Thick versus thin. Multiple toppings versus plain and simple. Modern innovation versus traditional and authentic. These are among the many questions pizza lovers love to argue about.
The thin crust style is associated with New York and its street food.
Big triangular slices slightly burnt with sauce, cheese and basil (and just those if you are a purist), which are hard to eat elegantly.
In Chicago it’s deep dish, which means thick crust with sides like a pie and it’s served to seated diners and eaten with a knife and fork.
Which is best?
The argument is unresolvable, because in the end it is a matter of taste. But these arguments are never just about taste.
It’s New York, America’s “First City”, versus Chicago, America’s self-styled “Second City”- and it’s one group of Italians versus another.
Pizza evolved from Naples, where the first official pizzeria opened about 1830.
Then, pizza was simply flat-bread with leftovers on top to use them up. Pizza is Italian for pie.
In Chicago the pie ruled, and only in the 1920s did the Italians in Chicago start to call this pizza, and that was to try and win a national pizza competition. (It didn’t work.)
I sampled the thick crust style at the first Gino’s, Chicago’s oldest surviving pizza parlour, now part of a chain. It was very simple: just a tomato sauce with melted mozzarella on a thick dough base.
It was tasty enough and quite filling, but in the end unappealing because it was same taste, mouthful after mouthful.
Authentic doesn’t always mean interesting, particularly when it comes to working class food, where the challenge is always to make a little protein go a long way and to make the unappetising as appealing as possible.
Later at the award-winning Labriola’s on Michigan Ave, we sampled several types of thick crust deep dish pizza.
The ingredients were piled one on top of each other, then cheese layered over the lot to bind them together before baking.
Personally, I found the servings very heavy, even stodgy, and laboured to even finish a whole piece.
One really important difference between Chicago pizza and the rest of the world is that in Chicago sausage is king, not salami, pepperoni, beef, ham or any other meat.
This shifts the taste markedly, because often the sausage served is more like mince than sliced sausage.
The second difference is the way deep dish is cooked.
Thin crust goes into a hot oven at between 700 degrees and 1000 degrees, usually only for a few minutes these days.
Deep dish is cooked at 450 degrees for up to 45 minutes. Few outside Chicago will wait that long for a pizza, which is one reason why even in Chicago thin crust outsells deep dish by four or five to one.
- First published in The Northern Star.