Chicago, Illinois – Pizano’s Pizza & Pasta (“Best” Deep Dish Pizza)

Restaurant: Pizano’s Pizza & Pasta
Cuisine: Pizza/Pasta/American/Italian
Last visited: June 15, 2012
Location: Chicago, IL (Loop)
Address: 61 E Madison Street
Transit: Madison/Wabash
Where I stayed: Hyatt Regency Chicago (Walking distance)
Price Range: $10-20

1Poor 2OK 3Good 4Very good 5Excellent 6FMF Must Try!

Food: 4 (based on just their deep dish pizza)
Service: 2
Ambiance: 2.5
Overall: 3.5
Additional comments:

  • Since 1991
  • Family owned chain restaurant
  • Famous for deep dish pizza
  • One of the original places for Chicago pizza
  • Oprah’s favourite thin crust
  • Creator of thin crust
  • Family friendly
  • Lots of selection
  • Very casual/affordable
  • Serves alcohol
  • Patio seating
  • Dine in/Take out
  • Frozen pizzas available
  • Delivery available
  • Monday – Friday & Sunday – 11am – 2am
  • Saturday – 11am – 3am

**Recommendations: Thin crust pizza is their speciality and what they’re locally known for, but their Chicago deep dish is still popular. The ‘Hey Hey’ JACK BRICKHOUSE SPECIAL is a house favourite and sausage as a topping is a “must” in Chicago.

And I thought Chicago Style Deep Dish Pizza was just that… a “Chicago Style Deep Dish Pizza”. But the history behind Chicago’s famous pizza and even Pizano’s is so much more deeply rooted than what I think most tourists and even locals know. I could save you the history lesson, but I love food history and I thought it was incredibly interesting! It also gave me new appreciation for this “speciality” and made me see it in a whole new light.

When I announced Follow Me Foodie to Chicago I had the most requests to try Chicago style deep dish pizza and a Chicago style hot dog. Those were both on my “must try” list as well, but where to go for each was something I was researching. I’m very particular on trying staple food items a city is well known for, because most of the time these places offering these specialities end up being tourist traps. Also if it’s going to be my first time trying the “real deal” in the city which invented it, I want to make sure I have a good benchmark for what it should be and taste like.

I just get slightly bothered when people say for example: “I’ve been to Italy so I know what authentic Italian pasta should taste like”. Sure that could be true, but it also depends on where you went and what you ordered. I mean does my trip to Spain mean I know Spanish food better? No, not really. I might have a better idea or I might have spent the whole week eating at various chain restaurants serving wholesale frozen Spanish tapas. I don’t want to discredit anyone that actually would know the food better after visiting that country, but I just think it requires some combination of research, local “foodie” guidance, luck, and many other variables that leads one to the “right” places. I know. I could be taking this way too seriously, but it’s Follow Me Foodie!

I should note that some say that authentic Chicago deep dish pizza can only be had in Chicago because the Lake Michigan water is what makes the crust, it’s also how San Francisco feels about their sourdough bread.

“The Best Chicago deep dish pizza” is bound to start arguments as each place has its loyal following, and as a tourist I didn’t have much time to explore the options. I tried researching some family owned and operated pizza places, but it turns out almost all places famous for Chicago deep dish pizzas are chain restaurants. The bartender at Lou Malnati’s (another famous deep dish pizza chain I tried later) told me Pizano’s was his least favourite, which now surprises me after knowing about its history… and here’s why.

Pizano’s is one of the origins for Chicago style pizzas and the recipe is based on the original recipe invented at Pizzeria Uno. Pizzeria Uno opened in 1943 by Ike Sewel and Rudy Malnati Sr., who was a manager first before a partner. It was Chicago’s first deep dish pizzeria and is now a widely recognized pizza franchise. Rudy Malnati Jr. and Lou Malnati (older half brother) were the sons of Rudy Malnati Sr.

Pizzeria Uno was later sold and after feeling like the original recipe was changed, Rudy Malnati Jr. (who was also once bartender at Pizzeria Uno) started serving his dad’s authentic recipe for pizza at his restaurant Bottom’s Up. This is now the location for Pizano’s Pizza & Pasta (State Street location) and it officially opened as Pizano’s in 1991. Lou Malnati opened his famous and popular Lou Malnati’s pizza chain also to carry his dad’s tradition in 1971, but there doesn’t seem to be any beef between the step brothers… or there could be, but it doesn’t matter on this site.

I tried both Pizano’s and Lou Malnati’s (my post here) and they tasted different, but they are supposed to be based on the same recipe and traditions of their father. Again, their father is one of the inventors for Chicago deep dish pizza that was made famous at Pizzeria Uno. Nonetheless, pizza does run deeply in the Malnati family name.

When Lou Malnati’s opened, Rudy Malnati Sr. stopped getting recognition as one of the co-founders at Pizzeria Uno and from this day on many people still don’t know any of this. For more details on the story see Rudy Malnati Jr.’s interview here.

Talk about complicated gossip huh? It’s worth knowing though and credit should be given where credit is due if it’s all true.

Without knowing the history I wouldn’t appreciate Pizano’s as much. Although it’s a family owned chain restaurant with a few locations in Chicago, it felt like a standard pizza chain full of tourists. I felt like I had fallen for a “tourist trap” as I saw the big portions of pasta and “Pizza Hut” like “Italian food” being rolled out. I came for the Chicago deep dish pizza though, which apparently wasn’t really the “right” thing to order here, but everyone was still ordering it. The thin crust is the way to go.

Pizano’s was voted one of the top ten pizzas by USA Today, but they’re actually famous for their Thin Crust Pizza which was voted #1 by Oprah. I saw that written on the menu, but I regretfully ignored it. Rudy Malnati Jr. added thin crust pizza to the menu when he realized there was a trend and growing demand for it. Some locals say that “deep dish is for tourists and thin crust is what the locals eat”, but its obvious that the locals still enjoy their deep dish. Try both – I did at Lou Malnati’s later on – see here.

The general characteristics of an authentic Chicago Style Deep Dish Pizza is what I based my opinions on. It should have a thick and even crust with 3 inch high edges and it shouldn’t be soggy. The first layer should have loads of melted mozzarella cheese followed by toppings, typically Italian sausage, and then finished with a layer of chunky canned tomato sauce.

I’ve tried deep dish pizzas outside of Chicago, but this was my first “real deep dish pizza” in Chicago. I only tried two pizza places in Chicago, but both chains were based on the original recipes, although things may have changed with time. As Rudy Malnati Jr. states in his interview in Yahoo Voices, “we were one of the birth places of deep dish pizza, and when I say that I mean we were one of the places that carried on deep dish pizza from where it originated from” … and he feels the same way about Lou Malnati’s.

On the table:

Minestrone - 2/6 (Okay)

  • The traditional minestrone served in an EXTRA LARGE cup, topped with Parmesan cheese $5
  • It was cafeteria style Minestrone soup and I could just imagine the big pot boiling in the back.
  • It tasted like Campbell’s Alphabet soup without the alphabets and instead overcooked noodles.
  • there were also carrots, potatoes and peas and it didn’t taste bad, but it’s also not what you come for.

‘Hey Hey’ JACK BRICKHOUSE SPECIAL4/6 (Very good)

  • “WORLD FAMOUS GOURMET DEEP DISH PIZZA” Please allow 30 minutes for pizza to cook.
  • Sausage and Mushroom – Small 10” $15.55 Medium 12” $21.30 Large 14” $24.30
  • The cast iron skillet is a good sign and it’s the preferred equipment for baking a Chicago deep dish pizza.
  • This is a serious pie. The picture looks like a heart attack and picking up each slice was actually heavy.
  • The amount of cheese was ridiculous and I’ve never had so much mozzarella on any pizza ever.
  • The pie crust edge wasn’t 3 inches as it should be, but it was maybe about 1.5-2 inches high.
  • Pizano’s is famous for their home made buttery thin crust and I did love it!
  • The crust was amazing and it was the selling factor of the whole Chicago Deep Dish experience at Pizano’s for me.
  • The cheese was the first layer and the mushrooms and sausage came after with a topping of tomato sauce to finish, this is how it traditionally should be.

  • It was basically a waterfall of cheese and every slice I picked up, the layer of cheese on the pizza next to it would just roll off into the cast iron.
  • It was an ooey gooey blanket of cheese and one of the stringiest and stretchiest pizzas thanks to the overload of mozzarella.
  • The mozzarella was melted, but there was so much that it tasted like chewing on mozzarella cheese strings at times.
  • Chicago tastes prefer sausage to pepperoni, so do as they do and make sure you get sausage.
  • The tender moist sausage was semi-fatty crumbled sausage with black pepper I could taste, but it wasn’t spicy.
  • It’s even better when the sausage is in patty form covering the whole pizza as another layer, and that’s what I got at Lou Malnati’s.
  • The sausage was still good and the mushrooms not really detectable under all that cheese, but it was still very much enjoyed.
  • The last layer was a layer of canned chunky tomato sauce which was sweet and tangy and also traditional to finish with.
  • This was perfect munchie food, but it’s definitely a once in a while pizza, where as Lou Malnati’s I could have more often because it’s not as heavy.

  • The crust itself wasn’t actually that thick compared to most Chicago deep dish pizzas, but it had a good quality and flavour.
  • It was a very saucy and wet pizza due to the amount of toppings, but the crust was never soggy if you ate it right away.
  • The crust was really the highlight and it was nice and even and well pressed along the sides and bottom.
  • It was a rich pastry with buttery flavour that was a bit flaky and it was reminiscent of a Pop Tart crust and it wasn’t greasy.
  • The crust is par-baked and then baked again so it was fully cooked and never doughy or soft.
  • The edges are caramelized and it comes across as fried and it was never dry. The crust and edges were nice and crisp.
  • The thin crust pizza is supposed to offer an even thinner crust that’s thin like a cracker and has a snap.
  • Their thin crust pizza is what they’re known for and based on this I can see how it would be even better, so it’s something I would come back for.

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Pizano's Pizza & Pasta on Urbanspoon

11 Comments

  • KimHo says:

    I went to Uno while I was in Indiana several years ago (OK, it ain’t Chicago, Illinois but the influence was there) and ordered a “mini deep dish” pizza for lunch. Just as you observed, it wasn’t several inches deep. Would I try it again? Not really. I think it is one of those things people would try once, probably twice, but, afterwards, they might call it quits (too much cheese… >_<).

    Having said that, in addition to your history (nice one, BTW), I asked people around (i.e. locals) about it and their answer was similar to the one I got in Philadelphia about cheesesteak sandwich (Pat's vs Gino's): it is more of a hype thing and, while they might eat it once in a blue moon (or when drunk), it is aimed more towards tourists. Locals will eat something/somewhere else.

  • kc says:

    Thanks for sharing, Mijune!

    Do you know of any place in (or near) Vancouver that does a respectable chicago deep dish pizza?

  • mimihui says:

    I am a “PIZZA” lover……..

  • Mijune says:

    @kc – I haven’t tried, although I’ve heard Hot Pizza Oven (?) in gastown does… but the people who told me that have also never tried a deep dish pizza from chicago… so i’m sceptical. I would try it though and even a “bad” one won’t be that bad because melted cheese just makes everything all better if you know what I mean. :)

  • Mijune says:

    @kimHo – you know I thought so too, but many locals I met still love their deep dish. They’re very vocal and opinionated on where from, but they do like it. It’s like Vancouver and poutine… it’s touristy, but we still love it!

  • Reina says:

    Nice article but I think you’ve been misinformed: ” Rudy Malnati Jr. and Lou Malnati (older step brother) were the sons of Rudy Malnati Sr.”
    Rudy Jr. and Lou were actually half-brothers, not step brothers.

  • Mijune says:

    @Reina – Oh you’re right! Thank you for the correction! I will make the edit!

  • Tammy says:

    FYI, I think you need to change the map at the bottom of your page! It’s showing Madison Street in Portland OR and not in Chicago IL! LOL!

    I just went to Chicago for the first time in April as well. And you’re right…..food is insanely good there! I can’t wait to go again and try more! I still wanna go and try Art Smith’s famous fried chicken that’s only available at his restaurant on Sundays! Nom nom nom…..

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