Chicago: Two days, Nineteen Pizzerias (Part 2)


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I spent a total of two days in Chicago last month and managed to visit 19 pizzerias. It was my first time in Chicago since 2003. I’m not a big fan of restaurant reviews, so think of these more as abbreviated recollections of my experiences at each place. I might do more in-depth reports later but people ask me about pizza in Chicago so often I just want to use this as a quick reference guide. It’s split into two parts because Chicago pizza is too massive to fit into one post. See part 1 here. The post is organized with a description first, then a photo below. Enjoy! 

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Marie’s Pizza & Liquors
Marie’s is an absolute gem, owned and operated by the same family since 1940. It’s a good 20 minutes north of the Loop, so don’t expect to stumble upon it if you’re wandering around downtown Chicago. This is a real joint -oozing with the “this is who we are” honesty that makes me fall in love with some restaurants even before I taste the food. It’s more like a bar with tons of seating than it is a pizzeria. The seating of which I speak is luxurious plush red vinyl and I really do need to post more photos of the interior. The pizza is typical tavern style thin-and-crispy cut into squares. Truth be told, it’s not the most remarkable pizza in the world, but Marie’s is off the charts on the vibe-o-meter and a real piece of Chicago’s pizza story.

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Pizzeria da Nella Cucina Napoletana
Regardless of the city’s reputation as a deep-dish town or its true roots as a thin crust refuge, Chicago has some very non-Chicago pizzerias. Nella is a traditional Neapolitan pizzeria. They have it all: the wood-fired oven, “00” flour, imported tomatoes. But sometimes having all the goods doesn’t necessarily make a great pizza. Keep in mind I am basing my entire opinion on one visit in the middle of the day, but this was not a stellar pizza. The oven seemed low and the pizza, which usually takes about 90 seconds in this oven, clocked in at 2:30. That’s a big difference and resulted in a dry crust. Some might even prefer this over traditional Neapolitan but I give a low score on execution of the style. 

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Pequod’s Pizza
Want a serious deep dish pizza the locals actually eat on purpose? Pequod’s is it. There’s cheese shoved up between the crust and the pan (like Detroit style) and it caramelizes in the most beautiful way imaginable. Some even order it with extra carm for a degree of intensity rarely displayed by mere mortals. I had a pie with sausage and pepperoni, (aka just the basics for a meaty midwestern appetite) and really loved how the crunch of the crust combined with the soft padding of its cheesy surface. It had less sauce than other deep dish pizzas and generally felt like the badass of Chicago’s pizzerias

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Piece Pizzeria
Here’s another non-Chicagoan pizzeria in the Windy City, one that’s all about New Haven, CT. If you’re not familiar with the style, you need to head to Pepe’s and Sally’s on Wooster St or Modern Apizza on State Street in New Haven RIGHT NOW! Piece dishes up huge dense-crunchy crust pizza in big trays like Frank Pepe’s. Their pies are topped with restraint rather than maladroit. The place has a very active feel, almost like a sports bar but without too many televisions. I thought the pizza was totally solid and I’d definitely be here all the time if I lived in the neighborhood. It’s the kind of place to enjoy with a big group of friends, as I did with my buds Patrick and Kristy, the wonderful couple who designed and built my beautiful pizza tours website!

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Tonight at 7pm I’ll be talking about how we made VIVA LA PIZZA! THE ART OF THE PIZZA BOX as well as how I keep 625 pizza boxes in my Brooklyn apartment without attracting an army of vermin.

AND there will be free pizza from Sam’s Restaurant!!!

Chicago: Two Days, Nineteen Pizzerias (Part 1)


View Chicago Pizza in a larger map

I spent a total of two days in Chicago last month and managed to visit 19 pizzerias. It was my first time in Chicago since 2003. I’m not a big fan of restaurant reviews, so think of these more as abbreviated recollections of my experiences at each place. I might do more in-depth reports later but people ask me about pizza in Chicago so often I just want to use this as a quick reference guide. It’s split into two parts because Chicago pizza is too massive to fit into one post. Description first, photo below. Enjoy! 

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Pizzeria Uno
I hate to start this way, but Uno was the worst deep-dish I tried in Chicago. We ordered the Chicago classic onions-peppers-mushrooms-sausage-pepperoni (someone referred to it as “sticking to basics” — WHAT?!?!) and it was a soppy mess. You can see the runoff in the photo. Veggies were basically raw because they’re topped toward the end of the 45+ minute bake. I don’t need to ever go back.

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Pizzeria Due
As its name suggests, Pizzeria Due is the second location of the more familiar Pizzeria Uno. They’re located a block away from each other. Even though the managers claim the pizza is identical, my experience found otherwise. I tried them both back-to-back and liked everything about Pizzeria Due MORE than Pizzeria Uno. If you’re on a Chicago pizza pilgrimage you’ll have to go to both, but save more room for Due. It’s a serious deep-dish pizza.

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Coalfire
This was the first pizza I had on this trip and I was really jazzed up when I got there but I still think it would have been my favorite pizza in Chicago even if I tried it last. I know what you’re thinking, this is basically a New York coal oven pizza and NOT a typical Chicago style pizza. You are correct, and maybe that’s why I loved it. But it’s in Chicago so it belongs on this list. It’s a domed wood-burning oven but they keep a mountain of bituminous coal piled into the back of the oven for that dry heat. We use anthracite in NYC but Chicago doesn’t have easy access so they go with the lighter coal with more moisture content by default. Great crunchy-yet relenting crust paired with creamy fresh mozzarella, a sharp sauce and post-oven basil. 

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Reviews are in for VIVA LA PIZZA!

"…delightful and informative." - The New York Times

A little slice of art.” - The Wall Street Journal

“[This] fascinating book shows pizza boxes like you’ve never seen, emblazoned with artful images so original and unexpected they would be at home in a food museum.” - The Sacramento Bee

“The detail to which Wiener chronicles the boxes is kind of insane.” - Hyper Allergic

“…one of the most effusive displays of love for corrugated cardboard the world will ever know.” - The Independent

“[This] new book answers questions you probably never asked” - USA Today

*Find out more about the book and where to buy it here.

VERY excited to be listed in this year’s NY Times Holiday Gift Guide! You can buy tickets for public pizza tours, arrange private pizza tours and purchase gift certificates through the SPT website!

Canned Tomato Taste Test

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Everything you need to throw your own tomato party!

Every month I assemble TEAM SPT for some extreme pizza excitement. Last month’s mission was all about the tomato. We talked some tomato history and genetics along with a tasting of several grocery store brand canned plum tomatoes. Pizzerias need the consistency of tomatoes that are canned in season. They use plum tomatoes because they contain less water than the big round guys. That’s why we need to stay on top of the tomato product universe and all that it offers.

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Here are two fresh tomatoes, one from my local grocery store (left) and the other from the Union Square Green Market (right). My grocery store carries Canadian tomatoes that are picked green and gassed with ethylene to redden the skin. It was hard, mealy and off-color. The lovely red tomato on the right is from a farm in Pennsylvania. It was picked when ripe and brought to market within 48 hours. It tasted WAY better! Too bad you can only get these in season, otherwise the canned tomato wouldn’t be such a big deal.

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We tried a few different tomato brands in a blind tasting similar to the massive ones I did in 2010. I put different products from the same company against each other. These two products from La Valle are different. The can on the left is DOP San Marzano tomatoes and the can on the right is straight peeled plum tomatoes. The DOP tomatoes are more expensive, but is the taste really that different? 

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Miriam and Joe did the tasting, I prepared the test. They were given a series of white cups, each holding a whole plum tomato straight from the can. I labeled the cups A-E and hid the original cans in the kitchen. These tomatoes were right from the can with no rinsing or anything. I wanted Miriam and Joe to taste everything about the product. 

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