Call it pizza love. In 2017, according to PMQ Pizza Magazine, Americans consumed 45.1 billion dollars’ worth of pies. But what’s the best place for pizza? Steve Dolinsky, a James Beard award winning food writer known as the “Hungry Hound,” podcaster and food tour operator, decided to prove there’s no better place for pizza than Chicago, its suburbs and five collar counties.
He shares his results in Pizza City, USA: 101 Reasons Why Chicago Is America’s Greatest Pizza Town (Northwestern University Press 2018; $24.95), a user-friendly guide to all things dough, sauce and toppings divided into chapters on pizza categories:: Tavern-Style (Chicago-Style Thin), Thin, Artisan, Neapolitan, By-the-Slice (New York-Style), Deep-Dish and Pan, Stuffed, Sicilian, Roman and Detroit-Style and last, but not least, Overrated. Dolinsky than includes photos and information about each of the 101 places in the book as well as the five best in each category. Maps included show where the top pizza places are located in case you want to hit the road.
It was a tough assignment and Dolinsky often ate pizza at three different places in a day. In all he visited 185 locations (not all made the cut), consumed massive doses of anti-acids, and, to keep his weight gain at a minimum, practiced portion control and doing yoga sculpting daily.
Dolinsky’s inquisitiveness about Chicago food isn’t limited to pizza. He’d already written “The 31 Essential Italian Beef Joints in Chicago(land): for his Website stevedolinsky.com and also visited every place in the city that served Vietnamese pho so he was used to massive samplings of the city’s favorite foods, but he had other reasons as well.
“People say Chicago has the best pizza, but I didn’t really think that anyone had done any research on this scale, that there hadn’t been a deep dive into pizzas,” he says, noting that he considered it an unparalleled lifetime quest in the city’s illustration pizza history. “I didn’t realize how massive of an undertaking it would be.”
Like any scientific study, there were rules. Dolinsky created what he called the Optimal Bite Ratio (QBR) with points given for crust, sauce and the quality of the sausage and pepperoni as well as the application and mouthfeel of the cheeses.
Here’s just a smattering of what Dolinsky learned. While most of the U.S. prefers pepperoni as a topping, Chicago likes bulk sausage, which probably harkens back to the days of the stockyards. Media outside of Chicago often confuses deep crust pizza and stuffed pizza (the latter which Dolinsky mostly disdains). Deep crust pizza, while one of Chicago’s wonderful inventions, is rarer than one might think though outsiders think it’s the real Chicago thing. Notice how when you travel, a Chicago-style pizza place means deep dish. but Dolinsky says it’s the Tavern-Style or Chicago-Style Thin, square-cut pie that Chicagoans love—the kind with middle pieces in the center with no crust handles that my brother and I used to fight over when we were kids.
For those who want the full-Dolinsky treatment, he also runs pizza walking tours starting in May. The tours meet at Lou Malnati’s (1235 W. Randolph St.), a 7-minute drive from The Loop and showcases four different styles of pizza. Highlights include a traditional Chicago deep-dish, an only-in-Chicago Roman al taglio, a classic Neapolitan and a Sicilian slice. Included in the tour price is a custom souvenir lanyard and badge good for discounts and deals. For more information, visit pizzacityusa.com
If you can’t wait for a tour or to learn more, on Thursday, January 31 from 7:30-9:30 pm EST, Steve Dolinsky will be teaming up with the chefs from Pizzeria Bebu for a pizza–making demonstrated, followed by a tasting. Steve then will give a lively presentation on how he went about making the choices for the book.
Where: Read It & Eat, 2142 North Halsted St., Chicago, IL. For ticket prices and more information, (773) 661-6158; readitandeatstore.com
In the meantime, here’s a deep dish pizza recipe from Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria, rated among the top by Dolinsky and a favorite in Chicago for over 40 years.
The Malnati Classic
20 ounces pizza dough
Olive oil, for the pan
12 to 16 ounces mozzarella cheese, sliced
12 to 14 ounces 90-percent lean Italian sausage, casings removed
10 to 12 ounces seasoned Roma tomato sauce, maintaining chunks
2 to 3 ounces grated Parmesan
2 to 3 ounces grated Romano cheese
Special equipment: a round steel baking pan
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
Allow about 20 ounces of your favorite yeast dough to rise. You may do this if you have a proofer, or simply leave it at room temp for about 2 hours.
Oil a round steel baking pan with a few ounces of olive oil. Press the dough on the bottom and to the sides of the pan, being careful not to tear it. Holes in the dough will create a soggy crust. Pull the dough up the sides of pan to 1 to 1 1/2 inches high.
Place the mozzarella evenly across the dough. Top with the sausage, making sure to get the sausage all the way to the sides.
Cover with the seasoned tomato sauce, spreading evenly and maintaining the chunks of tomatoes. Sprinkle with the Parmesan and then the Romano.
Bake until the crust and the grated cheese turn golden brown, and the crust is firm yet flaky, 30 to 40 minutes.
Recipe courtesy of Lou Malnati’s, Chicago, IL.