Pie Oh My
Okay, I am now officially fed up (no pun intended) with people reviewing pizza in Chicago and stating, for the record, that they don't like Chicago-style pizza. This is no different from someone writing an article about the best barbecue ribs in Kansas City and saying they don't like ribs. They have no idea what makes the food good, and only end up telling you what someone who specifically doesn't like ribs feels is something that they, as a non-rib lover, can personally stomach.
To be clear, I don't care if someone doesn't like Chicago-style pizza. It's significantly different than most other pizza, so if it's not to your taste, fair enough. I don't even care if someone does like Chicago-style pizza, but after tasting all manner of different pizzas prefers those to Chicago-style. It's different. It's not for everyone. I happen to love it. I think it's incredible, and when done right (which only seems to take place in Chicago), it's enthralling.
This comes up because the other day, the Serious Eats website assigned Nick Kindelsperger to rate Chicago-style pizza in the city. And in his article here, beginning right in the first paragraph, he writes --
No matter what what you think about this style of pizza, it's hard not to be impressed by its stature. Which explains why so many visitors to Chicago want to experience the spectacle for themselves, even if food critics tend to disparage the stuff as greasy and too much like a casserole.
Hey, that's exactly who I want to read to tell me who makes the best Chicago-style pizza! Someone who dismisses it and find it overwrought and heavy. And describes other pizza as "better." Why even write the article? Why not say, "the best Chicago-style pizza in Chicago is None of the Above" and save one the typing?
[Note: contrary to what he says, food critics don't "disparage the stuff." Not as greasy and too much like a casserole. Or anything. Some food critics do. But "some" food critics will disparage pretty much any kind of food. To state that food critics, period, dislike what you're about to review puts a pretty dismal spin on what you suspect is about to come.
C'mon, if you're going to call your organization, "Serious Eats," at least be serious enough about eats to assign a reviewer to write about a kind of food he at least likes. That way, he understands what's actually good -- and even bad -- about it.
To be fair to Mr. Kindelsperger, and Serious Eats, as well, he does do a diligent job in researching his assignment, and writes about food quite well. The problem is, as I said, that someone simply out-of-hand does not like Chicago-style pizza is not going to find The Best Chicago-style Pizza in Chicago. He's going to find the best pizza that's close enough to the "better" kind of pizza he likes.
And indeed, that's precisely what happens here.
This is what I mean. For starters, he makes an effort to describe the difference between "deep dish" pizza and "stuffed pizza," as well as "pan pizza." The problem is that his explanation, as far as I can tell, bears no semblance to any criteria I've ever heard. The main difference between deep dish and stuffed pizza is not the crust, but that the latter has a thin layer of dough on top, which lets you put more toppings on. And pan pizza isn't really Chicago-style at all, but just thick, bready dough, which, as he correctly notes, you can get anywhere.)
More to the point, is that his number one selection as "the best" Chicago-style pizza in the city is Burt's Place. Okay, fine, let's step back a moment before we continue. In your mind, picture what you envision Chicago-style pizza to look like. Pizza made in a round, blackened pan with a flakey dough up the side of the pan and the inside piled high with sauce, gooey cheese and all manner of toppings.
Right? Okay, here's the photograph he offers for his #1 choice, Burt's Place --
Seriously now, how many of you out there had an image of something even close to this as Chicago-style pizza??! Let alone for "the best" in the city. Hands? Anyone?
Now, to be fair, it might be absolutely delicious. (Actually, it looks a bit dry, but I suspect it's really good.) But mainly, this looks like any New York thin-crust pie. The only giveaway is that the crust does look somewhat flakey, though it's hard to tell.
And this isn't an exception. His second choice really isn't all that much different. Here's a picture of the pizza that they offer up at My Pie.
That looks almost as thin. And the only slight giveaway here that we're in Chicago is that the sauce appears to be thicker and richer than pizza in most other areas. (Sorry, I mean "better pizza" in most other areas.)
Again, it looks pretty tasty, and may well be delicious. But this isn't a Chicago-style pizza loaded with cheese and piled with stuffings. This is a pizza that's fits much closer to the type of thin-crust pizza that Nick Kindelsberger likes.
C'mon, now, this is what Chicago-style pizza looks like, when you had to envision a picture of it in your mind. Right?!!!!
This is from Giordano's, the author's choice -- down the list a bit -- for "Favorite Downtown Option." That dismissive word "option" is worth noting. I'm not quite sure why he uses it, unlike the earlier categories, as Favorites, period. Here it reads like, "Okay, if you're downtown and out of other places to eat, here's your best option of Chicago-style pizza."
Indeed, most of the list is this way. Most of them being fairly thin-crust, with only a few the way most people (especially in Chicago) think of Chicago-style pizza.
I'm sure that every pizza on the list is wonderful. Maybe even exquisitely so. And I'm sure that those here with thin crusts can be described in some way as being a cousin of Chicago-style and related, for having a flakey crust or thick tomato sauce. But these aren't quintessential, "Chicago-style pizza." These are pizzas for people who live in the city who have been eating Chicago-style pizza all their lives for many decades and decide they want to have something a little different, that still has some of the qualities they love. Or pizzas for people like the author don't like Chicago-style pizza and who dismiss it as "too much like a casserole."
To be clear, this isn't just a diatribe against Nick Kindelsperger. It's about all reviews of Chicago-style pizza by people who don't like it. In the end, what you get is not a review of Chicago-style pizza. You get a review like this -- of pizza that's as close as possible to what kind of other "better" pizza the author likes.
Chicago-style pizza is Not Like Other Pizza. That doesn't make it better or worse. I like it more. I like other kind of pizza, too. But when you have someone reviewing it who doesn't like it, who doesn't understand why those who absolutely love it do -- this is what you get. An article about something else entirely.
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Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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