I joined Laura Hansen, Lazy Dog's Marketing Director (whom I refer to as Lou), at the 2015 MEG Conference in Chicago. It was a quick trip packed with meetings and presentations. Our days were scheduled from start to finish for the first 48 hrs but when I looked at the itinerary and noticed an open window from noon to midnight on Friday- it became clear that this was a big opportunity. A chance to explore the windy city and see what the whole deep dish hype is all about. I love pizza. Pizza is bae. But being a California kid, deep dish just wasn't something I had much experience with.
Four deep dish pizzas. Eight restaurants.
12:00pm // Gino’s East [ 162 E Superior St]
This place was opened in 1966 by a couple of taxi drivers. It looks like a bathroom stall, right? The ones with all the graffiti and permanent marker love stories? We order a pepperoni deep dish and grab a booth against the wall. I ‘m caught off guard by the number of solo tops in the dining room – mostly business suit types- clearly enjoying a deep dish on their lunch break. I love these people. I love this city. This would never happen in LA. Lou and I were “starving” from our light continental breakfast at the hotel, so we scarf down the pizza and decide to keep moving. She misses the trash can on her way out and ranch dressing explodes on the floor. I pretend I don't know her as I scribble our names on the wall.
12:45pm // Magnificent Mile
We leave Gino’s and head down Michigan Ave. [It should be noted that If you have any sort of shopping addiction or credit card debt, reroute and take Fairbanks Ct to Columbus Drive instead.] The retail lineup is INSANE. And the tulips. Nobody warned me about the tulips. It’s disarming how lovely they are. The whole city is covered in them. About half way down the mile, I consider moving here just for the urban landscaping.
1:05pm // Millennium Park [201 E Randolph St]
We beeline for the Bean. The Cloud Gate Sculpture is packed. Selfie sticks everywhere. We get our photo taken by a teenager standing near by. I text my mom the photo and send love from Chicago. Definitely worth the pit stop. On a clear day you can see the whole skyline in it’s reflection. (Well-played Anish Kapoor. ) On the way out of the park we find ourselves in the middle of another art installation…giant faces the size of buildings, spitting out water. Kids are playing in the water. It sounds scary but was actually super tranquil- the serenity of a museum, in the middle of a park. I ask Google what the deal is and find out it's the interactive Crown Fountain Sculpture by renowned artist Jaume Plensa. The gigantic LED screen rotates the portraits of 1000 local residents.
1:30pm // Pizano’s [61 East Madison Street ]
We leave the park and directly across the street is deep dish #2 on our hit list. We order and sit at the counter in the take-out side. We people watch and devour our pizza. The crust here is not as thick as you would expect for deep dish and has a buttery, corn mealy texture. This place is for the purist. Simple and well balanced. Much softer in comparison to some of the other crusts and made with less cheese and sauce.
This place was opened by Rudy Malnati Jr. in 1991, son of Rudy Sr. who played a role in opening Pizzeria Uno on the north side of Chicago in 1943. Rudy Sr. had two sons and they both went in to the pizza business. One son opened Lou Malnati’s and the other Pizano's. I smell family drama.
2:00 pm // Chicago River
We stop and admire the architecture on our way back to the other side of town. We linger on a bridge and Lou waves at the people on a river boat tour as they pass under. Did I mention I love this city? We take State Street towards deep dish #3 and something magnifico happens.
2:15pm // Eataly [43 E Ohio St]
While looking for a restroom, we end up in front of Eataly. Lou’s sister had recommended it the day before. We hadn’t planned on going but there it was. It found us. It was a sign. We decide to walk in and just check it out real quick.
3:45pm // Guess where we are?
Eataly. Still here. We have toured both floors, together and separately. We eventually found ourselves in the wine bar upstairs, with a Chef’s choice charcuterie selection and some Rosé our server recommended. A light snack. I could have hung out there all day. There is so much to see and taste. Did I mention they are blasting some heavy Motown sound up in this place? Heaven.
Minds blown and starting to really feel the food coma, we decide it's best to keep moving. I stop at a liquor store on our way out and grab a pack of band-aids for my feet. I wasn’t going to let walking 10 miles in the wrong shoes slow us down.
3:55pm // Giordano’s [730 North Rush Street]
Upon our arrival, the hostess informs me the wait time for deep dish #3 is 45 minutes. Lou and I sigh and look at each other. That's too long to wait. We still have one more pizza stop before dinner. So we decide to nurse our defeat at the bar top, drink a cold one and catch the end of the Cubs game before taking off.
Enter- Bill. Bill is from Switzerland and visiting Chicago for business. He is sitting by himself on the stool closest to the TV screen. He is about half way through a huge deep dish pizza. He doesn’t hesitate to offer us each a slice. Bill! My man!
His timing was impeccable. Or was it our timing? Either way things where looking up. The slice was still hot. It was the best piece we had all day.
Original owners and Italian immigrants, Efren and Joseph Boglio opened Giordano’s in 1974 on the south side of the city. Their pizza was inspired by a family Easter pie recipe, known as scarciedda, that was made in the small northern Italian town of Turin. It was all about the cheese for me. So melty and divine. Crust was on point- the perfect amount of crunch.
[ I really wish I had a photo of Bill.]
The Cubs game was tied in the 11th and it felt sacrilegious to get up from the bar during such a sensitive time in the game. So we waited it out and when it was appropriate to excuse ourselves, we did. We walked briskly over to the John Hancock Center for a Manhattan at the Signature Lounge on the 95th Floor. We watched the fog roll in from the lake, over the Navy Pier and tuck the windy city in to bed.
6:00pm // The Pep Talk
We head back to the hotel to change our shoes/ grab jackets. Our stomachs and feet hurt.
We engage in a brief pep talk:
7:30pm // Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse [1028 North Rush Street]
We order two martinis at the bar. The place is packed and the bar area is standing room only. The restaurant is in the space made famous by Mr. Kelley’s, it's also where Streisand and Sinatra performed, and was later the hot spot Sweetwater in the 70’s and 80’s. There are big steaks and strong drinks at every table. The walls are adorned with photos of famous regulars and locals. Everything thing about this place feels warm and worn in.
10:00pm // Portillo’s [100 W. Ontario]
We grab takeout on the way back in our hotel room for an Italian Beef/Hotdog tasting + pajama party.
The next day:
Lou had been saying all along that Lou Malnati’s was her favorite. She had to cut out early for her nieces’ birthday- so the following day I ran over to Lou Malnati’s [1120 N State St] by myself before leaving for the airport. I grabbed a seat at the bar. Waited 30 minutes for my pizza. It arrives and I eat the entire thing. The big differentiator here is the crust. It has a firm base and flaky texture, which I preferred to the real doughy stuff I tried the day before. The Malnati Chicago Classic was layered with sausage meat, extra cheese and chunky tomato sauce. I read a little bit while eating and discover that Lou and his wife Jean opened the first location in 1971 outside of the city in the Chicago suburb of Lincolnwood. His sons run the business today – and over 40 years later, they are still making each pizza from scratch and supporting the same small dairy for fresh mozzarella. Keepin’ it in the family. I like that.
Lou Hansen's Chicago Deep Dish ranking:
Lou Malnati’s: #1
Gino’s East: #3
Words by: Rebecca Simms