Pizza Chronicles: Lou Malnati's
The final note on our trip to Chicago has to be about pizza. It wouldn't be a trip to Chicago without deep-dish pizza, and we managed two rounds of it in just four days, a fact to which the straining waistband of my jeans can still testify.
I thought I knew it all about Chicago pizza, but even though its recipe dates back to 1943, somehow I had never heard about Lou Malnati's. Uno's, Due's, Gino's, Giordano's, Leona's, Bacino's, Edwardo's ... yes. Lou Malnati's, no.
So for the first night of our visit, we headed to the Lincoln Park branch for dinner. It was a quiet evening at Lou's ... we waited about ten minutes for a table, yet once we were seated there were only a few other parties in the dining room. The atmosphere of the restaurant was nothing to write home about - it kind of felt like someone's recently renovated rec room, brightly lit with a big sofa and TV screen smack in the middle of the room, but we enjoyed looking at the framed magazine covers of Chicago sports figures decorating the walls, mainly because it was fun to look at the names of various managers and employees on the address labels still stuck to the covers.
We ordered a plain cheese, deep-dish pizza with a butter crust - an option I had not encountered before at a pizza restaurant, but the menu said it was "Lou's favorite," plus I'm never one to argue with butter. It turned out this was our favorite thing about the pizza: crisp, crunchy, lightly butter-flavored. I found the tomato sauce a little bland, but it did taste very fresh. As for the cheese, I'm used to a bit more of it on my Chicago-style pizza, but that's really more the realm of the stuffed pie (my favorite of which would be Giordano's, our choice for Chicago Pizza Night #2).
All in all it was very tasty, but still didn't quite measure up (strike me down for saying so) to the similar style of pizza at San Francisco's Little Star. I don't know, I'll have to try it again next time I'm in the Bay Area and see if it's really as superior as I remember it, or if it had just been so long since I'd had the genuine Chicago article that any version would taste sublime. It's an experiment I will be happy to repeat as many times as necessary.
You'd think I would have gotten the Malnati's recommendation from a Chicago friend or relative, but in fact I read about it first on the blog of an L.A.-based Chicago native personally unknown to me, something I found because this blogger is also the brother-in-law of Jeff Tweedy, frontman of Wilco, a favorite band of mine. (The blog itself is quite good beyond its Wilco-related content, though that portion of Danny Miller's posts are very interesting, too, and part of a common, Los Angeles-influenced theme about the everyday lives of public figures.)
After that, I stumbled across an interview in which Jeff Tweedy listed his favorite Chicago eateries, prominently featuring Lou Malnati's (as well as the downtown diner Lou Mitchell's), and after that I was determined we would go. Yes, I like this band (and its singer's extended family) so much, I even had to try their favorite pizza. We also got to see them play on our last night in town at the spectacular Pritzker Pavilion, with the lit-up Chicago skyline all around. The perfect finale to a long weekend enjoying the many simple pleasures, cheese-laden and otherwise, of my favorite hometown.