After having a couple of pizzas from Vito & Nick's II, and thus getting very close to the Ur-quelle of southside thin crust Chicago pizza, I decided to start ordering from places with some known heritage in my vicinity and, more to the point, paying enough attention to what was going in my pie hole to be able to judge how close they came to the paradigm of the Chicago thin crust.
The main standard of comparison is the crust-- the typical thin pizza you order-- Giordano's, Bacino's, Leona's, any of the bigger names-- has what I call a "breadstick" crust, as opposed to the "cracker" crust of a Vito & Nick's II with its all-important foldability factor. A breadstick crust has a hard shell, but there's still-- as in a breadstick-- a white center or layer of more breadlike material, which is not present in a true cracker crust (which is ALL shell, essentially). Befitting a lighter pizza, the cheese should be distributed a little more sparingly, too, not the 1/4" shelf of cheese that's standard with so many of these. One disadvantage I've noticed is that because you eat less bread and cheese, you eat more pizza-- where between the four of us we usually could leave half a Bacino's 16" thin for the next day, with some of these thin pizzas we only had two or three small squares left at the end.
Red Tomato-- as you may know, this used to be a dingy place full of old Italian guys shooting the breeze called LoGalbo's, then as Southport yuppified in the early 90s it became one of the first nice restaurants, but happily didn't change the pizza recipe. I always picked up slices on my way to the Music Box and admired that it has the funkiest cheese of any pizza I know in town; don't know where they get it or why that is, but there's a gorgonzolaness to their mozzarella I've never tasted anywhere else. Sauce is okay but definitely takes a back seat, crust is just a little too bready to count as a cracker crust but not bad.
D'Agostino's-- as a Logalbo's/Red Tomato partisan I always passed by this neighbor a few doors south; surely I had slices from there but I can't remember what I thought. Ordering one fresh last night, I was deeply conflicted. I think it easily won the crust contest, the cracker-hard crust was admirably thin and crunchy and had a slight flavor of burnt oven that was really nice and three-dimensional, but against that you have to set a sweet, willfully inoffensive sauce that seems to be made for families from the burbs coming to a Cubs game, which doesn't spoil it by any means but keeps it from greatness-- maybe if you ordered garlic as an ingredient you'd get it there. Also gets points for having Caller ID.
Pat's-- this has its fans, one R. Ebert among them. I found that it went too far in the direction of the cracker crust, so thin it soaked up the grease from above and transmitted it to the paper below, meaning it seemed greasier (though may not actually have been) and was not very appealing on day 2. Sauce was flavorful, cheese fine, but I found it hard to love.
Pete's-- I love calling Pete's because even though it's supposed to be family dining, the nicotine-stained voice of the woman who answers the phone makes it feel like calling the police dispatch. Crust is pretty breadsticky and not great, also heavy on the cheese as you might expect in tandem with the crust, but the sauce is pretty pungent and has a definite mustardy note that I haven't had elsewhere.
So, my perfect North side pizza? I would buy some sauce from Pete's, and bribe D'Agostino's to use it instead of theirs. Otherwise, the search continues...
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