The Best Pizza in Chicago: Two Old Pizza Parlors in the Windy City
Often debated in forums, it's a hot issue - some might say piping hot. But the topic is not so much bipartisan as bipizzian. The question? Where is the biggest and best pizza in the world made?
Tempers, not surprisingly, run high. After all, we're talking about stress food here. My take? As a native Chicagoan, I obviously feel the best pizza in the world can be found in Chicago, and as it happens, near Wrigley Field. It's an average-looking tavern named D'Agostinos.
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You Heard It From a Pizza Connoisseur
Not to brag, but the words you're reading were authored by a self-appointed pizza connoisseur. I've eaten pizza in Wisconsin...in Michigan...in Illinois...pizza in Georgia, California, and Washington, too.
I've eaten frozen pizzas that aren't half bad, others that are cardboard slabs coated with ketchup that call themselves pizzas, and restaurant pizzas that disguise themselves as gourmet creations but really had to have been frozen pizzas popped into a brick oven and then had mussels, alfredo sauce and other crap smeared over them.
I've had pizzas that cost $2.99 for a jumbo size claiming to use real cheese. I've gotten sick in pizza buffets. I've ordered out from Pizza Hut and other pizza delivery joints that believe pizza should be comprised of 50% bread and 50% salt.
I've eaten Greek pizza (not greasy enough), authentic Italian pizza (what is this stuff), Mexican pizza (taco meat and mozzarella SHOULD NOT MARRY), pizza pockets (what is this stuff?) and calzone (yumminess, but it's not pizza, y'know?)
What most of these places don't get is that when it comes to good pizza, size doesn't matter. Variety and novel shapes don't matter. Creativity has no place in pizza production (except insofar as you sprinkle on a little extra oregano if you're in a good mood). Convenience, too, doesn't matter. Quality of ingredients doesn't even matter, and nor, God help me, does authenticity.
What matters is taste.
My Vote for the Best Stuffed Crust and Thin Crust Pizza
For lifelong pizza aficionados such as I, the best stuffed crust pizza is conjured up daily at a modest tavern near Wrigley Field in Chicago. This modest-appearing tavern is called D'Agostinos.
And the best thin crust pizza is obviously, clearly and without question made in Chicago, IL, U.S., at one of the oldest pizza parlors in the city, Marie's Liquor & Pizza on Lawrence in Albany Park.
If pushed, I'll admit there's a possible tie for thin crust perfection with Pizza Man pizza in Milwaukee. But that's as far as I go. (I'd recommend the best pan pizza, too, but, though Chicago is deservedly famous for its pan pizza, I'm not a big fan of it. If I want lots of cheese, I get stuffed crust, and if I want lots of crust, I get bread or pretzels. In the bowels of yesteryear, before Pizza Hut became a huge chain, I do recall that the restaurant served pretty darn awesome pan pizza.)
Marie's, looking like just another pizza parlor attached to just another liquor store, holds sweet memories for me. My dad used to take me there to show me where he first had pizza when he was a kid. I was a young adult then, on the verge of moving away from Chicago for good, and perhaps it's simply sentiment that rules me here. No, on second thought I seem to remember nearly coming to blows with him over the last piece of pizza in the pan. But going back further in time....
D'Agostinos was located a block from where my dad lived when I was a kid. Yes, he lived right by Wrigley Field, but we rarely went to baseball games. It was all about the pizza. Thick, stringy-cheesy, buttery, with a chunky, mellow tomato sauce and corn meal crust that melts in your mouth....
Since I've long since moved away from Chicago, you can now perhaps understand why I have spent my life trying to make pizza such as that which I ate when I was a child. Through diligence, abstinence, studious application, and a lot of Google searches, I learned the secrets of both a perfect flat crust and a perfect stuffed crust. Experiment has taught me the toppings must be delicately handled. The pepperoni...must be sliced very thin and gotten specially. The toppings...must be conservative. Ingredients like pineapple, feta cheese, shitake mushrooms or eggplant have no place in anybody's pizza kitchen; they instantly ruin a traditional American pseudo-Italian pizza. As long as you stick to the tried and true toppings, you're good in my book.
But the sauce? The cheese? Can't be duplicated. Only approximated. Or learned by those privy to the secret. (And no--the secret is NOT the water, you darn New Yorkers, you!)
I live nowhere near Chicago. I've ordered pizza online to try to recapture the taste, and I have to admit it brought me back. But I can order pizza online till doomsday; nothing short of returning to Chicago will do it. My ambition is to one day make it back to Marie's and D'Agostinos and show my family the places I ate pizza with my dad before he died.
Oh, and one more thing. Not to incite a riot even more frenzied than the last...but I happen to know that the best American-style Chinese eggroll also harks from Chicago. It's made at Pekin House on Devon. When I do get back to the Windy City, if there's any room in my gut after my pizza binge, I may check it out to see if they're still made the way they were...and to relive the days when my dad would flag the waitress down for an extra order of eggrolls just for me. You see, when we weren't fighting over the pizza, we were pushing egg rolls at each other. In our family, that's love.
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