Lou Malnati’s: going local for Chicago-style deep dish pizza

Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria, Wells and Hubbard Streets, Chicago Illinois (Scarborough photo)Folks can get pretty worked up about finding the best, most authentic Chicago-style deep dish pizza; a quick search on the topic at foodie site CHOW.com brought 15 pages of feedback.

While in Chicago last weekend for the terrific SOBCon08 blogging conference, I had a good appetite from walking around the city and decided to dive into the deep dish at one of the two restaurants that most of my sources recommended – Lou Malnati’s.

It’s near the corner of Wells and Hubbard, just north of the Chicago River and the Loop.

(The other recommended Chicago pizza place seems to be Gino’s East; anyone out there tried them? Please let us know in the comments.)

The pizza’s fresh to order at Malnati’s, so they need 25 minutes or so to make it. If you’re ravenous upon arrival like I was, order their house specialty spinach bread appetizer, but don’t eat the whole thing (maybe split it with someone) because it’s an incredibly rich and cheesy little stuffed loaf and you won’t have any room for pizza.

Malnati’s deep dish pie sure ain’t Pizza Hut.

The crust is pulled up at the sides, like a little round walled garden for toppings, and it manages to be crunchy and soft at the same time thanks to a lot of oil and other calorie-laden magic that I’d rather not acknowledge.

You eat it with a knife and fork, not picking it up with yours hands the way that most Americans eat pizza.

The tomato topping is chunky, not smooth (I ordered a sausage and green pepper pie) and it’s not gooey cheesy at all. You’d better like tomatoes, which I do. The individual pizza is “only” two slices, but they are big ones, and after the spinach bread I was quite happy with a small pizza serving and the enormous bucket-sized glass of Coke that arrived when I ordered my drink.

Lou Malnati’s frozen Chicago-style deep dish pizza to go (Scarborough photo)

Malnati’s has a hopping To Go business (1-800-Lou-To-Go) with a loaded freezer case right by the checkout register offering a variety of ready-made pies. They’re in foil containers so I don’t think the microwave is involved, which probably would make an icky, soggy crust anyway.

One guy came bouncing into the restaurant while I was eating and bought a stack of three frozen pies to take out; when I asked him which one was his favorite, he said, “Hmm, probably the sausage!”

The Malnati’s decor is exposed-brick homey and full of items on the walls to please sports-mad patrons: hockey sticks, Cubs photos, a program from the 1959 Chicago White Sox appearance in baseball’s World Series and one of the gold records of the Chicago Bears football team’s 1985 one-hit wonder “Super Bowl Shuffle.”

As a nod to sports teams outside of the Windy City, a pair of Shaquille O’Neal’s basketball shorts are also framed and hung on the wall (size 52 Long, thank you very much.)

That afternoon pizza meal was so filling that even after a lot more walking, I skipped dinner that night without blinking an eye.

My kinda town, Chicago is….

Related post (on my Family Travel blog) – Taste of Chicago: Garrett Popcorn

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