:00:43 AM »
Tim,

Thank you very much for posting your reports on the eight Chicago-area restaurants. I am sure that it took a lot of work to put the reviews together. But they should be a big help to those visiting the Chicago area and looking for places to try.

Peter

Offline RockyMountainPie

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Re: My Visits to Chicago -- An Extended Pizza Crawl
« Reply #19 on: May 24, 2016, 04:20:19 PM »
Tim,

Thank you very much for posting your reports on the eight Chicago-area restaurants. I am sure that it took a lot of work to put the reviews together. But they should be a big help to those visiting the Chicago area and looking for places to try.

Peter

Thanks Peter.  I enjoyed doing these reviews and I hope they help people to know a little more about Chicago pizzas.   
« Last Edit: May 25, 2016, 04:46:12 PM by RockyMountainPie »

Offline Garvey

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Re: My Visits to Chicago -- An Extended Pizza Crawl
« Reply #20 on: May 27, 2016, 02:49:16 PM »
Loved these write-ups, man!

Looking at the pictures of V&N reminds me of why that place disappoints me so much.  The burnt garbage on the bottom of the pie is inexcusable.  Brush off those decks, you lazy bums in the kitchen!  I was surprised to see that Flo's and Pat's suffered from the same affliction.  That is sad.

I also agree 100% about Giordano's crust.  It looks like it should taste good, but it has zero flavor whatsoever.  A matzo cracker has more character.

Offline rbpz

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Re: My Visits to Chicago -- An Extended Pizza Crawl
« Reply #21 on: May 27, 2016, 03:13:26 PM »
Great writeup. thanks for posting.

Offline mrmojo1

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Re: My Visits to Chicago -- An Extended Pizza Crawl
« Reply #22 on: May 28, 2016, 09:37:11 PM »
oh man!!  i want to eat all of those.  NOW!!!  thanks for the awesome vicarious experience!!!!
"My Doctor says I swallow a lot of aggression.  Along with a lot of pizzas!!"

Offline RockyMountainPie

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Re: My Visits to Chicago -- An Extended Pizza Crawl
« Reply #23 on: May 30, 2016, 06:16:03 AM »
Loved these write-ups, man!

Looking at the pictures of V&N reminds me of why that place disappoints me so much.  The burnt garbage on the bottom of the pie is inexcusable.  Brush off those decks, you lazy bums in the kitchen!  I was surprised to see that Flo's and Pat's suffered from the same affliction.  That is sad.

I also agree 100% about Giordano's crust.  It looks like it should taste good, but it has zero flavor whatsoever.  A matzo cracker has more character.

Thanks Garvey.  The black crumbs on the underside of some of the thin crusts are disappointing, but I don't hold it against them too much.  Kinda gives 'em character.... :)

I suspect the Giordano's crust of today isn't quite as good as it probably was in the 1970s when they started.  Having dough shipped in from a commissary tends to have that effect.  But the rest of the pizza is SO darn good, I can also let that slide.

The nice thing is that with all of the great info on this forum we make some of these pizzas at home and end up with better pizzas than are served at the restaurants.   I've been using your sausage recipe on my pizzas lately and it PERFECT on these Chicago pies!

 

Offline RockyMountainPie

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Re: My Visits to Chicago -- An Extended Pizza Crawl
« Reply #24 on: May 30, 2016, 06:19:06 AM »
Great writeup. thanks for posting.

oh man!!  i want to eat all of those.  NOW!!!  thanks for the awesome vicarious experience!!!!

Happy to do it guys.  Glad you liked it.  Mojo, I've been enjoying your posts about Chicago pizza for a long time now, so I'm happy to be able to give a little back.

 -- Tim