Chicago’s 10 Distinctive Pizza Styles, Decoded
Steve Dolinsky will teach you to think outside the Deep Dish
How do you like your pizza?
Sicilian-thick or party-cut thin? Foldable and forgiving or crisp and cracker-like? Neopolitan or Roman? Fancy or standard-issue? Or are you a dyed-in-the-wool deep-dish die-hard?
Whatever style you prefer, you’ll find it in Pizza City, USA: 101 Reasons Why Chicago Is America’s Greatest Pizza Town, a new insider’s guide to Chicago pie from food journalist Steve Dolinsky due out this September.
Pat’s Pizza/Huge Galdones
You probably know Dolinsky best as ABC 7’s “Hungry Hound,” a James Beard Award winner whose portrait hangs in nearly every restaurant in town. For Pizza City, USA, he turns his full attention to the precarious conversation of Chicago’s “best pizza.” But through sound methodology, he covers the topic in all of its wonderful variations, sampling and hand-picking 101 of the best pizzerias in the Chicagoland area.
And in doing so, he naturally makes a few bold assertions.
Says Dolinsky: “We’re Pizza City, USA, because we have 10 distinctive styles of pizza (compared to NYC’s five). And ‘Chicago-Style’ actually means thin, as in tavern-style, square-cut, thin and crispy, rather than deep. I came to this realization because of the 180+ places I visited, an overwhelming majority specialized in this style.”
Steve Dolinsky/Huge Galdones
To prove it, Dolinsky is leading Pizza City, USA Tours, which will feature three neighborhood walking tours and a bus tour every weekend starting in May. Each tour will offer guests four different styles of pizza.
With limited slots available, you’ll wanna book that right now.
As for the lowdown on all the styles that give Chicago the edge? We sat down with Dolinsky for a quick rundown on all 10 of the pies you’ll find in Chicago, plus his favorites places to try them.
Pizzeria Bebu/Huge Galdones
Artisan — “Longer fermentation time (at least two days, but up to four or five), sometimes refrigerated, other times at room temp. Almost ciabatta-like in texture. Fancier toppings like soppressata and burrata.” Favorite: Pizzeria Bebu
Tavern-style — “Chicago’s original, a product of Midwestern taverns and bars. Always square-cut (aka “party cut”), thin and crispy. Best if cheese is applied at the end, to envelop the sausage and/or pepperoni.” Favorite: Vito & Nick’s
NYC Slice — “Floppy, oversized, XL wedge-cut with occasional grease drip toward the point, as you gingerly three-finger fold the outside heel.” Favorite: Jimmy’s
Neapolitan — “Adheres to strict Italian standards with regard to tomatoes (San Marzano), flour (“00”), oven temp (around 850 F) and cheese (fior di latte). Should be leopard spotting on outer cornicione.” Favorite: Spacca Napoli
Thin — “Standard issue, wedge-cut, not unlike what you’ll find from most mom-and-pops in the region.” Favorite: Boiler Room
Deep-Dish — “Technically a pan pizza, made in an anodized steel pan about two inches high on the sides. Dough is pressed down in center, topped with cheese, ingredients and then sauce, finished with Pecorino Romano. Sausage is the pro-move, since Italian pizza sausage was created in Chicago. The garlic-and-fennel-laced chunks render their fat in the baking process, seasoning bottom crust (which should be slightly crispy, not soggy).” Favorite: Labriola
Stuffed — “Same architecture as deep (bottom crust, cheese, ingredients) but then another thinner layer of dough, and on top, a lake of tomato sauce. Slices typically yield Instagram-worthy “cheese pulls” but the whole thing is overkill.” Favorite: Superossa
Sicilian — “Pan pizza (made in a rectangular pan) where dough is left to proof after sauce and cheese have been applied. Toppings go on just before baking. Resembles focaccia in texture and chew.” Favorite: D’Amato’s
Roman — “Two styles, technically. One variation is a thin round, with cracker-like crispiness; the other, “al taglio” is more focaccia-esque, with a wider range of toppings. This version is cut with a scissors, depending on how much you want, then weighed and reheated to order. In either case, Roman pizza should be crispy.” Favorite: Bonci
Detroit: “Once just an anomaly (like Emmy Squared in NYC), this style has now exploded across Chicago [Ed. note: read more here]. Similar to a Sicilian in origin, brick cheese is pressed into the raw dough, all the way to the edge, which fills a deep, square or rectangular pan. Finished pies feature a burnished, charred upper rim. Pepperoni is the standard order, just like Buddy’s or Cloverleaf in the Motor City.” Favorite: Union Squared