Look, I love New York. I have plenty of friends from New York. I enjoy the landmarks, the museums, the Broadway shows. The city has some of the finest restaurants in the world, no doubt about it. I’ve even eaten New York-style pizza, and agree that it can be quite tasty.
But give me a choice, and I’ll drop their thin-crusted ‘za in a New York minute for a Chicago deep-dish pizza. Give me buttery crust as fat as a Bears lineman and as tall as the Sears Tower, and I’ll let the five boroughs have their delicate little crusts.
Yes, I’ve read the arguments that Chicago-style deep-dish is about as far from classic Italian pizza as the Loop is from Napoli. So what? Half the beauty of American food is how we’re able to take a good basic recipe and twist it to fit our own ingredients, our own tastes. We came up with a better mousetrap and the world is better — if fatter — for it.
Settle into a booth at Gino’s East or Lou Malnati’s, or even my Minneapolis favorite, Davanni’s. Your pizza won’t come on any puny plate, it arrives in a deep black pan so battered and well-used that it’s possible Al Capone once carried it into a shootout.
The crust, oh, the crust! Golden and buttery, thick as a pre-diet Oprah. You’ll want to tackle it with a fork and knife, but once you get a chunk into your mouth, it’ll melt on your tongue. The cheese doesn’t lie on top of the pizza, where it can dry out like a Fruit Roll-up, but is usually spread right over the crust, under the rest of the ingredients. Once in the oven, it oozes its way into a molten lava that puts Vesuvius to shame. The sauce is chunkier than it is liquid, the sausage spiced to perfection. Sure, you can get salad or garlic bread on the side, but really, unless you’re Refrigerator Perry, you’re not gonna need it. Chicago pizza is a one-dish meal.
As a Midwesterner, I’m outnumbered by East Coasters in this newsroom. That’s OK. We Midwesterners were brought up with manners; I’m not about to fling epithets at their precious New York pizza the way they’re so quick to do at mine. (“Brown-and-serve roll on steroids,” indeed. Ed Levine, the entire South Side of Chicago would like to meet you outside.)
There’s a joke about Chicago: God saw what he’d done with New York, and said “you know, I like the crime and the poverty, but I really think it should be colder.” And so he made Chicago. City of the Big Shoulders, Hog Butcher for the World, the Windy City, the Town that Billy Sunday Could Not Shut Down. City of the cold winds coming off of Lake Michigan, and the pizza that keeps us warm all through the winter and beyond. My kind of pizza, Chicago is. My kind of pizza.
Gael Fashingbauer Cooper is MSNBC.com's Television Editor