I'm from Illinois, which is near Chicago. Chicago in turn has always had a prolific if not always effective knack at public relations. You know about Al Capone, Michael Jordan, Oprah, Obama, wind, guns, and most likely deep dish pizza. All ours.
To my surprise, one hundred stories high, people getting loose
Deep dish pizza in the WIndy City
Pizza was already being made for over 30 years on the East Coast when a genius at Pizzeria Uno in "Da Windy Ciddy" decided that pizza should be a meal. So he formed a huge pie crust and filled it with KILOS of meat, cheese, maybe a couple of token vegetables and tomato sauce. It went over well, which should not surprise anyone who attends a Chicago Bulls game and scans the crowd. Some other guys left Uno and formed their own pizzerias with their own recipes. One thing led to another, and now someone walking the Fußgängerzone in Berlin can stop at an American Style pizza joint and have a large slice of tomato casserole, too.
I... like it well enough. I do not shy away from big food. My favorite is probably Lou Malnati's, but foodies seem to prefer Pequod's. They overcook it, in my humble opinion.
One more thing I have to mention before moving on: Midwestern pizzas invariably have sausage as a topping. Most deep dish makers choose to form the sausage into a giant patty and lay it atop the bottom surface of the crust, then bury it with the other toppings.
I do not order sausage deep dish pizzas.
Not all about the deep dish
It is a great disservice to refer to deep dish as The American style pizza. It makes for a good narrative, because it's so damn fat. I get it. And most of us do like us a deep dish. But there really isn't one style that all of America can agree on.
This is Pizza 0 in America: New Haven, Connecticut.
Coulda taken that out about fifteen minutes ago, champ
New Haven isn't too far from New York and Ellis Island, where if you are of European descent, your ancestors entered the country. The East Coast still has a very large Italian-American population, and this was certainly true around 1893 when Frank Pepe first sold his take on Margherita pizza.
He had a very hot coal-fired oven, 700-800 degrees F, and his pies came out smoking hot with caramelized, sometimes structurally warped crusts. Me, I'd call that 'burnt', but this was the font of all American pizza. I suspect you can get something similar in Italy. Maybe without whatever meat that is coalescing there in the middle. For reference, I prefer Modern Apizza in New Haven.
Big man, big slices. Big fan.
NYC: doin' it by the slice
Soon after that, guys in New York wanted in. It is impossible to accurately point at one specific person or place that first slung pies in NY. You can find 50 places that claim to be first. Turns out that it didn't go so great at first, because folks couldn't afford to buy a whole pie. They just wanted one piece. So some food genius decided to toss some really big 20" crusts, and sell his pie one big slice at a time. First guy to "roll twenties", most likely.
This is my personal preference of pizza. It is fully cooked, but the crust is soft and pliable, so the slice can be folded while devoured. You may recall the opening scene of 'Saturday Night Fever', as John Travolta struts down Flatbush Avenue eating two slices folded over each other. You have to fold because the toppings are so juicy. Lots of tomato sauce is used, and pepperoni is usually the meat topping of choice, which gives up its own oils when cooked. I don't have a real preference of location. I feel you cannot go wrong with this type of pizza.
Moving on to Detroit...
Nothing more than an excuse to drink beer
After WWII, someone named Buddy in the Motor City decided to cook pizzas in rectangular lasagna pans. Probably didn't want to pop for round ones. Heavy with crust and cheese, the outside edge would, um, caramelize. Some people love it, because as they are usually sliced, everyone gets some of the side char. The charm is lost on me, but hey?
For whatever reason, several large national pizza chains are based in Michigan, so it is possible you may have had a facsimile of Buddy's pie at Little Caesars, Jets or Dominos. Buddy's is still in Detroit, so you still have the opportunity to visit the site of the original. Many pizzerias in the surrounding states also mimic the rectangular pan.
Hey? Winnie the Pooh wants his hunny back.
In the Rocky Mountains, they enjoy thick crust pizzas with sizable outer crust knots, and they, um, well...they also give you a bottle of honey (cue The Star Spangled Banner, 'Murrica!). Not gonna lie, I like it that way. Some places offer a mixture of honey and hot pepper oil. I believe the intent was to use the honey to drizzle on the outer crust knots rather than top the entire pie. But I've seen it done.
Colorado pizzeria Beau Jo's started making these gut bombs in the 70s. They felt that outdoorsy types needed a substantial carb load between hikes, climbs, skis and bikes. The crust ends up being a bit lighter than it seems, resulting in a happy pizza experience for someone who doesn't climb or ski.
As in all things American, California has to have its say:
But where's the pork sausage?
Californians don't labor under any notions on what a pizza should be. They can be round, or shaped like a slice of naan, or anything, really. Emphasis is typically on something called 'health', so they don't have a lot of ingredients with nitrates on them. In the image above I see crustaceans, vegetables, pesto and no sugary red sauce or pork in sight.
The West Coast has a large Asian-American population compared to the rest of the country, so you may see a peanut-chicken satay or a daal makhani pie turn up often there. As 'food', these pies can be very tasty. As 'pizza', I am bewildered. Generally I don't order pizza when I go there.
Finally, there's the South. They make fried chicken, brisket, spare ribs, jambalaya, shrimp & grits. Thank goodness for all of that. They also dump a cup of sugar into each glass of iced tea. I am sure this will invite comment, but I have not had a good pizza south of where I currently sit.
St. Louis, Missouri, is known as the 'Gateway to the West'. They have a 600 foot arch that proves it. I also consider it as the Gateway to the South. May I present to you, dear reader, the most popular pizza in St. Louis.
Ritz cracker with Velveeta topping
They decided they wanted more toppings than crust. OK, I'm down. Since it is usually 95/95 (degrees F and % humidity), they didn't want to make something huge to give them food sweats after eating. Again, that's wise. The crust is paper thin, so in order to cook the toppings (do note that they do like chunks of pig, too) the crust gets very crackery. I think a crackery crust sucks, but based on the constraints listed above, I must concede. Rather eat a cracker than a chunk of raw sausage.
Here's my gripe. On all the other pies, mozzarella cheese is used. They may vary on whether it was made fresh in house, grated from dry, or in the case of California, from what kind of cattle animal the milk came from. But mozzarella cheese is the proper pizza cheese.
In the Lou, they have chosen to use something called Provel. An abomination to God and all that is holy, it is a white processed cheese product combining cheddar, Swiss, and provolone cheeses. Due to the constraints above, they wanted a quick melting cheese, and Provel melts quicker and more evenly than mozzarella.
Provel may have psychosomatic side effects. Every time someone tries to sneak some of it on a pizza I am eating, for example, I Hulk up and start smashing things around me. Make Hulk Angry!
I don't want to leave you like this, so let's smile and have one more look at a New York pie:
He's a woman's man, no time to talk.
What's the best pizza you've had in the States?