The New York Vs Chicago Pizza Debate - As Explained By A Chicagoan
We, like everyone, love humankind's crowning achievement: pizza. So this week, Cracked is dishing out pieces of pizza history and deep-dives into the food G.O.A.T.
New York vs. Chicago. A rivalry that's pretty lopsided in favor of Chi-city when it comes to basketball and good public transit, but when it comes to food, both cities have real claims of being among the culinary capitals of the world. Both are cities full of diverse populations—always a good sign for a food scene. New York has its hot dog stands, bodegas, and delis. Chicago has its hot dog gardens, Paczki Day, and The Tamale Guy. Both cities are also known for specialty pizzas: New York for massive, foldable slices of thin crust; Chicago for big ol' cast iron-cooked deep dish. And that's the debate that's liable to get some passionate pie lovers throwing fisticuffs in an airport. So let's clear a few things up ...
Chicagoans Actually Rarely Eat Deep Dish
Look: deep dish pizza is a unique and wonderful experience. You can't find it anywhere else in the world, not really, and it rules. That said, it is not a day-to-day pizza. It's like a "friend from out of town is visiting" thing. A slice or two can fuel you for a day, while three will totally take you out like a right cross from the Hulk.
And hey! Come here. Lean in closer. Shhhhhh, don't tell anyone, but … it doesn't reheat well (unless you want to take 20 minutes to do it in an oven, which you won't). Putting deep dish in the microwave is for people who are at their most hungover or who truly hate themselves – so college students.
Speaking of, my fondest memories of deep-dish are from college, mostly because I had a metabolism back then. I went to Loyola University Chicago, and right across the street from the student union was a spot called Carmen's Pizzeria that had a lunch special of two deep dish slices and a soda for $5. Two slices! Absolute heaven, but go ahead and rule out dinner that day. The fact that it was next to Bruno's Tavern, a double-duty bar-and-liquor store, didn't hurt.
Does anything I just described imply healthy behavior? No! I was in college! 34-year-old me actually can't remember the last time I had deep dish. It is a *sometimes* food. If a Chicagoan is actually ordering pizza, they're getting tavern-cut.
Why Tavern-Cut Pizza is Preferred
What's tavern-cut, you ask? A thin crust, usually pretty crunchy, cut into (preferably asymmetrical) squares. Dibs on the corners and at least two middle pieces, by the way.
Tavern-cut pizza was designed—you're not going to believe this—to be eaten at taverns, where Chicago's immigrant and working-class populations could gather for a beer after a long day of slaughtering cattle and tossing their bodies into the river … until a fire broke out or they invented the eight-hour workday and the concept of weekends. Taverns were especially valuable spaces for Polish, German, and Italian immigrants to establish communities (Black people coming up during the Great Migration, Southeast Asian people putting down roots on the North Side, Chinatown on the South Side, and Little Vietnam on the northside all deserve their own columns, but we're focusing on pizza today). Anyway, a long factory shift plus a pitcher of beer is not a great recipe for being able to stand up when you get home to your wife and probably consumption-ridden children. So the small, square cuts of tavern pizza slices were a way to sop up alcohol and not ruin your dinner when you eventually stumbled in.
But don't take it from me. Listen to Bill Savage, noted Chicago historian and Professor of Literature at Northwestern. He's also a former bartender at Cunneen's, a place that is a beautiful combination of working-class people and college students blowing off steam that I may or may not have over a decade of experience with. Bill's a person you can trust with Chicago history. Now don't be a jagoff and read this tweet carefully:
Catch it? He said, "what's the most Chicago thing" and then said, "square-cut pizza!" This is a man who has not only dedicated his intellectual life to Chicago history and literature, he's also a 27-year bartending veteran who knows a few tiny slices of square cuts can help shepherd the drunks walking home. Chicagoans don't always want a mountain of knife-and-fork pizza; we want easy-to-consume, belly-filling food that doesn't cost much. Deep-dish is a unique experience; tavern-cut is a light snack/street food that is actually the most popular.
This Debate Is Pretty One-Sided
From an outsider's perspective, it's pretty weird how protective New Yorkers are of their rigid definition of pizza. The "battle" has already been won. The standard for pizza — from Domino's to CPK to Paulie Rizzioli's Gabagool And Mutzarell on the corner of 47th street next to the bodega with the cat that goes "HEY, I'M FELINING OVA' ERE!" or whatever — is thin crust, tomato sauce, cheese. Yet Jon Stewart had a famous rant about deep-dish not being pizza …
… and when exiled/disowned/dumpster fire Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel sent Stewart a deep dish, he offered it to his dog and made a point to show the dog refusing it. Famed New York chef (and lover of most things Chicago) Anthony Bourdain enjoyed deep dish on camera while being unable to bring himself to call it pizza, only to later call it "an abomination." Why do New Yorkers feel the need to defend so fiercely their precious, plain folding slices?
The New York slice, as it's always evangelized about, is a big ol' slice you can eat on the street and feel full. The crust and sauce are made with care, yes. I get that. Here's the thing: Chicago's drunkest neighborhood, Wrigleyville, has the same thing. Home to the Cubs, a million bars, and an ungodly amount of stumbling couples arguing about if they're actually a couple, Wrigleyville is an endless parade of drunk bros and sises wandering around yelling at each other. Right next to the train station? Bacci Pizza. Bacci sells slices so big a New Yorker would take a nap afterward. Is it the best pizza? God no. But it serves the purpose I always hear New Yorkers talking about: a big slice that you can eat on the street at late hours of the night. And I'm not disparaging that, as it serves a purpose.
As we've established, Chicagoans just want to eat pizza, like, all the goddamn time. But we also like to bloviate about how much our city rules. As historian and ComEd worker (a Chicago combination of jobs if ever there was one), Shermann "Dilla" Thomas says, "Everything dope about America comes from Chicago." The problem is we don't get any credit for it. We've got a sort of middle child syndrome: not quite as big or influential as New York or Los Angeles, and therefore fiercely protective of and forever hyping up our things. So even if we don't eat deep dish much, we're going to get super mad if some New Yorker refuses to recognize our culinary tastes.
Especially since we've never shunned other pizza types. Which brings us to …
Chicago Has All Types Of Pizza, and Mostly Just Wants to Eat Pizza
Do you know what Chicagoans do when they see Detroit-style pizza in our city? We eat it. Do you know what Chicagoans do when they see a Grandma-style pizza in our city? We eat it. As The Onion said, "We get the food and then we eat the food until all the food is gone." Do you know what we do when someone is lactose intolerant? We invent goddamn sausage crust pizza. Seriously, we're not over here gatekeeping. All we did was come up with an interesting take on pizza, and insecure-ass New Yorkers got all "naaawhhh, fuggedabouitt, not real pizza!" And the response from The City That Works is always going to be, "Why u mad, bro?" (said through a mouthful of tavern-cut sausage and peppers).
Honestly, I pity New Yorkers. Your lives would be so much improved if you had a more open mind about pizza. And a functioning public transit system. And a functioning Streets and Sanitation Department. And a good basketball team.
But I digress. Let's throw out some love to our respective slices and stuff our gullets with melted cheese, yeah?
BONUS ROUND! A Shoutout To Some Personal Favorites
There are too many good pizza spots here to name/list, so here is a personal non-deep dish top three:
– Labriola Chicago: Shortly after my kid was born, my house flooded. My wife, two-week-old child, cat, and I had to uproot ourselves and live in a hotel for six weeks. One night, we ordered Labriola because it was around the corner. I cannot explain to you how good the crust was. That place became a huge comfort in a time of extreme distress. We probably ate it once a week. 10/10 would recommend.
– Home Run Inn: A South Side institution and favorite of former Simeon High/Chicago Bull star Derrick Rose, this is my absolute go-to for frozen pizza. Buttery crust, thin and crunchy … man it's good. What a blessed city.
– J.B. Alberto's: An unsung gem of a spot on the North Side, J.B. Alberto's is a purveyor of probably-too-greasy pies you can either pick up from the restaurant after leaving one of the many great bars on Morse Ave and eat while stumbling home, or, if you stayed home and have a bunch of friends over, order the GIANT pizza, a 24" pie that they say feeds 6-8, but could honestly be stretched farther than Jesus feeding 5,000 people with five loaves and two fishes. Seriously, this place rules. But don't expect to feel like getting out of bed the next day.
So there you have it. Chicago vs. New York pizza. The verdict? There's no such thing as bad pizza. But Chicago is obviously better than New York.
Chris Corlew is from Chicago. You can find him yelling #ChicagoOverEverything frequently on Twitter.
Top Image: L.W. Yang/Wiki Commons, Wil540/Wiki Commons