Wow. Chicago is more awesome than I’d ever imagined. I’ve always kind of claimed it as my unofficial hometown, which is odd to some seeing as how I’ve never actually visited until now.
Being from Oklahoma, I never really had my ‘own’ pro-sports team to cheer for so I had to adopt teams from other states. As a kid one of my first real sports memories was watching the Bears win the 85 Super Bowl. I was a Bears fan from that point on. I remember watching my first NBA game some years later; it was the NBA Finals game 6, Chicago Bulls Vs Portland Trailblazers. Michael Jordan hit 6 threes in that game and I was a diehard Bulls guy from then on. In fact, the only pro-sport that I don’t cheer for Chicago teams in is baseball (go Dodgers!).
Suffice to say, I had high expectations going into the week.
For the sake of brevity, I’ll hit the highlights:
1) I have a great friend that lives near Chicago (Evanston), so I wanted to visit him and his family. I hadn’t seen his oldest son in 3 years (he’s going to be 6 soon), and I’d never met his youngest son (was born the summer after we parted about 3 years ago). Furthermore, I hadn’t seen my friend and his wife in over 2 years. I got to spend sooo much time with them just getting to hang out; we took the boys to swim lessons, they came to our hotel to swim in the saltwater pool several times, we went to LegoLand … basically, I just got to be a part of their lives for a week which was absolutely perfect. It was really hard for me to say goodbye to the boys at the end of the week.
2) I went to a baseball game at Wrigley Field. It was Cubs Vs Dodgers (that’s right, I got to see my favorite baseball team to boot!), and our seats were about 20 yards behind first base. We dodged foul balls all night, and IT WAS AWESOME! I had a Chi-Town style braut (which basically means loaded with mustard, peppers, relish, etc.), made fun of Cubs fans, and marveled at the old beauty of Wrigley Field. Dodgers won, by the way.
3) To finish the week, my wife and I transferred hotels to stay downtown (we were in the burbs for her conference). We rode the El train in all of its rattling and jostling glory. Just the variance in architecture that Chicago offers makes any type of commuting worth it (for visitors). If you’ve never been, you should also know that Chicago is one of the friendliest, cleanest, and green (vegetation-wise) big cities around. The only other city I’ve been to that compares to the green factor is Seattle. Our hotel was right off of Michigan Ave. which is basically a fancy outdoor shopping mall that extends for miles. We walked to Grant and Millennium Parks daily (it boggles the mind that a city as big as Chicago could have so many massive parks in the middle of it), we had deep-dish pizza, we went to the Chicago Art Institute Museum (fans of Monet and van Goh MUST go), we went to the Field Museum of Natural History (their famous T-Rex, Sue, is having a big 10th anniversary thing), we ate amazing meals, we had drinks on the roofs of a buildings … there is just way too much to cover and we were only downtown for three nights!
All in all it was an amazing trip that left me planning my next visit (hopefully sooner than later).
Now, without further ado, I present a Chicago version of the Mid-Week Review:
Chicago-Style Deep Dish Pizza
For those who are unfamiliar with this style of pizza, let me explain. Unlike traditional pizza Chicago-style pizza is really, really thick. We’re talking 2-4 inches. The crust has more in common with pie (the dessert kind) than anything else, but similar to traditional pizza it goes on the bottom. That’s where the similarities between Chi-Pizza and the norm end. Once the crust is laid out, a layer of cheese is placed directly on top and then toppings like pepperoni, sausage, etc. are placed on top of the cheese. Finally, a massive layer of sauce is poured on so that the top of the pizza is sauce, not cheese. Basically, it’s the reverse order of how you’d normally top a pizza.
For this review, I’m going to be comparing the two pizzas I sampled during my stay.
The Contenders: Lou Malnati’s Pizza Vs Giordano’s Stuffed Pizza
Unlike other types of pizza where crust can be an afterthought, Chicago pizza requires a good amount of it simply to hold together all of those toppings. So crust is a big deal.
Lou’s – The crust was appropriately flaky, but not dense. It wasn’t greasy, which is a big key with this kind of pizza. You wouldn’t want to eat apple pie with a greasy crust, nor would you want tons of grease here. It added texture to the pizza, but wasn’t over emphasized. This is the Chicago-style crust for the pizza lover who doesn’t normally like crust.
Giordano’s – Unfair advantage time: Giordano’s specializes in stuffed crust pizza, and I’m not talking about that nasty stuff Pizza Hut does. There are basically two layers of crust in this pizza with a layer of gooey awesome cheese in between. The crust at Giordano’s is buttery and super flakey. It’s basically the best crust I’ve ever had for pies, pizza, cobblers, etc. ever.
One may think that cheese is cheese, but that’s just not so. If you’ve ever had pizza made with ‘real’ mozzarella (not that shredded junk from Kraft), you’ll know what I’m talking about.
Lou’s – The cheese was plentiful and tasty. It was gooey and perfectly stretchy. In short, it was the real deal.
Giordano’s – Another unfair advantage as Giordano’s simply has more cheese (between what they put in the crust AND what they put in as pie filling). I love cheese, and the cheese at Giordano’s was amazing.
Are you a pepperoni fan like myself? You like sausage and mushrooms? Just cheese? Rest easy, you can get pretty much any topping you want with Chicago-style pizza. For the sake of this very scientific study, I had pepperoni on both pizzas (although we did add shrooms to the Giordano’s).
Lou’s – The pepperoni at Lou’s was spicy, thick, and perfect. It was a high-quality sausage. It’s worth noting that Lou’s specializes in Italian sausage. It’s not the crumbly kind, either. They use a flat patty that lines the entire bottom of the pizza.
Giordano’s – This is where Gior’s cheese and crust begin to work against them. The pepperoni and shrooms were almost an afterthought. The roni was good, but all I could think about was cheese and crust.
Winner – Lou’s. Overall, Lou’s offers more unique pizzas and the toppings there (like the sausage) are kind of their calling card.
As far as filling goes, for many the sauce is THE ingredient in Chicago pizza as it’s the most present topping by volume.
Lou’s – The sauce at Lou’s is spicy, which is my thing. It’s got a basil bite to it that I love, and it doesn’t need red pepper to make your mouth warm. It’s chunky too.
Giordano’s – The sauce at Gior’s is mild, but fresh. It tastes like they just whipped it up and put it on your pizza to order. You can actually taste the tomatoes. In the end, I felt it suffered the same fate as the toppings – it just couldn’t compete with the cheese and crust.
Winner – Lou’s.
OVERALL WINNER: TIE
Both of these pizzas were amazing. I suppose you could pick between what you value most in your pizza (sauce and toppings Vs cheese and crust). I would probably give a slight personal nod to Giordano’s, but Lou’s is equally delicious, just in different ways.
My advice? If you make it to Chicago try all of them!
Now I've made myself hungry ...