My aversion to Chicago pizza has nothing to do with being from New York

Now that I have lived here almost a year and a half, the question I am asked most often after, “Do you like it here?” the answer to which is an emphatic yes, is, “Which do you like better, Chicago pizza or New York pizza?”

Italian original thin crust pizza. Yum! Image courtesy of KEKO64 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Italian original thin crust pizza. Image courtesy of KEKO64 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I have to say it’s New York style. You know, thin doughy crust, tomato sauce base, topped with cheese, maybe some pepperoni or sausage on top of the cheese, cut into 8 large pie wedges, the kind you can fold and eat.

Before you tell me to go back to New York, please hear me out.

Most of my life I have been surrounded by New York pizza by virtue of geography since I grew up in upstate New York and lived in New York City for several years before moving to Connecticut which rightfully is becoming a pizza mecca on its own. Even so, my favorite pizza before moving here was not necessarily New York Neapolitan, but Chicago deep dish pizza.

When I was 11 back in nineteen eightysomething, something very cool happened in my tween life. The big mall in Albany opened. It had stores coveted by every suburban teenager at that time, stores like Benetton and The Limited. Yes, I know I am dating myself. It also had something else that I cherished more than overpriced rugby shirts or Swatches.

There was a Pizzeria Uno. Who needed crappy Sbarro in the food court? Instead, you could sit down and have that thick, buttery pie crust, simple crushed tomato sauce, a pound of cheese and real chunks of sausage, not those tiny, questionable dots scattered around your pizza. I loved it and ate there every chance I could get. While I am sure there are some Chicagoans who dismiss Uno’s, it was the closest this suburban girl could get to Ohio and Wabash. Although now it’s called Uno Pizzeria and Grill, the Crossgates Mall location is still there over 30 years later.

So, what happened? Well, the tipping point for me on deep dish pizza was not moving here but becoming a parent.

Preparing deep dish pizza and its first cousin stuffed crust pizza is a serious time commitment which is great if I am out with my husband or some friends but it just doesn’t work with young children. It takes some time to bake two inches of pie crust and the amount of cheese equivalent to one cow’s milk production for an entire day, like at least 30 minutes, often more.

Anyone with young children can tell you that they give you as much notice on being hungry as they do in telling you they have to go potty. The times I have taken my son and daughter out for deep dish I was able keep them occupied with crayons, books, Kindle and anything else in my bag of tricks for maybe 15 minutes. The rest of the time it was the “I’m hungry” chorus sung in two-part harmony.

Maybe coming from New York I have perhaps mistakenly acquired this second nature of thinking of pizza as fast food. Okay, fine but if you extend this concept of waiting to the non-pizza realm, let me ask how long you typically wait for food at your go-to kid-friendly restaurants? I’m pretty sure it’s less time than 30 or 45 minutes.

Also, unlike New York pizza, deep dish pizza is not finger food. Forks and knives are required which again, makes it a really inconvenient choice for little ones. It takes some serious effort to carve up a piece, times two. That crust is seriously thick. Then sometimes I forget that uncut is the default at some places so that means extra knifework for mommy. Eventually I get to eat.

Of course, there is more to Chicago pizza than deep dish so it’s a reasonable question to ask why not order thin crust? Finger food, right? Well, there are issues there too.

Most thin crust pizzas I have encountered here are made from a very thin cracker crust. True it doesn’t take long to make but the problem is it’s so thin it gets cold by the time it arrives at your table. My kids aren’t the only ones who don’t like cold pizza. It’s usually a dealbreaker for my husband. Besides, crackers are for snacktime, not dinner.

Worse though than cold pizza is this whole square-cut business. See, with New York pizza, the pie-shaped wedges means that each piece is the same size and contains the same ratio of crust to, well, the crustless part. Everyone gets exactly the same thing. Not so with square cut. Some pieces are all crust, some are half crust, half pizza while other pieces have no crust at all. This always ensures a fight, because you know the girl is going to notice the boy ate 4 pieces with crust and left her with none.

This brings me to my next point. Why does the boy eat all the crust pieces? Well, those middle pieces are tough for a kid with half his teeth and an overbite. Since it’s essentially cheese piled up on a cracker, when he tries to take a bite typically what happens is all the cheese slides right off the base. Naturally there are ensuing growls of frustration. This doesn’t happen with New York pizza when some of the food actually makes it into my children’s stomachs.

Thankfully having children hasn’t changed my taste buds because I still love the way Chicago deep dish pizza tastes. When we host out of town guests I make it a point to go out for deep dish. I firmly believe visitors should not leave Chicago without being exposed to Chicago pizza. It just doesn’t make for a good night out with little ones.

But there is hope. One day they will grow up and I look forward to the day when we all can go to Uno’s, Lou Malnati’s Gino’s East, Giordano’s, Nancy’s or wherever, sit down, place our order, have a drink or two or three during that long wait, and return to deep dish heaven.

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Tags: moving, parenting

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