Chicago vs. New York…The Great Pizza Debate

I like to think of myself as having a sort of dual citizenship in both New York and Chicago. I was born in New York and lived here until I was three, then spent most of my summers and ALL of my vacations here visiting family. When we moved to Chicago over 20 years ago I knew that I would eventually end up back in New York. Even at three years old I knew Manhattan was where I belonged. But I love Chicago and I loved growing up there. I love the city, the lake, and of course the food. Whenever I’m back home there is a roster of dining locations that I MUST hit before leaving. On the top of my list is Lou Malnati’s pizza. You might recognize the name from their frequent appearances on Food Network. They threw down with Bobby Flay (and won), the battled in Food Wars (and won), they get talked about all the time because, well simply put, their pizza is outrageously delicious.

Now, for years people have compared the thin, soft, giant slices of the Big Apple, with the thick, crusty, deep dish pieces of the Windy City. So as a dual citizen of both cities I think I am qualified to make a very informed decision on the matter. What makes me the authority on the pizza war you might ask? Well, I’ve eaten A LOT of pizza in both cities, I have a discerning palate, and I have a blog…so I think I’m more than qualified…

Behind the counter...the board of health would be thrilled

Let’s first start by breaking down each pie. I learned a lot about New York style pizza in Philadelphia of all places. One night after a few Long Island Iced Teas my friends and I stopped by the local pizza place for a late night feeding. After a few bites of the decidedly awful Philadelphia pizza I struck up a conversation with a man behind the counter. I asked him very bluntly “why does your pizza suck so much?” Instead of throwing me out, the nice man nodded his head in agreement and proceeded to let me behind the counter for a lesson in pizza making. I was curious why the thin crust pizza in New York was exponentially more delicious than the slices at this establishment. First he showed me the ovens and explained that they were much smaller than the average pizzeria, and because of this they can’t roll their pies out as large as they should be. Apparently when the crust is larger the pizza cooks better and tastes better. I then said that the size couldn’t be the only difference, I’m sure there are some Philly pizza places with bigger ovens, but their pizza just doesn’t measure up. He then revealed the not-so-secret secret to New York pizza…the water. A lot of people refute that the water makes any difference. But others will argue that the reason New York has such great pizza, bagels, and pretzels is because all of these treats are made with dough that uses New York’s finest H2O. And that’s basically it, New York pizza is made special by a large crust made with plenty of New York water, topped with sauce, cheese, and toppings and cooked in a giant oven.  Now time to break down a Chicago pie.

Some people refer to Chicago pizza as “upside down.” This is because on top of the dough goes the cheese, then the toppings, then sauce. I know…it’s crazy…I remember being really thrown by this as a small child. Other than the order the biggest difference is the crust. To start with it’s deep dish, meaning the pizza is baked in a deep pan rather than on a thin sheet. The crust on most Chicago style pizzas are about 2 inches thick. They’re also crusty and flaky and oh so filling. Lou Malnati’s also does their topping differently. For instance, instead of bits of crumbled sausage, they layer the cheese with big meaty patties. Every bite of pizza is like a meal in itself. It’s nearly impossible to have more than two or three slices, it’s just that dense. But every filling bite is more delicious than the next, it’s heaven in a box. And other than seeing my family and puppy dog, it’s my favorite part of going home.

Everything about theses pies are different, the prep, the cooking, even the way you eat them. Real New Yorkers fold their pizza before going at it, while Chicago-ins eat deep dish with a fork and knife. They are on such complete opposite ends of the pizza spectrum that they are almost two different animals. Comparing them is like comparing apples and oranges or ice cream and gelato. It’s not really fair. You can compare Philly and New York pizza. You can compare Lou Malnati’s and that awful imitation Pizza Uno junk you get in the airport. (By the way, New York and Lou’s both take those respective match-ups by a landslide). But you just can’t compare New York and Chicago. They are both perfectly delicious in their own way, they are both at the top of their respective games, and they are both winners in my book. As I wrap up this chapter of Christmas break I can’t decide which one I’m craving more.

That’s just my opinion, let’s hear it, who’s got the better pie? Oh and Philly don’t even try to defend yourselves, stick to the cheese steaks ; )

Next up: December 19th

Previous: December 17th

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