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The "easternmost" pizza place in Chicago + Hammond, Indiana

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The "easternmost" pizza place in Chicago + Hammond, Indiana

RST | Jun 23, 2003 10:55 PM

Alright, THAT's hardly a meaningful category/title, but I thought that a totally "useless" bit of trivia such as "the pizza place located the farthest east in Chicago" would surely make the hearts of the resident pizza geeks (yes, you know who you are!) go pit-pat. So there you go ;), now you know!

I stumbled on it while trying to see if I could grab some lunch at TBS (one of the two non-mobile/source locations of the business that runs Coolerbythelake's lunch truck) on Commercial Avenue. Unfortunately, TBS was closed (no indications of hours posted outside) yesterday, Sunday. Took a nice walk on this stretch with the places on ReneG's classic, path-breaking post in mind. Visited La Fruteria once again: am still awed by their range of African/Jamaican products (yes, they had a few dried-out kola nuts). Noted that across the street is another Mexican-owned (just like La Fruteria) grocery called "La Gloria", advertising African products. On 91st, about two blocks to the east are a couple of interesting looking Mexican businesses:

The Original La Luz Mexican Restaurant
(since 1959) attn ReneG and JeffB and others following the El Charro thread
3128 East 91st St
(773) 721-8040
Did not eat here, but the categories/heading on the menu are: almuerzo, caldos, tacos, tostadas, gorditas, flautas, quesadillas, enchiladas, sopes, tamales/weekend specials.

Bec of the structure of the menu, this seem to be more of a Mexican-American menu. The quesadillas for instance seem to be the US/Northern type, i.e. cheese in folded flour tortilla, which in the Bajio would more correctly be called a sincronizada.

Next door is a grocery called "Los Tres Hermanos de Jamay". The sign on the outside advertises carnitas, tamales and so on, but the place is boarded up at the moment as the owners are on vacation.

In this area is another boarded-up restaurant called Stony Inn. The sign thrown down on the grass beyond the fence claims "since 1941". Anyone knows anything about this?

*****

Took the #30 bus southwards. From the bus, caught a glimpse of the superb set of vertival lift bridges and the magnificent Skyway which we talked about on the recent thread on Calumet Fisheries. Was really surprised at how lively Ewing is south of 92nd. There's a whole different world of Mexican businesses down here. Caught sight of a Taqueria Tamaulipas (!!!), a place with a sign in Greek (!!!), many other Mexican taquerias with suggestive names. There is a nice little cluster of business at 106th and Ewing. There's a Taqueria Fiesta Grande at 106th and Avenue L. Had a nice gordita (store-bought pre-made small hard gordita) of guisado de puerco here. The owner is from Guanajuato but shrugged and confessed that there is nothing specifically regional about her menu. There's a "El Charro de San Francisco". There's panaderia. And then, there's:

Waldo Cooney's
3651 East 106th
(773) 374-4400

(since 1981, waldocooneyspizza.com; two other locations in Chicago: on 51st and on Pulaski in the 80s + Worth, IL + Lansing, MI)

Grabbed a sliced of their "thick" pizza from the pizza case/keeper. I am looking at their menu and see only thin-crust and stuffed as their pizza offering (no "deep-dish" or thick-crust) and am a bit perplexed at the thought that this might be what they call "stuffed". (I was in a hurry to catch a bus and could not quiz the kid behind the counter.) It sure isn't what I know of as "stuffed". It is, rather, closer to what is sometimes called (elsewhere) thick-crust (although this nomenclature is also confusing as it isn't the crust that's thick), sometimes "Sicilian" (cf the "Sicilian" of Cafe Luigi). I think that it is closer in spirit and form to the square pizza + Sicilian sfincione that we discussed recently than to any of the usual "pans" "deep-dishes" "stuffeds" around. Essentially, it is a disc-shaped loaf of bread, leavened, made with bread (hard) flour, baked unsupported by a pan/dish, about 3/4 inch thick, topped with a thin layer of cheese and meat (I had Italian sausage). The emphasis of this type of pizza is the bread and not the cheese on top, which often seems like a mere token flavoring.

This is very well-made pizza: far better than the oft-touted Cafe Luigi's Sicilian. I often find the Luigi bread dried-out and flavorless. On the contrary, the bread I tasted here seemed to be properly (i.e. slowly) leavened for full flavor. There was a slight suggestion of wheat-sweetness reminiscent of the "sweetness" of char siu bow (Chinese pork bun). The air holes were small and densely-structured. The bread had good resilience (chewy) and did not taste dried-out at all. The cheese-and-meat topping was indifferent: neither spectacular nor a failure. It served its purpose.

I would give this slice of pizza a score of A- for this category/form. (This is a local rating system, considering only pizzas in Chicago.)

It would be interesting to find out how the pizza at the other two locations in Chicago compare.

*****

The bus I was trying to catch was the Hammond Transit "1S" bus. I discovered that Hammond is a mere couple of blocks to the east and south of 106th and Ewing. So, by the accident of geography, i.e. bec the Chicago shoreline flares out in the SE to meet the Indiana border, Waldo's almost certainly has the distinction of being the pizza place farthest east in the city. Incidentally, this is by no means the only pizza place in this part of the city. On my way back, I took a diff route (from Calumet City to Hegewisch station in the 130s, then the #30 northwards from the 130s to 92nd) and saw several old-time Italian places. But most of this stretch is residential and from the map, it seems like most of the land to the east is grassland/park.

For the pizza place farthest west, one might have to go look at East River Road (Cumberland Station area) on the far NW.

Took a tour of Hammond. Saw the location of Phil Schmidt's across from the casino ship. Met a guy who offered me a tour of the city. He told me that the family that owned Phil Schmidt's sold the place about 6-7 years ago and the place went through a period of decline. Things have changed for the better and the place is now supposedly as good as before. (For Phil Schmidt's, do a search on this (Chicago) board for a Jonathan Gold endorsement: the famous dishes here are the frog legs, the perch, the gooseberry pie.) He pointed out Schoop's to me. Told me that Ludwig's (on Calumet?) is a smart place for brunch (my impression from his description: ethnic European meets yuppie, like Tre Kronor or Ann Sather). There is a farmer's market at the slowly-reviving downtown on Sunday afternoons in the summer. Hammond is doing very well indeed: the casino business has brought in a lot of money to the city coffers. All the streets have been newly-repaved. Public buildings go up and then are gratuitously torn down within the decade. Unfortunately, a number of old-time bars and restaurants (notably on State Line Road, which divides Hammond, IN from Calumet City, IL) have also been torn to make way for malls, Popeyes, Wendy's etc. Hammond and Calumet City might make a nice place for a board field trip someday. Chicagoans supposedly flock down for cheap gas and cheap cigarettes. My guide told me that it takes him less than 30 minutes on Lake Shore Drive + the Skyway to get from his brother's house in Andersonville to downtown Hammond.

Richard

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