A Deep Dive into Deep Dish
Specifics on Chicago's most famous food export, the Deep Dish Pizza
Whether you believe that a deep dish pizza is a food group, a group food or a casserole, it is the most ubiquitous Chicago, Illinois, USA food export. I mentioned them during my seminal analysis of American pizzas. I heard Mr. Young sing about her, I heard ol' Neil put her down. I did too; I said I prefer a Brooklyn slice, any day. On the other hand, I can't think of any time that I turned one down, and there have been many times I actually looked forward to a big old belly busting tomato pie.
We will discuss the big players in deep dish pizza, as well as my personal favorite. But first we should discuss this food item in some detail, starting with its structure, then its construction, and finally a brief guide in case you were to find yourself with a tremendous hunger on the southwest shores of Lake Michigan.
This appears to be a Malnati's. You'll soon find out why.
Since I am uncouth, I actually do eat deep dish pizza with my hands, as if it were a normal pizza. I always get the side-eye from the Mrs.; big whoop! My friends think it's cool. Honestly, you will want a plate, and a fork, and quite possibly a steak knife. The crust is on the bottom, and it should not be substantially thicker than a typical tossed crust. If so, then they're trying to cheat you with bread stuffage. It has a lip, or a wall, and for good reason: each slice should weigh roughly a pound (500g for the rest of you) so you need a simple machine from science class, a lever if you will, built into every slice for efficient handling. We will further discuss that the crust itself is not the same crust you use for a thin pizza, no no.
On this particular pizza, the meat appears right above the crust. That is not strictly gospel but is quite permissible. Many places place cheese next to crust; then meat & vegetable toppings. Well, mostly meat, this IS Chi-cog-guh after all. However, tomato must come last, on top. Not thin pizza sauce, but more of a puree. Some places actually use diced or even whole tomato. Some places close after six months, though.
Some say it is a casserole. Sometimes it is hard to argue about it.
As mentioned, a deep dish crust is more involved than a typical crust you see a dude flipping in the air. In fact, you don't want your dude flipping it in the air. Air pockets will weaken the PSI strength of your crust. Instead, you want to laminate the crust. In the diagram above, note they cut the crust ball in two. It is an abbreviated version of a croissant/puff pastry method of dough making. Roll two layers, smear butter atop of one, and stack. Then form this buttercrust into the pan.
Some pre-bake the crust at this point. I wouldn't, but I'm an impatient pig who just wants his damn pizza. The next step is to fill this shell with mozzarella cheese. At least a pound for a 12 inch pan. Closer to 2 pounds for a 16 inch beast.
This...isn't enough cheese
I am showing a PARTIALLY filled deep dish shell for reference. One point of contention is whether or not to include corn meal in the crust. Adding it certainly makes it sturdier. I am quite partial to omitting it. 8 hours from now, you'll thank me.
Then you have toppings. Some put toppings below the cheese, others above. Some have quite strong feelings about their preference. I don't. Here are a couple of thoughts I have on toppings. First, go veg, or no veg. I love a spinach-n-mushroom deep dish. I love a sausage-n-pepperoni. I think the so-called 'deluxes' or 'specials' with both are overkill; the flavors fight and cancel each other out, at least to my untrained tongue.
Speaking of sausage, it is Chicago's most popular topping. (Cue the Abe Froman, Sausage King of Chicago references). Anyway, some places cook the sausage first; others apply it raw. I can see both sides of the argument, but please be cautious of places that refer to the 'sausage patty'. It is what it sounds like: a fully formed sausage patty, huge and often undercooked, somewhere hidden under the surface. It isn't my thing, anyway.
Finally, the top of the toppings: the thick, chunky tomato.
Ideally, you want the tomato puree to cover everything below it. It is going to take 30-40 minutes at 425 degrees American or 200 Celsius Fan oven, whatever that is. Now, my wife the heat junkie will eat that beast right out of the oven but I think letting it settle for 10 minutes after baking greatly improves the experience.
Leading purveyors of deep dish pizza in Chicago
Pizzeria Uno & Due - The original 1943 inventor of the deep dish. Not much has changed in either location ever since. For those of you who have gone to a Pizzeria Uno location in a strip mall in Idaho, trust me, the original two locations are the real deal and worth going to. But because these are the original two locations, they are always packed with deep dish pilgrims and although I recommend either one for the history, I hate crowds.
Gino's East - the Baby Boomer pizza headquarters. I can't describe it better than that. My personal favorite pizza of the top 5, but also the place I had the raw sausage patty. Several locations. Bring your Sharpie.
Lou Malnati's - I haven't mentioned the deep dish family tree: employees and sons of employees of Uno's ended up going off on their own and starting Gino's East and Lou Malnati's. "Lou's" has the second most locations in the area. I know many people who will fight to the death over Lou's. They're different because of their crust: it has more butter; it has more cornmeal, and their 'shell wall' is slightly lower than the others. That may seem like a good thing, and I've had some good Lou's. I've also had a couple of clinkers over the years.
Giordano's - has the most locations in Chicago. Whenever I go, I can't shake the feeling that I am in a chain restaurant. They take the deep dish one step further by inserting a second layer of crust between the toppings and the tomato, called a 'stuffed crust'. They also have a strange, inexplicable following for their thin crust, which I find to be terrible.
Pequod's - by millenials for millenials. A few years back they were the darlings of the Foodie set; critical acclaim for their artisinal methods. But they caramelize (burn) their crusts. No, thank you.
Pizza Pot Pie, Chicago Pizza & Oven Grinder Company
My personal fave? The conveniently named Chicago Pizza & Oven Grinder Company, and their deep dish really isn't deep dish at all. They call it the 'Pizza Pot Pie' and there's no crunching involved in any of it. The richness of the 'filling' which is, strictly speaking, upside down, tomato on bottom, cheese on top.
Unless you have a problem with a lot of food, there's no way to really go wrong. Manga!