Is Chicago deep-dish pizza really “pizza”?

Grania found this video and commented that it was “genuinely funny”. (I think she was referring to the repartee in the last three minutes.) To a Chicagoan like me, though, it’s deadly serious. I prefer deep-dish (or stuffed) pizza over New Yorkian cheese-covered cardboard. I do like the New York style, but given a choice I’ll always go for the thicker ones.

In the video below we see a deep-dish pizza. The “stuffed” pizza is like that, but has a bit thinner crust and a crust on the top as well, so it’s a real pizza “pie”. Here’s a stuffed pizza from Giordano’s of Chicago. I like mine with homemade sausage, garlic, onions, mushrooms, and green peppers.

That stuffed pizza is my favorite of all.

But is it “pizza”? Who cares? It’s GOOD! Arguing about whether this is pizza is like arguing whether compatibilist free will is really “free will”. The question is semantic, and arguing about it fruitless. What matters is whether, when you crave a baked comestible of dough, tomatoes, and cheese, which concoction will fill the bill. I’ve already answered that for myself.

Here’s the YouTube notes, and I’ll add that I spurn “Chicago pizza” in any city other than Chicago, as those foreign pizzas are invariably inferior simulacra of the real thing.

Renowned pizza nerd Scott Wiener is challenging the idea that pizza can be anything. He’s traveling all over America, spotlighting these Frankenstein pizzas and trying to make a case for whether these new customizations can, in fact, still be considered a pizza. In the end, Wiener takes these pizzas to Lucali to pass final judgment from the purist of all pizza purists, Mark Iacono, where he will either declare each slice “PIZZA!” or ask with complete disgust, “Really, dough???”

74 Comments

  1. Filippo
    Posted March 16, 2019 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    Strikes me that anyone claiming deep-dish is not pizza has to be prepared to rationally demonstrate at what increased thickness it no longer qualifies as pizza. (If one added as least one additional layer of cheese/pasta/sauce would it no longer be considered pizza but instead, say, lasagna?)

    • Posted March 17, 2019 at 7:25 am | Permalink

      Looking at the photo, I would say that the object being served up has two separate layers of dough with cheese in between. That means it is topologically not the same as a normal pizza and perhaps deserves a different name.

      Having said that, one of my favourite kinds of pizza is calzone which is topologically identical to a Chicago pizza although all of the “topping” is on the inside.

  2. Mike Anderson
    Posted March 16, 2019 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    Deep dish “pizza” isn’t pizza, it’s a casserole.

    • Posted March 16, 2019 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

      It’s really funny but he’s dead wrong–also about the hot dogs!

      • Simon Hayward
        Posted March 16, 2019 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

        You suggested not long ago that I haven’t lived in Chicago long enough to have an opinion on this…

        So I’ll just agree with you on the dogs.

    • BJ
      Posted March 16, 2019 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

      Thank you Jon Stewart

      So true. His best point: the pizza in NY is just called “pizza” all across the US (and most other parts of the world). The abomination you find in Chicago is called “Chicago-style pizza.” It’s not pizza, it’s just some weird thing sold (invented?) in Chicago that they call pizza.

      Man, remember when The Daily Show was funny? Those were the days. The days when political comedy both made you laugh and made a point. Now, the show is just a clap-along, where you clap if you agree that Donald Trump/Republicans are bad every time they make an incredibly obvious and almost invariably unfunny “joke” or lame attempt at an impression. It seems like so much comedy has become less about laughing and more about cheering in agreement.

      • Matthew North
        Posted March 17, 2019 at 2:42 am | Permalink

        Oh man, you are so right about The Daily Show losing its magic. I use to watch it and laugh out loud every time. Now it’s a cringe inducing chore to watch. I stopped watching shortly after Jon Stewart left and haven’t watched it in years. The above clip about pizza is a great example. Trevor Noah could never pull that off.

        I miss The Colbert Report too.

        Imagine the hilarity that could be had with Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart, in their prime, doing those shows now in this awful era of The Embarrassment in Chief, Donald Trump.

        • Posted March 17, 2019 at 11:23 am | Permalink

          Same here. I feel kind of bad for Trevor Noah but not bad enough to watch.

  3. Michael Fisher
    Posted March 16, 2019 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    For me thickness doesn’t matter, it’s all PIZZA. Without anchovies though it’s an inferior, lower case pizza. Also pineapple in the same room as a PIZZA is a crime.

    • Mark R.
      Posted March 16, 2019 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

      Hawaiian pizza a crime? Please say it isn’t so. Actually, I have only had it a couple times, but enjoyed it with both shrimp and Canadian bacon. 🙂

      I’m with you on the anchovies…yumz. Just don’t mix anchovies with pineapple- now that would be a crime.

    • Jenny Haniver
      Posted March 16, 2019 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

      Salt packed anchovies only!

    • Christopher
      Posted March 16, 2019 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

      Pineapple with jalapeños is divine. I live 45 minutes away from decent pizza however I can stomach this at my local corporate Pizza Butt. (Notice how nobody ever raves about Wichita-style pizza!)

  4. Mike Anderson
    Posted March 16, 2019 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    Pizza is cooked on a flat surface. If it’s cooked in a pan, it’s a casserole.

  5. Brujo Feo
    Posted March 16, 2019 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    Somehow I’ve managed to get this far without ever consuming a Chicago-style deep-dish pizza. But this: early on, a comment is made that New York-style pizza is too dry, like cheese and sauce on a paper plate. Or something.

    That hasn’t been my experience. I’ve had pizzas in New York (growing up in CT), and true, while it wasn’t overly thick, it certainly wan’t dry. In fact, it was beyond wet–it was soupy. Horrid. If I wanted tomato soup, I would have ordered tomato soup.

    It wasn’t until I moved to California that I discovered the best pizza: loaded with toppings, but not soupy at all. (One local chain here, Pizza Chief, has a “Chief Combo”–essentially everything they have on a pizza. 5 1/2 POUNDS of toppings on a big one. Heaven.)

    And I agree with Michael Fisher about the anchovies (although not necessarily the pineapple). Without anchovies, it may be a pizza, but it ain’t worth eating.

    • Posted March 17, 2019 at 4:06 am | Permalink

      The essential ingredients in pizza are the crust and some form of cheese. The rest is due to the chef’s creativity. I’ve had pizzas in India (Varanasi) that had those two ingredients plus vegetables and they were delicious, the crust nice and crispy. Seems to me the Chicago thing would be soft and doughy. Isn’t that so?

      I once had pizza from Pizza Hut which had been cooked in a pan. Absolutely indigestible!

      That said, I will to try a deep-dish one if I ever get to Chicago again.

  6. Ken Kukec
    Posted March 16, 2019 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    Is Chicago deep-dish really “pizza”?

    Fuckin’-A.

  7. Posted March 16, 2019 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think it’s fair to talk about NY pizza as “cardboard”. Obviously, that’s just bad pizza. There is a lot of bad pizza out there, regardless of the variety. Once you have had the good stuff, it is hard to tolerate the mediocre and bad.

    I recently had what was called “Detroit pizza”. It was quite thick but not as thick as Chicago stuffed pizza. It was cooked in a rectangular pan such that the cheese that meets the edge is made crispy. It was only ok, not great. I was not in Detroit so someone from that area will undoubtedly declare that what I had wasn’t the “real thing”. Perhaps so.

    Finally, many years ago some friends of mine and I were talking about pizza. One of us asked if anyone had tried Chicago pizza. Upon hearing this, another one of us whipped a photo out of his wallet and said, “Do you mean like this?” Evidently he had been trying to recreate Chicago pizza at home. We all thought it was just plain weird to have a picture of a pizza in one’s wallet and told him so.

    • BJ
      Posted March 16, 2019 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

      “We all thought it was just plain weird to have a picture of a pizza in one’s wallet and told him so.”

      He was too ashamed after that point to tell you that that pizza was his child, the product of a one night stand with a woman who was clearly using a pseudonym, “Aunt Jemima.”

      • Posted March 16, 2019 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

        We told him he was weird but in a nice way. The man had talents. He could mimic sounds from old-time arcade games incredibly well. When he first did it, I expected he was using some kind of electronic device. He reveled in his weirdness.

        • BJ
          Posted March 16, 2019 at 10:29 pm | Permalink

          Sounds like someone I’d get along with well!

  8. Walt Guyll
    Posted March 16, 2019 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

    As long as it has pineapple, I’m good

  9. yazikus
    Posted March 16, 2019 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

    Well, now I’m hungry despite having eaten my (comparatively meager) lunch sandwich. I’m with those who don’t find height to be disqualifying. If it tastes like pizza, looks like pizza and is made with crust, sauce, cheese and toppings, I say it is a pizza.

    • Mark R.
      Posted March 16, 2019 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

      Yes, your last sentence.

  10. Posted March 16, 2019 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    Do Chicago pizza vendors deliver in 30 min to rural western Canada? Need a sample size of at least thirty two vendors to get statistically valid answer.

  11. macha
    Posted March 16, 2019 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    Here in France (Sud Est), I love making Pizza and I always make a Sicilian, a thick based Pizza with sauce tomate, Corsican sheep’s cheese and Anchovies. It goes down a treat with my family.

    My other favourite is Focaccio. Not to mention those other local specialities – Pissaladière, Socca and salade Niçoise.

    • Mark R.
      Posted March 16, 2019 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

      salade Niçoise
      Music to my ears…and happiness to my taste buds. Just make sure the tuna is extra special. I like Ortiz brand from Spain.

    • Posted March 17, 2019 at 4:08 am | Permalink

      That must be délicieux.

  12. Steve Pollard
    Posted March 16, 2019 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

    Well…all you chaps seem to agree that ‘Merican pizzas are the bees’ knees, no matter where in the US they come from.

    I beg to disagree. The only pizzas worth paying attention to are proper Italian pizzas, preferably the Neapolitan version, cooked in really hot wood-fired ovens, with Italian tomato sauce, cheese, and a limited number of other toppings (definitely excluding pineapple!)

    If I want a pie, I’ll have a Cornish pasty.

    • Mike Anderson
      Posted March 16, 2019 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

      My stepmother is from Milan and super Italo-centric, but she admits New York pizza is better than Italian pizza.

    • revelator60
      Posted March 16, 2019 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

      The best pizza I ever had was in Naples. Very thin, crisp crust, covered with ultra-fresh tomato sauce (I could taste the tomatoes) and superb, luscious mozzarella. It made America pizzas, even the good ones, look like stale discs made from over-processed ingredients. My Neapolitan pizza felt like the essence of a pizza.

      • max blancke
        Posted March 16, 2019 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

        I had the opposite experience there. I spent about three weeks in Naples, and every pizza place that was recommended to me was just awful. I remember one pizza that looked good at a distance, but what looked like pepperoni turned out to be thick tomato slices. And there was nowhere near enough cheese.
        I have no doubt that there is and was great pizza there, but I never found it.
        I ended up eating a lot of Chinese food, but I was there as a student with limited resources anyway.

        • Posted March 17, 2019 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

          I’d suggest you thought it awful because it wasn’t what you expected (i.e. a USA derivative style) instead it was a real pizza.

      • Posted March 17, 2019 at 6:26 am | Permalink

        Agreed.

        Italian pizza is the best in the world.
        And Amalfi Coast pizza is the best in Italy.

        South Italy is home of pizza.

        Nothing else compares.

    • Posted March 17, 2019 at 7:37 am | Permalink

      The only pizzas worth paying attention to are proper Italian pizzas

      You’ve probably never had an authentic Italian pizza. Real Italian pizza is basically bread with a thin layer of tomato sauce. The pizza you have had owes its existence as much to the American improvements as the original Italian dish.

      Whilst I agree with you on the toppings (more than five including cheese and tomato sauce is too many and pineapple is always an abomination), the best pizzas I have had have been in France.

      • Steve Pollard
        Posted March 17, 2019 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

        Well, I have had quite a number of pizzas in Italy, and I just don’t agree with your assertion. The last one was in the back streets of Modena (not Naples, I accept), and the boss had barely heard of the US, let alone nicked its recipes.

        • Posted March 17, 2019 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

          That’s the reason why I said you have probably never eaten an authentic pizza. You won’t get them in restaurants.

          My source is the Italian couple that maintained my parents’ house on the Amalfi coast.

          • Posted March 17, 2019 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

            I always remember my late father, who was stationed in Italy with the British Army for a year or two during WWII, telling me about pizza in Italy. He said that it was just something that Italian families did with leftovers: put them on bread dough with some tomato sauce and cheese and bake. Although my father was pretty much the opposite of a gourmet, this story has a just-so ring-of-truth quality to it.

            Of course, this would parallel how many food preparations get started. Somebody makes something out of ingredients on hand and then it gets elaborated and refined by others.

            • Posted March 17, 2019 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

              That’s very similar to what my parents were told.

              Incidentally, my grandfather was in Italy with the RAF during the war. He was actually an administrator and the (possibly apocryphal) story is that he effectively ran southern Italy.

              • Posted March 17, 2019 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

                I thought the Mafia ran southern Italy. My father was a mechanic in the Eighth Army.

              • Posted March 17, 2019 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

                As his grand child I was allowed to call him “Grandad”. Everybody else had to call him “Il Capo” for some reason.

      • Steve Pollard
        Posted March 17, 2019 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

        Well, I have had quite a number of pizzas in Italy, and I just don’t agree with your assertion. The last one was in the back streets of Modena (not Naples, I accept), and the boss had barely heard of the US, let alone nicked its recipes.

      • Steve Pollard
        Posted March 17, 2019 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

        Sorry for the double post.

        I just meant to add that this is a trivial thing to get aerated about, so let’s just agree to disagree.

        • Posted March 17, 2019 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

          I wasn’t under the impression that we were really disagreeing about anything. I was just relating a pizza origin story. I find it interesting that, with a lot of foods, the origin is not always as simple as you might think.

  13. Stephen Barnard
    Posted March 16, 2019 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

    Pizza in Italy is entirely unlike anything you’re likely to find in Chicago. New York, probably. 🙂

  14. Stephen Barnard
    Posted March 16, 2019 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

    The Italians and others in southern Europe culturally appropriated tomatoes from the Aztecs and other native Nations, along with maize (so-called “corn”) and potatoes. We have to get Titania on this.

  15. Posted March 16, 2019 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

    A Chicago deep-dish by any other name would taste as good.

  16. Posted March 16, 2019 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

    Anything that is designed has a degree of Freedom, and that especially goes for good pizza of any variety!

    • Posted March 17, 2019 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

      (Improvement) Compatibilist take on pizza-style war:

      Anything that is designed has a degree of freedom, and that goes for good pizza which we “can” choose to make and enjoy in a variety of states. Hard Determinists eat only what the universe causes them to, and enjoy it in a manner similar to cows eating grass. (sorry, don’t mean to be rude—–I love Chicago pizza!— but really, Jerry, what you “choose” to eat and “enjoy” is different in an important way from cows!)

  17. Posted March 16, 2019 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

    It may identify as pizza.

  18. Posted March 16, 2019 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

    And I thought wine snobs were difficult and opinionated. My mind has been broadened.

  19. Randall Schenck
    Posted March 16, 2019 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

    I don’t argue about Pizza, I just eat it.

    • Posted March 16, 2019 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

      So does everyone, at least among lactose-tolerant populations. And loving it. The phenomenal rise in pizza consumption over the past century is a story all in itself.

  20. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted March 16, 2019 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

    Are we set up to argue against the local food being popular among the locals? I pass … and I would probably pass on tomato casserole type dishes too, which it sounds like people agree this is.

  21. Posted March 16, 2019 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

    What is amazing is how successful pizza is in its great variety of forms.
    There are the ‘culturally appropriated pizzas’ like Thai pizza, Mexican pizza, and so on. Pizza breaks all cultural barriers, and unites humanity into one big happy family. Clearly, I have a great deal of respect for pizza.

  22. Roger
    Posted March 16, 2019 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

    I like thin crust. My pizza dough is nearly a liquid state so that it can be that thin. One of the benefits being, you don’t have to wait for it to rise. It’s already risen enough once you get done fiddling around with the cheese and pepperoni and whatnot. Fastest pizza in the West.

  23. Robert Van Orden
    Posted March 16, 2019 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

    Believe it or not, mustard pizza is quite good. I wouldn’t have thought so but it was something new and something familiar at the same time. Wonderful.

    As far as ‘New York’ style pizza, the best I had Trattoria Belle Gente in Verona NJ, with chopped tomatoes and fresh basil.

    • Mark R.
      Posted March 16, 2019 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

      Mustard pizza? What the hell is that. I love mustard, so might like it. Just can’t grok it.

  24. RA
    Posted March 16, 2019 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

    I actually had some really good Chicago style pizza in Playa del Carmen Mexico of all places. It wasn’t quite Lou Malnatis or Gino’s level good, but as close as I’ve ever had. I was thoroughly confused as to how such a place ended up there considering I haven’t found any decent Chicago style in the states outside Chicago.

  25. Posted March 16, 2019 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

    My definition of pizza is something that has a crust, sauce, and cheese. Preferably delicious, but most turn out to be anyway.

    -Ryan

  26. Roger
    Posted March 16, 2019 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

    Chicago pizza is basically quiche but with tomatoes instead of eggs.

  27. Vaal
    Posted March 16, 2019 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

    I Love NY pizza.

    I Love Chicago Pizza

    I Love Hawaiian style pizza

    And I love ketchup on hot dogs1

    I’m going to hell in so many people’s food dogma. But I’ll be well fed.

  28. TWJ
    Posted March 16, 2019 at 10:25 pm | Permalink

    All pizza is good pizza, though some is better than others. One of the very best is any Japanese pizza with ika-no-shiokara (salted squid guts). It’s like anchovies taken to the next level.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted March 17, 2019 at 5:02 am | Permalink

      ika-no-shiokara with rice is lovely. I can’t imagine what it’s like as a topping on a tomato & cheese pizza. A must try!

  29. Nicolaas Stempels
    Posted March 16, 2019 at 11:52 pm | Permalink

    The quiche-like dish is not what would be considered pizza in most parts of the world where they do have pizza.
    Since ‘pizza’ can mean pie as well as a small flat bread, I do not think we can decide either way on etymology.
    One could say that the adjective ‘Chicago’ pizza is sufficient to distinguish it from what the rest of the civilised world considers a pizza to be.

  30. Posted March 17, 2019 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    When a moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie

    That’s amoré

    Anybody else got that going round their head at the moment?

    • freiner
      Posted March 17, 2019 at 8:18 am | Permalink

      I do now. Thanks. (Thanks?)

  31. freiner
    Posted March 17, 2019 at 8:10 am | Permalink

    So long as I like it, for all I care you can call my favorite pizza “pudding” (or, for that matter, my favorite pudding “pizza”). And while there are many styles I like, I am partial to Old Forge, PA white. These, of course, must always be referred to as prepared as “trays” — not “pies” — with individual “cuts” — not “slices”. I guess I figure some term are inviolable, after all.

  32. Posted March 17, 2019 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    Well in the UK attempts have been made to introduce deep-pan pizza, but it is really a contradiction in terms. Either you have pizza……toppings on a THIN crust, or you have QUICHE!!

    • Posted March 17, 2019 at 11:32 am | Permalink

      I’m sorry but it’s not quiche without eggs. Yes, I know there are pizzas with a fried egg or two these days but they’re still not quiche.

  33. Posted March 18, 2019 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    I have the same attitude to “authentic”. I really don’t care whether or not something is “authentic” but rather whether it is tasty, affordable (relative to my budget at the time), safe, etc. On the other hand, obvious “unauthentic” things should probably not be *marketed* as the opposite. But that’s vague.

    Also, what’s the dividing line between pizza and flatbread with cheese?

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted March 18, 2019 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

      If I had to distinguish [I don’t want to really]…

      Pizza base is nearly always leavened
      Flatbread is nearly always not [or only slightly as in pitta]

      I prefer an unleavened, thin pizza base so that it’s everything else that does the singing & dancing on the taste & nose buds.

    • Mike Anderson
      Posted March 18, 2019 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

      Also, what’s the dividing line between pizza and flatbread with cheese?

      The cheese. If you put Italian cheese on flatbread, it’s pizza. If you put Swiss cheese on flatbread, it’s not pizza.

    • Brujo Feo
      Posted March 18, 2019 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

      C’mon…we all know that the only *authentic* pizza is made with salted orc guts.

      And slow-baked in Mordor’s only diesel-fired pizza oven.


%d bloggers like this: