Chef Jade here and today I am bringing you one of the oldest food debates of all time. Deep-dish pizza vs. thin-crust: this is truly one of the great matchups, up there with Yankees vs. Red Sox, Team Jacob vs. Team Edward, hash browns vs. tater tots. But where did this iconic matchup begin? And who wins? Let’s take a look.
Pizza Was Originally Thin-Crust
Thin-crust pizza gets points for longevity, as the original pizza sported a thin crust. This is not to be confused with a cracker-thin crust, which is a more modern adaptation popularized in St. Louis, not far from where I grew up). I’m talking about the pizzas that were coming out of the beautiful brick ovens in Naples, Italy (the birthplace of pizza). Neapolitan-style pizzas were – and still are – defined by a thin, airy crust, perfectly charred by those wonderful pizza ovens.
Italian immigrants to New York brought this style with them, which partly explains why East Coasters are so adamantly devoted to thin-crust pizza. Gennaro Lombardi, a baker from Naples who immigrated to America, opened the country’s first pizzeria in New York’s Little Italy neighborhood in 1905 (it’s still around). His pizza, and therefore America’s pizza, had the same thin crust that had become so beloved in his native Naples.
A Challenger Emerges
Meanwhile, in Chicago, a new challenger was emerging: the deep-dish pizza. First, let’s take a second to define Chicago-style pizza. Traditionally, this hearty, filling dish involves pizza dough that is pressed against the sides of a deep skillet or steel pan, then filled with cheese, toppings, and a bright red tomato sauce that often contains chunks of tomato (aside from the thickness, one major difference between New York-style thin-crust pizza and Chicago deep-dish is that with deep-dish, the sauce goes on the top). Unlike thin-crust pizza, which cooks in just a few short minutes, deep-dish pizza can take between 30 minutes to an hour to bake. For Chicagoans, it’s worth the wait.
Believe it or not, the reputed originator of the deep-dish pizza is Pizzeria Uno. That’s right, the national pizza chain first started cranking out deep-dish pizzas from its storefront on Ohio Street near downtown Chicago in 1943. Uno’s was founded by former college football star turned businessman Ike Sewell, and his business partner Ric Riccardo. Interestingly, Sewell – a Texas native – originally intended to open a Mexican restaurant, since he thought the Chicago area needed more Mexican food options. Fortunately for pizza lovers, Riccardo couldn’t stomach Mexican food so the two decided to open a pizza joint: one serving a more filing style of pizza. Thu, the deep-dish pizza was born.
New York Vs. Chicago
There are other styles of deep-dish pizza: Detroit-style pizza is cooked in a deep rectangular pan, while Colorado-style pizza (also known as “Colorado Mountain Pie”) is so thick it is often priced by the pound. Of course, there are other styles of thin-crust pizza too, like the St. Louis-style pizza mentioned earlier. Still, the deep-dish debate boils down to a faceoff between two of our biggest cities: New York and Chicago.
And believe me, it’s a heated debate. The late great foodie & TV host (and proud New Yorker) Anthony Bourdain once called Chicago deep-dish pizza “an abomination.” Fighting words indeed. Another New York TV personality, Jon Stewart, once devoted an entire segment on The Daily Show to dissing the deep-dish—”It’s a [expletive] casserole,” he famously said. Shots have been fired from the other side as well. Comedian and Illinois native, Nick Offerman, once said, “If properly dried and trimmed, New York-style pizza could be used to make a box for Chicago-style pizza.” The debate rages on.
What’s Your Take?
Do you have a preference between thin-crust and deep-dish pizza? Or do you feel – as Jon Stewart so colorfully put it – that deep-dish pizza isn’t even a pizza but rather a casserole? Personally, I think the term “pizza” is broad enough to encompass many styles, including Chicago-style deep-dish. Perhaps that’s just my Illinois bias talking. I will say though – if given the choice – there is nothing like a thin-but-foldable, perfectly charred New York-style pizza. Sorry, Chicago, you know I love ya.
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