The Great Chicago Pizza War…from a New Yorker’s point of view.
Any great pizza lover will revel in exploring and finding great new pizza experiences. Most native New Yorkers will tell you that it is difficult to find, forget about great, but just simply good pizza outside of the New York-New Jersey metropolitan area. Whether it’s the water, the sun, the moon, the stars, it doesn’t matter…finding great pizza is like finding a pearl in an oyster.
When I was a student at the University of Miami, I was introduced to an eatery called My Pi. It was a Chicago-style pizza, deep dish, with fresh mozzarella, and chunks of tomato sauce on top. I had had square Sicilian pizza, but never had a round thick soft crust that was, to me, like eating “pizza pot pie.” And I certainly had never had anything that looked like it was upside down…I mean the sauce was on top of the cheese.
And I am also not much of a cheese person. I never was. But when I got a taste of the thin layer of fresh mozzarella on a My Pi pizza pie, I really liked it. I am more of a sauce person, and loved the thick chunks of sauce covering the pie. Needless to say I indulged at My Pi quite often in my years at UM.
It had been so many years since I got to enjoy that Chicago-style pizza. So when Melissa said that we were going to visit Erin and Nick in Milwaukee in November, I was already making plans for the “Chicago” experience – both the city and the pizza. Milwaukee’s close proximity to Chicago made a day trip to the Windy City to see the Bean and grab some pizza a short ride away.
We had one day to execute and, of course, I researched the best place to get some real honest to goodness Chicago pizza. Melissa and I always like to find a local establishment, unique and special to the area. What I found was a virtual pizza war between Lou Malnati’s and Giordano’s.
We like to do the local experience…are there no mom and pop places that serve the famous Chicago deep dish pizza? Like the crusty diner we tend to find in the small quaint towns. It’s always more special to get there and experience it when it’s that one singular, stand alone, and unique location.
However, what I found is that the Chicago Pizza War is a raging debate between Lou Malnati’s and Giordano’s…similar to, say, a McDonald’s vs. Burger King, the two burger fast food giants. Because the two Chicago pizza giants seem to have a place every few blocks.
Lou Malnati’s has 61 locations in Illinois as well as a few in other states including 5 in Wisconsin, 7 in Indiana, and 8 in Arizona.
Giordano’s has 48 locations in Illinois as well as a few in other states including 1 in Wisconsin, 4 in Indiana, 2 in Ohio, 1 in Iowa, 1 in Minnesota, 2 in Colorado, 2 in Nevada, and 3 in Florida
Hey, in New York we have Ray’s Pizza, and its slew of variations such as Ray’s Original Pizza, Famous Ray’s Pizza, Original Famous Ray’s Pizza, and World-Famous Original Ray’s Pizza. It’s a sure bet to find one wherever you may roam in NYC.
We had made our trek to the Bean to take our pictures, and it just so happened that we were nearest Lou Malnati’s located near the Riverwalk and, across the way from The Chicago Tribune building at 410 North Michigan Avenue.
When we got there, it was packed and the wait was in excess of an hour. Couple that with you are told right off the bat to expect a wait of at least 45 minutes after ordering your pie for it to arrive at your table, and it sent Erin into a semi-meltdown. I am fairly regimented and like to eat by certain times of the day, but…Erin…when she is hungry…DANGER WILL ROBINSON!
But Erin took matters into her own hands and began searching for another location. And, as luck would have it, actually, as the numbers – numbers of locations – would have it, we were a short walk away from the location at 439 North Wells Street. By the time we got there…walking in the freezing cold…we only had a five-minute wait to get a table.
The place was crowded, the service was slow and deliberate. The place had a nostalgic feel to it, with some old memorabilia on the walls.
We ordered some appetizers, because the kids were dying of hunger, and a couple of pies. The pies did NOT disappoint. The sauce was great, the cheese was perfect, and the crust – they claim it’s a special recipe – made for an exceptional pie. Made the entire trip worthwhile.
When Erin and Nick made the decision to leave Milwaukee for summer gigs in Utah, Melissa and Alan had to head to the Midwest last week to get Ziggy. Yes, we were going to get a cat. But we were going to make the most of the trip – take in a Cubs game and our first trip to Wrigley Field…and to get a taste of that other side of the pizza battlefield, Giordano’s.
We actually stayed in an Airbnb around the block from Wrigley Field. And we found a Giordano’s within blocks of Wrigley and our Airbnb at 1040 W. Belmont Avenue.
Remembering what happened when we visited Lou Malnati’s, I called ahead to make a reservation. But I was rebuffed and told that they weren’t taking reservations, but I was also told that there was not much of a wait at that time. So we made the 15-minute walk…to find that the place was…empty…for the most part.
The décor sort of reminded us of a Pizza Hut, but it was easy to see that it catered to Chicago Cubs fans, not surprising considering the proximity to Wrigley Field.
The server, Maddie, was very personable, and even offered to give us a sampling of the local beers to try…for free…while we were waiting the, again, 45 minutes for our pie. The beers were pretty good, as was the cocktail that Melissa tried.
Maddie brought us the pie and she cut the first pieces for us and even posed with the first slice for a picture. The pie, initially, looked much like the one we had at Lou Malnati’s. However, when Maddie pulled out the first slice, the cheese was literally flowing out of the pizza and onto the tray.
There was so much cheese…we were inundated with cheese. The taste, and the grease that accompanied it, drowned out the taste of the sauce on top. For me, pizza is all about the sauce. And Giordano’s may have good sauce. But I couldn’t tell. Because the cheese so overpowered everything else. And by the end of the night…it was laying in my stomach.
Remember the old Lite Beer commercials? The LESS FILLING!!! vs TASTES GREAT!!! argument? Well…this one is definitely CHUNKS OF SAUCE!!! vs. MORE CHEESE!!!
Gotta go with the sauce…and Lou Malnati’s.