In Chicago pizza is much more than lunch or dinner, it defines us, the deep dish pizza might as well be on the Chicago flag. It was invented here (in 1943), and that pie is a culinary institution for which many of us have glowing pride for.
Lou Malnati’s, Pizzeria Due, Gino’s East, Edwardo’s & so many more are deep in Chicago lore like a pizza pan for the pie we know and love.
Now granted there are some amazing thin crust pizzas made in this city too (especially in my native south side), Reggio’s, Italian Fiesta, Home Run Inn, Fox’s, Vito & Nicks among others have that thin butter crust (though none better than Reggio’s), that seems crisp like a cracker but bursts with flavor in your mouth to top off a good thin pizza.
It’s been said that the pizza you grow up eating is what you love and every pie you taste the rest of your life must live up to, so my pizza story starts with a tiny pizza joint at 126th & Ashland in the early 80’s named Danny’s. It was a family place in the end of a tattered strip mall that was run by an older couple and they had a cop as their delivery guy. The pizza at first glance wasn’t spectacular but had a real nice spice kick to it, seems they liked oregano at Danny’s because you could taste it. And though Danny’s has been gone for over 20 years, I never forgot that taste, not to mention my family had a relationship with the owners (the cop who delivered the pizza, dated our neighbor across the street), it was the neighborhood pizza place (take out only) but everyone knew everyone.
Once Danny’s had closed up shop the next nearest pizza place was Beggar’s in Blue Island. In the early 90’s Beggar’s had only one restaurant on 127th & Western (I believe they now have 20 locations), but it was a thicker thin crust (if that makes sense), when it’s done right it’s a pretty good pie but being thicker with more meat, it has a tendency to be greasy. They also make a decent stuffed pizza (different than a deep dish since it has crust on the top and bottom, Edwardo’s is the best stuffed pizza), among other things, but honestly it was not Danny’s or what I consider the traditional south side thin crust.
I previously mentioned Reggio’s and their legendary butter crust (which Lou Malnati’s has a wonderful butter crust deep dish, always worth the extra dollar to get it), and that’s good south east side pizza. You can even get it frozen in the grocery store now (as well as Home Run Inn), but nothing beats hot, fresh pie fresh from the pizza place.
Trust me pizza builds community, it’s the original family style food. Think about it, the official food of college, its pizza, a whole bunch of people in a room and sharing pizza (among other things), it builds friendship. When I was at DePaul your options for late night pizza was Chicago Pizza on North Sheffield, it wasn’t that good but after a long night of studying (yeah hitting the books), that was a good meal and they were open until 4 A.M.
Anyway, so I do make my own pizza, and it’s like that first pizza I grew up eating at Danny’s, a spicy thin crust pie, easy on the cheese with spicy Italian sausage, pepperoni, onions & green peppers. And with spices on it, oregano, garlic powder, basil, red pepper and cilantro. The key is a hot oven (350-400 degrees), and a good pizza stone. I’m told the best stone is from Pampered Chef if you know someone who hosts the house parties with their products. But I found a nice one at Meijer (they have good affordable meat by the way), and I put the pizza on the very top rack on the stone to simulate a smoking hot pizza oven.
And the dough, I’ve learned not to use the dough in a can, it’s like trying to make a pizza out of a cinnamon roll and looks like it too. Obviously making your own dough is ideal but I’ve found some frozen dough (also at Meijer), that is decent, just need to make sure it defrosts in the fridge in a bowl with plastic wrap on top (so it can expand ), and then it sits out to room temperature and stretch it out carefully, while adding some all purpose flour. Another option is the fresh pizza dough at Trader Joe's but its not south side thin, it makes for more of a pan pizza, thicker and good but if its not "just right" it can be chewy.
As for sauce, Trader Joe’s is pretty good, Contadina is nice and this time I’m trying the Jewel house brand Essential Everyday (their BBQ sauce is really good), and you don’t need much, just a half of a cup and then spread it out with the bottom of the spoon. From there, sauté your meat (if you choose to have it), and then spread it out and then add your veggies and then last cheese. I throw some oregano on top for good measure like my childhood pizza joint. Then get the oven hot 450 degrees and in 20 minutes you have pizza, more afforable than the chain pizza places and with more character (which means not as consistent but with more flavor and just the way you like it), and you have the pride in making your own pie.
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