The Thinnest Pizza I’ve Ever Had

“Decision making can sometimes seem like inner civil war.”-Jim Rohn

Who would have imagined the thinnest pizza I’ve ever had would be in Chicago? 

When most people think of Chicago -style pizza, they picture a pie, an inch thick that’s covered with chunky sauce.  My initial thoughts of “Chicago-style” reflect renown Chicago chef Grant Achatz’s first impressions as he recalls moving to the windy-city area “deep-dish is not pizza, it is a casserole”.  I hold no pizza prejudices, just as Achatz doesn’t, but when you come to Chicago the limelight is undoubtedly fixed on deep-dish.

So, many are surprised to find that the true pizza for Chicago natives, is their thin-crust tavern-style. Tavern-style is known for its cracker-thin crust and square or “party-cut” that’s perfect for sharing.  It’s greasy, cheesy and crispy and the small square pieces provide easy maneuvering, it’s just about everything you could ask for out of a pizza.

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For once in my life, I’m siding with the folks of Chicago on something. 

The next time I’m aggressively and haphazardly cut-off on the interstate, I won’t disapprovingly mutter ******* fib *******instead, I’ll put aside the reckless driving, enormous egos, epic sports rivalries and picture the glory of their thin tavern-style pizza.

There are hundreds of pizza joints in Chicago, so as my trip approached I had a level of anxiety about which places to hit in my narrow travel window. Since I was accompanied by my wife who didn’t want to eat pizza every meal, I knew I had some careful decisions to make.

Soon an overabundance of top ten lists propelled by Google, Trip Advisor and Yelp flooded my mind and proved to make finding a spot even more difficult and complicated than I imagined.

Pizzeria Via Stato.

I was staying in the heart of downtown, right off Michigan Avenue, surrounded by all the notorious deep-dish places like Lou Malnati’s, Giordano’s, Gino’s East and Uno’s, so deep-dish would have been a no-brainer, but I wanted the real-deal tavern-style.  My fear was that the majority of the infamous tavern-style joints I was in search of would be sprinkled throughout the suburbs and a trek from our planned activities.

Through my research, I stumbled upon Pizza Via Stato right near our hotel that at first-glance looked thin, cheesy and promising.  Approaching Pizza Via Strato on State street I was taken aback when I realized it was attached to a hotel.

Hotel pizza! Tess teased.

Here I was in Chicago the mecca for thin-crust tavern-style pizza and I was going to get hotel pizza.  I envisioned my pizza cred going down the drain.  But, for some reason, it felt right.

To my delight, it was no ordinary hotel pizza and to clarify it’s a pizza-bar off a pretty nice Italian sit-down spot called Osteria via Stato.  It was undoubtedly the thinnest pizza I’ve ever had.  It was so thin I would have had no problem putting down multiple pizzas.  The crust was true to the cracker-crust depiction; the outer crust had baked air pockets almost like a pita chip that shattered when you took a bite.

The cheese to crust ratio was a cheese-loving midwesterners dream come true.  The pepperonis were as crisp as the outer crust and the sauce minimal, which made for a very crunchy contrast to the gently bubbled cheese.

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I’ve only experienced the corner piece of the square cut pie.

With only a couple of days to explore the hundreds of available pizza options in America’s third largest city, I found what I was looking for, but holy moly there’s a lot left to explore.  I barely even saw the tip of that iceberg, but next time I’ll be much more prepared—while in Chicago I found a guide.

A major score on my Chicago trip was finding my new favorite book Pizza City, USA: 101 Reasons Why Chicago Is America’s Greatest Pizza Town by Steve Dolinsky.   Pizza City, USA is a guide-book that explores the plethora of diverse pizza options throughout the windy city.  The book explores the 101 best pizza joints ranging from tavern-style to deep-dish, Neopolitan to Roman style—they are reviewed and ranked (Thanks for the recommendation Bret!).

The book follows the argument that Chicago’s wide-ranging pizza offerings make it the best pizza city in America. As you thumb through the book which is rich with food-porn worthy imagery it becomes hard to disagree with Dolinsky.  I was pleasantly surprised that Pizza Via Stato made the 101 best pizza places list (I actually hit three off the list while there, but I’ll get to those later).

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Decisions, decisions.

Venturing to a notorious pizza city with an abundance of top-notch spots can be a little intimidating and decision making for the pizza enthusiast can become quite difficult.  The more choices we have the further away we get from a clear decision, as we get lost in a deluge of options.

After I overwhelmed myself with loads and loads of pizza ideas online I didn’t know what to choose. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink, he says “We live in a world saturated with information.  We have virtually unlimited amounts of data at our fingertips.””But what I have sensed is an enormous frustration with the unexpected costs of knowing too much, of being inundated with information.  We have come to confuse information with understanding.”

Malcolm Gladwell’s thoughts deal with information overload, and how often it may be more beneficial to not overanalyze decisions and instead go with our unconscious choice-making, in other words, go with our gut.  Often our initial thought is the best one before it gets muddled with complexities.

What pizza taught me:

An overabundance of options can make decision making difficult.  Often the best course of action is to follow our initial gut reaction, in doing so I found the thinnest pizza I’ve ever had.  Chicago is one heck of a pizza town—if it’s the best, I’m not sure yet—but I’m excited to try and find out.

What I’m eating: Pizza Via Stato- tavern-style pepperoni

What I’m reading: Steve Dolinsky Pizza City, USA: 101 Reasons Why Chicago Is America’s Greatest Pizza Town

 

Different Pizza for Different Folks

“Be tolerant with others and strict with yourself” -Marcus Aurelius

In Madison, we are fortunate enough to have a pizza for every occasion; slices the size-of-our-heads after late nights out, thin crust party-cuts for family-time on Fridays and even pizza that’s a little more elevated in composition, more sophisticated—worthy of a romantic date night out.

A trip across town.  

Recently Tess and I checked a notch off the 2018 pizza goal list and ventured to the east side of Madison to Grampa’s Pizzeria. In the Willie Street and Atwood neighborhoods, you can expect to get the boundaries of your palette pushed a little further with forward-thinking restaurants like Pig In a Fur Coat and Mint Mark, but where does the pizza fit in?

Grampa’s Pizzeria plants it’s flag as the place to sit down and enjoy an elevated pizza experience and is no exception to the farm-to-table rule of thumb. Grampa’s and it’s on-site herb garden are very much what you would expect from an establishment on the east side; a youthful, carefree, modern scene where art, music, and DIY enterprising coalesce; punk rock ethos infuse the food, fashion and all things craft.

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The progressive side of pizza. 

Inside Grampa’s, it’s cozy, like I imagine the idealized hipster version of what a grandparents home would look like: a dimly lit dining room, strewn about tattered books and old photos—melon coly dream-pop pulsing in the background.

Tess and I were faced with a food enthusiast’s first-world pain—everything on the menu looked good.  From the small plates and salads to the pizza, as usual, we couldn’t make up our minds, so we decided on a little bit of everything.  We started with the Mozzarella small plate (they make those delicious balls fresh every day) and the Beet salad.

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Gourmet pizza.

There are nine pizzas on the menu, which are composed of a handful of simple yet quite experimental ingredients. There’s a pizza with pork confit on it, a pizza with a Korean fermented condiment called gochujang sauce and one of their most popular pies called the Barberini which showcases ricotta, calabrian chiles, watercress, and honey.

To join the party we went with the Brassacre! which consisted of Brussel sprouts, bacon, fresh mozzarella, olive oil, garlic, and grana.  Brussel sprouts and bacon are a great combo so I knew the Brassacre! could do no wrong.  Crispy, thick, asymmetrical chunks of bacon, (more of the pork belly persuasion) were sprinkled throughout, which provided a salty, fatty contrast to the Brussel sprouts.  The olive oil and garlic base was a decadent match to the cheese.

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We also opted for a traditional pie; pepperoni and sausage to provide us a baseline to measure their fundamental pizza components; cheese, sauce, and crust.  The pizzas are very thin and cut in squares which is my preference.

The pepperoni had more of an artisanal flare and depth of flavor than the average pepperoni, they were slightly thicker and had a light smokiness.  The sausage was a highlight for me, it was rich and fennel forward, with a nice spicy balance.

There’s a pizza out there for everyone.

Grampa’s Pizzeria and it’s varieties of pizza parallel the wide-ranging and often avante-garde culture of those east side neighborhoods.  These days with our lives so intricately integrated through technology, it’s more important than ever to practice tolerance and hold ourselves to a higher standard.  It doesn’t matter what your opinion is, just be nice about it.

Deepak Chopra says “You don’t want to stand rigid like a tall oak that cracks and collapses in the storm.  Instead, you want to be flexible, like a reed that bends and survives the storm.”

What pizza taught me:

A night out in the enlightened part of town is a nice reminder that we should keep our minds and taste buds open and not only respect other folks pizza preferences but their ideas and lifestyles as well.

What I’m eating: Grampa’s Pizzeria; Brassacre! Brussel sprouts, bacon, fresh mozzarella, olive oil, garlic, and grana. Pepperoni, half sausage pizza.  Mozzarella small plate and Beet salad.

What I’m reading: Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking -Malcolm Gladwell