22 October 2010

Lou Malnati's Pizzeria, Chicago

Perhaps no two cities in the US share the same intense rivalry that New York and Chicago do. There's no getting around it; whether it is in the field of literature, architecture, or... er... women's roller derby, these two great cities love to compete. Naturally, this competition extends to food. And, while I've written about a couple of excellent Chicago-style hot dog experiences I had (here and here), I wanted to tell you about the other great food rivalry that the Windy City shares with the Big Apple - pizza.

I love a good pizza. As a European, I'm more familiar with New York's Neapolitan style of pizza; a thin crust, topped with a smear of tomato sauce, two or three toppings, and a sprinkling of mozzarella (as a European, though, I'm less familiar with the sheer size of these things, where a single slice can be as big as your head). However, I had never tried a traditional Chicago-style deep-dish pizza before. On a recent trip to Chi-town I got the chance to try some from Lou Malnati's Pizzeria, one of the oldest names in Chicago pizza.

The deep dish pizza was apparently invented in Chicago in the early 1940s. The term 'pizza,' though, is a bit of misnomer when it comes to describing a Chicago-style deep-dish. In fact, the term 'great big gigantic pie' would be more appropriate. In typical contrary fashion the Chicago deep-dish is made 'upside down'. First, a crust is placed in a pan, followed by slices of mozzarella, then the filling (meat and/or vegetables), and finally a layer of chunky tomato sauce. The whole caboodle is then baked in an oven for 30-40 minutes.

The hotel we were staying in wasn't too far from a Lou Malnati's restaurant and, after a few nights of excess in some excellent Chicago restaurants (here, here, and here), Mrs. Nibbler and I fancied a quiet night with some trashy TV and a quick take-away. Except it wasn't so quick, as all Lou Malnati's pizzas are made fresh to order, meaning a 40 minute wait for it to be cooked (not that we minded as we had plenty of trashy TV to keep us entertained). When we finally got our pizza, the first thing we noticed was the sheer weight of the box - my arms got tired carrying the thing back to our room. On opening the box we stood stunned, gaping in awe at the sheer size of the thing. Knives, forks, and lots of paper towels were going to be needed!

Tasting it was even more amazing. It was ridiculously good. Pure, unadulterated comfort food. The crispy, and surprisingly light outer crust was buttery and flaky (apparently the recipe's a secret), and this yielded to chewy, fresh mozzarella and slabs of dense Italian sausage and mushrooms. The tomato topping consisted of chunks of plum tomatoes, which tasted fresh and zesty. The whole thing was crowned with grated parmesan. Mrs. Nibbler managed almost one slice, while I gobbled up two before having to lie down, the pull of gravity on my burdened belly making it physically impossible to get up. It was almost even better eating the leftovers for breakfast the next day. Shameless, I know, but we were on vacation.

So which is best? New York or Chicago pizza? Well, the two are so different that I can safely say this is one battle neither city will win. Both have their merits and I will happily tuck in to either. But now, dear reader, I will sign off as I simply have to find some pizza. But let me know, do you have a favourite style of pizza, or perhaps some strange and secret topping you adore?

Lou Malnati's Pizzeria
439 North Wells Street
Chicago, IL 60610
Tel: +1 312-828-9800

Lou Malnati's has various locations across Chicago and its suburbs.

Lou Malnati's Pizzeria (River North) on Urbanspoon