America's Second City is famed for its delicious deep-dish pizzas. If you want to track down the nicest slice in Chicago, here's where to start...
We’ve got a lot to thank Chicago for.
America's Second City has changed the world in so many ways, giving us skyscrapers, Barack Obama and more stand-ups than the Comedy Store. But arguably (and I'm not sure whether Barack would agree with me on this), the city's greatest gift is the deep-dish pizza.
You simply haven't lived till you've chowed down on an authentic slice of Chicago's signature dish - a fantastically gooey pizza pie stuffed with hot cheesy goodness and a thick, buttery crust.
A true deep-dish pizza stands at least three inches tall, so if you think the Chicago Town exports in supermarkets are impressive, think again. You ain't seen nothing yet.
A SLICE OF LIFE
Pizza is big business in Chicago - and it has been since the 1940s when it was invented right on the city streets.
Filling, delicious and cheap as chips, the pizza pie is a staple part of any Chicagoan’s diet. And, with scores of restaurants claiming to serve the nicest slice in the city, hungry visitors are spoilt for choice when it comes to where to go.
Ask any local about their favourite pizza joint and you'll probably get a raft of different answers. But if you want to make an informed decision about who cooks up a deep-dish to die for, there's only one way to find out - and that's eating around.
Here are a few of my favourites…
No write-up about Chicago's deep-dish pizza would be complete without a mention of Pizzeria Uno (www.unos.com).
This famous restaurant, on the corner of Ohio and Wabash in the city centre, is where the pizza pie was allegedly invented, so is the only place diners can enjoy the 'real deal' - a substantially sized deep-dish pizza, oozing with cheese and a crispy crust.
It is said that here, in 1943, Ike Sewell first cooked up the calorific treat, combining Italy's most popular recipes with meat, cheese, vegetables and spices. At the time, pizza was mainly eaten as a snack, but Ike realised it could become a much heartier meal - and cashed in on his idea.
Although Uno has since become a chain, the original eatery is still a huge hit with tourists and is the only place to go for the authentic deep-dish experience.
Diners should expect to pay around $10 for a small 10" pizza, but the Numero Uno (from $8.99) is well worth a look if you’re a meat-lover - it’s a hefty deep-dish with pretty much everything but the kitchen sink!
Giordano's (www.giordanos.com) is another Chicago-based chain in the running for best deep-dish.
The Italian-American brand was born in 1974 and has more than 40 restaurants in the area serving up its world-famous 'stuffed pizza'. Each and every one comes served with the eatery's special sauce and cheese so thick you can almost choke on it - yum!
NBC recently voted Giordano's pizza as the 'Best in America' and if you agree, you'll be pleased to hear that you can ship one of their creations anywhere in the world!
Prices start from around $13 for a small 10" stuffed pizza, although I can particularly recommend the Super Veggie (from $21), which comes with mushrooms, green peppers, onion, broccoli, black olives and tomatoes.
A pizzeria that's particularly popular with Chicagoan is Lou Malnati's (www.loumalnatis.com). This family-owned chain was founded by Lou himself, in 1971, but Lou actually kicked off his career at Pizzeria Uno and aside from Ike Sewell, is one of the few people rumoured to have designed the deep-dish.
Every pizza at Lou Malnati's is made from scratch using fresh ingredients - and that’s certainly reflected in the taste. The restaurant also uses a secret recipe to make the pizza's flaky, buttery crust and The Lou (from $6.75) – a heady mix of spinach, mushroom and tomatoes topped with mozzarella, romano and cheddar cheese – boasts a flavour to savour.
Another great place to heft a slice is Pequod's Pizza (www.pequodspizza.com), which has a couple of branches in Downtown Chicago.
Here, the deep-dish pizzas are famed for their caramelised crusts, which come out a little darker than usual, but don’t worry – they’re definitely not burnt! To create their unique taste, the pizzas are cooked in pans blackened by decades of seasoning and topped off with a crispy layer of piping hot cheese.
If you go for the ‘cheese only’ topping, a small 10" pizza weighs in at just under $10 but every extra ingredient – and there’s plenty to choose from – costs extra. Try the white sauce topping, too.
One final ‘must-eat’ is the mouthwateringly good pizza at Gino's East (www.ginoseast.com), which dates back to the 1960s.
This popular chain was started by two Chicago cabbies and a food-loving friend and offers delicious deep-dish pizzas oozing with mature cheese and chunky sauce.
Small pizzas, with their famous thick, golden crust, start from $14.95. If you're not veggie, check out the eatery's famous sausage topping or the unusual Bacon Cheeseburger Pizza (from around $20), which is exactly how it sounds.
Before you work up too much of an appetite, there are a few 'rules' to bear in mind with deep-dish pizza, and the first (and most important) is never to underestimate it.
No matter how sweet and innocent a deep-dish looks, it’s sure to bring you to your knees after just a few bites so avoid the classic first-timer mistake of over-ordering. Bear in mind that a small pizza in the UK may be barely enough for one, but in Chicago, it will be more than enough for two - trust me!
Anyone planning to tackle a pizza pie should also allow plenty of time for their meals - each deep-dish is individually cooked in a cast iron pan so takes around 45 minutes to arrive once you've placed an order.
WHERE TO STAY
Chicago is a city blessed with hundreds of great hotels so finding somewhere to stay should be a breeze.
The James hotel (55 E Ontario St) offers trendy boutique accommodation and is just a stone's throw from the Magnificent Mile - Chicago's famous shopping street. The hotel attracts a stylish young crowd and is very reasonably priced for what you get, with rooms starting from around $150 a night.
Another good place to stay is the Sofitel Chicago Water Tower (20 E Chestnut St) - an unpretentious chain hotel oozing French style and glamour.
Just a few blocks from the John Hancock Centre, the Sofitel is ideally placed for exploring the city centre and is in the heart of the 'Viagra Triangle' - home to Chicago's best bars.
Prices here are similar to the James Hotel, but if you want to pull out all the stops, I can particularly recommend the Trump International Hotel and Tower (401 N Wabash Ave).
Accommodation doesn't come much posher than at this sleek, shiny hotel which is owned by the well-known tycoon, Donald Trump, and is one of the newest landmarks on the Chicago skyline.
Guests should expect to pay upwards of $500 a night for one of the hotel's luxurious rooms, but for this, you get fantastic views of the city, impeccable service and tacky Trump souvenirs aplenty, from Trump chocolate to Trump loo roll.