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Chicagoans debate thin-crust vs. deep-dish pizza

A room full of hungry, opinionated Chicagoans weigh in on which pizza style reigns supreme.

Tupac versus Biggie, Alien versus Predator, thin crust versus deep dish: All are age-old debates that often draw ire and tears from their respective backers. We won’t even touch the first two, but the thin-thick argument is something we felt we could settle once and for all.

We gathered four thin-crust and four deep-dish aficionados to debate the merits of each in a weapon-free zone (a.k.a. the TOC offices) and ordered three deep-dish pies from Lou Malnati’s(439 N Wells St, 312-828-9800) and three thin-crust pies from Pizano’s(61 E Madison St, 312-236-1777). Each defender took a slice of both kinds of pizza for comparison. This set off some early trash-talking, so we egged them on and watched the food fight ensue.

RECOMMENDED: Find more of the best pizza in Chicago

THE PANEL

Thin

Ruthann Gagnon, the restaurant veteran She’s worked in restaurants for 13 years and is attending culinary school in the fall. “[Eating deep dish is] like eating pizza in a Crock-Pot.”

Matthew Dean, the pizza professor Dean is an active pizza poster on local online food forum LTH (lthforum.com). “I like the ratio of ingredients in thin crust; there’s much more honesty in what you’re eating.”

Marla Seidell, the purist “I think you miss out on the essence of the sauce, crust and cheese when you eat stuffed pizza.”

David Weintrop, the peacemaker “While I’m definitely a thin-crust fan, Lou Malnati’s has the ‘Lou,’ a deep-dish pie full of veggies and cheese, and that’s spectacular.”

Thick

Dan Morgridge, the birthright traitor “My mother went into labor with me at Aurelio’s [which only serves thin crust] in Homewood. Despite that, I’m a fan of deep-dish pizza. I prefer a hearty meal.”

Nilay Patel, the punk provoker He’s the guitarist for local band the Heaven Seventies. “I’m from Wisconsin and I like cheese, so deep-dish pizza speaks to me on a very fundamental level.”

Emily Balassone, the sensible teenager “Thick crust is more of a meal than thin.”

Marianne Balassone, the mouthy mom “I prefer deep dish because of the utensils. Especially for a first date, it’s better to use a knife and fork than having to pick up a piece of thin crust with your fingers and have grease dripping down your hand.”

TOC: I’ll throw out this question to start things off: Is deep dish even pizza?
Ruthann It’s like a quiche.
Nilay Actually, I’m not a big fan of [Malnati’s] crust. Uno’s and Gino’s cook the crust through and it’s a better texture, not like a pie.
Ruthann [Nodding in agreement with Nilay] See, [Malnati’s] is my experience, why I don’t like deep dish.

Some say the essence of the individual ingredients gets lost in deep-dish pizza.
Nilay I think you have these perfect layers of each ingredient in the deep-dish pizza, almost stratified. I love the layer of sausage at Gino’s East. I love the idea that there’s an Italian guy somewhere teaching his kid to make, like, 18-inch-wide sausages.
Matthew You know [Gino’s] uses that sausage as the [crust] for a gluten-free pizza? I learned the hard way that you do not order gluten-free pizza with additional sausage.
Marianne I think Lou’s and Gino’s set the standard for deep dish and everyone’s trying to copy it and not doing a very good job.

Isn’t the flip side that thin crust is for wimps?
Ruthann I’m about the goodies, I want to have eight toppings. When you do that with thick crust, everything gets lost.
Dan [Pointing to a half-eaten thin-crust pizza with disgust] See that giant pile of ingredients that fell to the wayside over here? That doesn’t happen with deep dish.

What are the quintessential deep-dish places in Chicago?
Dan I grew up next to Giordano’s and Edwardo’s. They have a good level of sauce and spice.
Nilay I think Gino’s East is really the place to go. They execute with that crust.
Matthew Pequod’s is good.

What are the quintessential thin-crust places?
Marla Pizza D.O.C.
Dave Art of Pizza.
Matthew Vito and Nick’s, Aurelio’s. Medici does both good thick and thin.
Ruthann I grew up near Aurelio’s, and they’d serve hot lunches at our school. But that’s major nostalgia talking.

What’s the stereotypical thick-crust eater like?
Dave Someone who’s, like, four or five times the size of me.
Marla It’s Midwestern. Football-watching people.

You almost say Midwestern as if it were an insult. If you don’t like Chicago pizza, you should just come out and say that.
Marla No, I like Chicago pizza…. I do think thin-crust people tend to be a little snobby.
Dave I think it’s funny that you guys associate deep dish with TV. You wouldn’t watch football with a knife and fork. I hate the effort involved with deep dish. You can’t eat it standing up. It takes 40 minutes to cook.

What’s the stereotypical thin-crust eater like?
Nilay For thin crusters, it’s much less about eating pizza and having fun, it’s about being effete and taking limousine tours of blighted neighborhoods.
Matt You can take thin crust too far. Look at Crust, where everything is a “flatbread” and costs $18. That’s one point for deep dish. It’s salt of the earth and stick-to-your ribs kind of fare.
Marianne [Nodding] There are so many froufrou varieties of thin-crust pizza.
Is deep dish responsible for making Chicago one of the nation’s fattest cities?
Dave It’s not helping.
Marianne [Gesturing toward the almost empty boxes of thin-crust pizza and the barely touched boxes of deep dish]  No. You only eat one slice of the deep dish. You graze through the thin crust. Look how much [the thin-crusters] ate over there.

If you can only eat one slice of deep dish, what’s the point?
Marianne It’s also breakfast, lunch and dinner the next day.
Matt That’s another thing…the keepability. With deep dish, 24 hours later it’s like you’re culturing something in the refrigerator.
Dan I like putting deep dish slices in the microwave and letting the cheese ooze.
Dave I do believe in finishing what you take. So if you have one piece and it’s not enough, you have to finish the second piece to clean your plate. Then you have a pound of cheese in your stomach for hours.
Emily There is such a thing as cutting a piece in half.

Can you say anything good about the other type of pizza?
Dave Is this the happy ending where we all hug? I am jealous that there’s not the same kind of “being a true Chicagoan” tradition with thin crust.
Nilay Despite all my allegiance to deep dish, my favorite pizza in this city is Phil’s in Bridgeport, which is basically thin-crust sausage pizza.

Do you hate yourself?
Nilay It’s still Chicago pizza. Their old location was a storefront with, like, a metal cage and people were screaming at each other. You get a free two-liter of RC Cola when you buy a pizza. That shit’s real. You can’t have a more honest thin-crust pizza. All you chichi fools [thin-crusters] though don’t count.
Marla We’re not chichi. I like to graze. With thin crust, you can eat more.
Emily It’s like the Sox and Cubs—there’s always going to be two sides. Everyone will have their reasons why they like one or the other, but it’s pizza. It all tastes good.

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