Food re­porter and au­thor makes his way around town in search of the Windy City’s best pizza of­fer­ing

Calgary Herald - - TRAVEL - KATE SIL­VER

Steve Dolin­sky is out to ban­ish long-stand­ing myths about a most di­vi­sive topic. It’s not in the realm of re­li­gion. It’s not con­cern­ing pol­i­tics. It’s about pizza.

Rev­e­la­tion No. 1: Deep dish isn’t the rep­re­sen­ta­tive pizza of the Windy City.

Rev­e­la­tion No. 2: Chicago is Pizza City, USA, reign­ing supreme when it comes to depth and breadth of pizza. (Sorry, New York.)

These epipha­nies came from just over a year of sauce-drib­bled re­search by Dolin­sky, who is a well­re­garded food re­porter known as the Hun­gry Hound at Chicago’s ABC7. He vis­ited 185 pizza places in and around Chicago, and 56 in New York (we’ll get to that), con­sum­ing up to four disc-shaped meals in a sin­gle day. The fruits of his labour take two forms, both with the same ti­tle. The book, Pizza City USA: 101 Rea­sons Why Chicago Is Amer­ica’s Great­est Pizza Town, was re­leased in Septem­ber by North­west­ern Univer­sity Press.

And his new tour com­pany, Pizza City, USA, con­ducts three neigh­bour­hood walk­ing tours, led by “dough­cents,” and one bus tour, usu­ally led by Dolin­sky, that share pizza in­sights and plenty of pie at four pizze­rias.

The journalist’s prob­ing into Chicago’s pizza scene be­gan, re­ally, out of sheer an­noy­ance. Dolin­sky says he had read too many ar­ti­cles claim­ing to list Chicago’s 7 Hottest Pizza Places, and he got fed up. The lists were al­ways the same, and he felt like they weren’t rep­re­sen­ta­tive of “best” in any sense of the word. “I had been to two of the places on the list ear­lier that week, and I just thought this is stupid, that just makes no sense,” he says. “There’s no crit­i­cal eye to­ward any­thing.”

In the past, he had dug deeply into foods such as pho and Ital­ian beef, sam­pling and re­port­ing on dozens within each cat­e­gory. He de­cided to do the same for pizza. As he vis­ited 10 and then 20 and then 30 pizza joints, he felt like he was barely scratch­ing the sur­face. Not only that, his on­line pizza posts drew up to 10 times the usual num­ber of views. He was onto some­thing. So he kept eat­ing.

On a Pizza City, USA bus tour in Au­gust, the pas­sion for pizza is ap­par­ent. Dolin­sky starts by ad­dress­ing that long-held myth about Chicago and pie. “I’m guess­ing most of you here, when you hear ‘Chicagostyle’ you think of ...” Like a cho­rus, about half the ta­ble an­swers with en­thu­si­asm: “Deep dish!”

Dolin­sky smiles be­fore burst­ing their bub­ble. “Peo­ple who ac­tu­ally live and breathe in Chicago don’t eat deep dish,” he says. “Deep dish is to Chicago what Times Square is to New York,” he goes on.

Real Chicagoans, he ex­plains, are more likely to or­der a dif­fer­ent type of pizza, also na­tive to Chicago, known as tav­ern-style, which con­sists of a cracker-thin crust, cut into squares. Dolin­sky says that as far back as the 1930s, tav­ern own­ers re­al­ized that their pa­trons would drink more beer if they passed around a free, salty snack. Years be­fore stuffed crust and deep dish bub­bled into our con­scious­ness, the cracker-thin, square-cut, tav­ern-style pie was born. Around town, this thin style is far more com­mon than its husky coun­ter­part. “Chicago-style pizza is tav­ern style. It’s what we’ve been do­ing here for gen­er­a­tions,” em­pha­sizes Dolinksy. “The stuffed and the deep dish are much more Johnny-come-lately.”

Af­ter clear­ing that mat­ter up, our first pizza is served, and it hap­pens to be, well, deep dish. A de­li­cious deep dish, and one that, de­spite be­ing in Chicago’s most touristy ar­eas, doesn’t make the usual “top seven” lists, al­though it should, with its corn-meal-dusted crust that is as airy as it is thick, with cheese that caramelizes all around the rim, and a re­fresh­ingly bright layer of to­ma­toes on top (in Chicago deep dish, the lay­ers go crust, cheese, top­pings, sauce). We each de­vour a piece, leav­ing few “dough or­phans,” as Dolin­sky calls aban­doned nubs of crust, and then visit the kitchen, where our trusty guide shows us the oven used to bake the pizza and passes around a metal, Chicago-made pan so we can hold the tools of the trade.

We hop on the bus and visit Pizze­ria Bebu in the Lin­coln Park neigh­bour­hood, where we try what Dolin­sky refers to as “ar­ti­sanal” pie, with a thin, bub­bly, lightly charred crust and ten­der cen­tre, topped with an un­ex­pected mix of top­pings: pick­led jalapeno, pi­mento cheese and broc­coli rabe.

Then it’s on to Pat’s Pizza in the Lake­view neigh­bour­hood for what Dolin­sky pro­claims “one of the best ex­pres­sions of Chicago tav­ern-style pizza.” We get a tour of the kitchen and learn that dough­mak­ing, here, in­volves a seven-day process. Then we de­vour squares of that tor­tilla-thin, crisp dough topped with cheese, sausage and veg­gies.

Fi­nally, it’s on to Dante’s Pizze­ria, a New York-style joint in the Avon­dale neigh­bour­hood, where we each do our best to de­vour an enor­mous, floppy slice. (Dough or­phans en­sue). At each pizza place, Dolin­sky is a lit­tle bit pizza Ein­stein, talk­ing about things like “OBR” (that’s “op­ti­mal bite ra­tio,” and refers to the pre­ferred dis­tri­bu­tion of crust, sauce, top­pings and cheese) and “PIGUE syn­drome” (“Pizza I Grew Up Eat­ing ” syn­drome, al­lud­ing to the in­abil­ity to dis­tin­guish be­tween what’s good and what’s known).

You wouldn’t know it from his en­thu­si­asm level on the tour, but here’s a funny thing about Dolin­sky: Pizza isn’t his favourite food. Not even close.

Did he ever think that this would be­come the cat­e­gory around which his life would re­volve? “Ab­so­lutely not,” he says. “I thought it would be some­thing Asian. I mean, I love Korean food.”

Yet he was fas­ci­nated by what he refers to as “the vari­abil­ity and nu­ance” he dis­cov­ered in the Chicago pizza scape. “It sort of be­came like an arche­o­log­i­cal dig for me. I just kept unearthing things,” he says.


Ac­cord­ing to food re­porter Steve Dolin­sky, deep dish pizza is not the pie style of choice for real Chicagoans. Tav­ern-style is more pop­u­lar.

Steve Dolin­sky leads a bus tour of pizza eater­ies in Chicago. He vis­ited 185 pizza places for his new book.

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