I previously reviewed the original Pizzeria Uno, offering a slightly negative opinion but remaining fairly agnostic (with an admitted New York bias) on the issue of deep dish pizza in general. It took a few months to overcome my bloatedness of that evening and to bring myself to eat deep dish again, but I did it. I ventured downtown and tried another Chicago staple, Giordano’s, which gets immense praise from foodies and common restaurant-goers alike. I still went in with some trepidation given my Pizzeria Uno experience; nonetheless, I really wanted to be won over. I wanted to start on a path towards loving Chicago’s specialty so I could reap the benefits of that love for a few years.
However, I moved in the opposite direction. I’ve become convinced that, in general, deep dish pizza just doesn’t cut it. The concept of deep dish is flawed philosophically. The philosophy underlying deep dish is a philosophy of excess. Let’s stuff as much mozzarella cheese and as many other ingredients of your selection as possible between the tomato sauce and the crust at the bottom of the pizza. And, let’s use a ton of dough, so much that the crust alone will virtually fill you up after one slice.
Excess, when combined with other elements, need not be something negative. Jewish delis will offer you a ridiculous amount of pastrami on rye bread, but the pastrami is of such excellent quality that you don’t mind taking it home if you don’t finish it in one sitting. The problem with deep dish is it’s about the excess more than the ingredients. While the quality of tomato sauce at the original Pizzeria Uno was above average, no other ingredient was more than mediocre. The mozzarella is your typical overly processed mozzarella, which is to be expected: When you force so much in there, you can’t expect expensive high-quality buffalo mozzarella to be used unless you’re okay with a $90 pie. The sausage in both instances was ridiculously greasy, and the other ingredients were not particularly fresh or high quality. In fact, I would say, in both of my experiences, they were of no better quality than the ingredients of Domino’s.
This lack of a premium on ingredients is also evidenced by the fact that you can (and are encouraged to) order virtually any combination of toppings inside your pizza. Sausage, mushrooms, meatballs, onion, and bacon: Why not? It doesn’t matter what meshes or what doesn’t, we just want you to eat as much as you like! At Giordano’s, it’s not like you can even really taste the toppings since the cheese was so overwhelming. But, you certainly can feel them in your stomach after you manage to stuff two full slices in.
Now, often, when one speaks poorly of an esteemed food in a new city or geographic region, he is criticized for being biased and not open-minded enough. But, the problem for those critics in this instance is that exposure to many varieties of New York pizza, rather than biasing me, gives me a standard by which to compare deep dish. Sure, using certain arbitrary characteristics of a standard that you’re used to can be a source of bias (e.g. critiquing a non-Philly cheesteak for their lack of cheese whiz), but, in many cases, having a high-quality standard for comparison can increase your insight into what makes a food good or not. People who grow up eating Domino’s or Pizza Hut have a lower standard as their basis of comparison. This may be better for their relative satisfaction with deep dish pizza, but certainly doesn’t make them a more informed or objective judge of the quality of deep dish. Because of New York pizza’s relative minimalism*, the quality competition occurs at the level of three ingredients. The best slices in New York are not the best because of their size or heaps of cheese but because of the high quality of their ingredients. The increased popularity of the Grandma’s pizza, which generally uses whole tomatoes or a sauce that is less processed than your typical pizza sauce, is a testament to the premium put on ingredients.
*You almost always compare New York pizzerias based on their cheese slice first, and, only, then, look to other offerings. This cheese slice usually consists of the dough, the cheese, the tomato sauce, and assorted seasonings.
In the end, eating deep dish is about eating a lot, not about eating well. If you’re into that sort of thing (I think this guy is), then deep dish may rightly be for you. Even if you’re occasionally in the mood for excess for the sake of excess (maybe after a week of fasting?), deep dish can be justified. But, if you evaluate your food based on ingredients, taste, and quality, deep dish doesn’t compare.