My pizza journey finally took me Stateside. Some might say that I really went to visit a friend that I hadn’t seen in two years, but those people have clearly never heard of killing two birds with one stone, and other idioms.
Straight in with the deep dish. Hans wanted me to send a picture of deep dish within 24 hours of landing, and what better way to start a trip and try and beat jetlag than with carbs on fat on sauce.
Norah and Jay, her roommate, recommended either Giordano’s, which was closer, or Lou Malnati’s, which was better. A twenty minute bus ride for better pizza was worth it, so the decision was quickly made.
We called to try and make a reservation, but apparently they don’t take reservations because restaurants don’t do that now apparently in the anarchy that is the mid-2010s. We could apparently order ahead, but I always like to look around a restaurant to see what others are having and to feel the menu in my hand. Simple pleasures. Norah asked the woman on the phone if the restaurant was busy. The callee then went “to check” which, upon entering the restaurant later, seemed wholly unnecessary as it clearly was neither busy nor big enough to warrant leaving the phone for 20 seconds to check. The callee tried to upsell the pre-order more but we declined and got the bus.
The rain poured and the bus came. The bus driver wasn’t particularly happy, which is quite in contrast to pretty much every other American that I came across.
We went to the Lincoln Square Lou Malnati’s, a fact that I didn’t know until I googled it just now so that I could get this exterior image:
The interior was mildly shopping mall-y but spacious. We were quickly seated even though our whole party wasn’t there, which is something that I wouldn’t consider as being odd but apparently everything is bigger and rules are stricter in America.
Water was brought to the table within moments of being seated. If America taught me nothing else, it’s that the UK really don’t care about its citizen’s hydration nearly enough. I suppose I also learned that waiting is a way of life in America, and that tipping is mandatory.
A glance at the menu and for once I made a quick decision. When in a pinch, go with the special. In this case, it is the Malnati’s Chicago Classic: made with lean sausage, extra cheese, vine ripened tomatoes and served on a butter crust. I’ve just seen that they have a low carb/gluten free option. If you are on a low carb or gluten free diet, you have no business being in a deep dish establishment. The butter crust is a must. I once saw a gluten-free vegan pizza which I suppose is sadness in food form.
PRO TIP: deep dish pizzas take between 45 and 60 minutes to come out after ordering.
Norah gets hangry, a fact that I had previously heard from her ex-boyfriend and was experiencing personally for the first time here. She couldn’t concentrate on the conversation, or really anything.
“Should we get apps?”
Apps mean appetisers in America. I hope that this was asked in an ironic fashion. Or maybe not. You do you.
As with most pizza places, the appetisers are mostly different configurations of the pizzas. Carbs and sauce. And some wings. I could have gone with wings, but Norah suggested the garlic bread as it was cheap ($4.25).
It was a good call. You get a lot of carbs for your buck, and it also gives you the first taste of that masterful tomato sauce.
“If this sauce is what they use on their pizzas, I am super looking forward to this.”
“Girl, you better believe it.”
The hanger dissipated and the three of us could again converse as a triangle, though Jay and I were doing a good job of getting to know each other. It’s nice when people talk to you post-flight and without a stitch of make-up.
Our triangle quickly squared up with the arrival of Metal Man Bun, her friend who I would say I least liked though he was still on the whole quite agreeable (Norah would later say that he didn’t make enough effort to ask about me, but he had other friends there and on the whole people like to talk about themselves and their lives, which is fine).
Our water was refilled and Brett arrived, thus completing the pentagon. There managed to be enough bread for the five of us, but the rule was to make room for the main course.
This is the first pizza place that I’ve ever been to where the server has to cut you a slice. He gave me the smallest slice of everyone, obviously fooled by my small frame.
We ordered the large, which apparently serves four. The five of us couldn’t finish it. That is to say, if there were five of me, we would have needed to order three, but the three guys had one slice apiece, Norah had one and a half slices, and I had three slices (after this trip, I would genuinely recommend eating heartily and exercising to acclimitise quickly).
There is nothing quite like deep dish pizza. The richness of the flavours, the size of each slice, the fact that you could kill someone with that pan. This was the first time that I had ever experienced real deep dish, and happiness flooded over me. I was to later have Giordano’s, but I’d say that I was glad to start with a Malnati’s. The crust had a better consistency and taste, and I would say that they were more generous with their fillings (although the pizzas are configured slightly differently so it’s not quite a like-for-like comparison).
The Chicago classic is a solid choice. Metal Man Bun and Brett only reluctantly agreed to the order because I was a visitor and “should try the special”, but both they and Norah said that they would usually go for the plain cheese. I’m always pro-meat, and this was one tasty sausage. And cheese. And sauce. My goodness: yes.
Most people can only manage one slice on their first try I was told. As I said before, I had three, and could have easily finished the final slice were I not concerned about looking overly greedy as my first impression. Plus having to ask for a new slice each time while everyone else sat there seemed like an imposition on the wait staff and my fellow diners.
The first slice is a sloppy knife and fork job, the subsequent two became easier to eat hands-only.
Metal man bun stopped at one slice because he couldn’t resist the tiramisu. I have often been let down by tiramisu and now tend to only order it at whatever I deem worthy as a ‘truly authentic Italian restaurant’. Norah is a ‘dessert goddess’ (by the admission of her Twitter handle) so insisted that we got a dessert. Everyone was getting a dessert, I love dessert, so who was I to argue?
Aside from tiramisu, the options were tre dolci (three desserts) or chocolate chip pizza (a chocolate chip cookie prepared in a deep dish pan served with vanilla ice cream and whipped cream).
The cookie was for two or three to share, so Norah and I, and Jay and Brett shared two cookies. Norah and I finished ours easily, but the guy clearly didn’t have our sweet tooth. How they resisted finishing I will never know. Though a rudimentary dessert (compared to, say, croquembouche) it was damn near one of the best desserts I’ve had. Maybe it was the tiredness, maybe I just have no class, but it was wonderful. Texture, taste and temperature ticked all the taste tundras (or other word that makes sense). I have previously had a Nutella calzone which, while not quite as good as this, still far exceeded my expectations. Pizza desserts are the way to go. Take note pizza restaurant owners.
As it was my first night, the group generously split the cheque four ways, and even though there were appetisers, a main, dessert and drinks ordered, it still came to just over $20 per person including tax and tip.
While they were getting the bill I learned that to split it and only pay what you ordered is quite the rigmarole Stateside and you should declare your intention to do so early on. As Norah and I didn’t order drinks, it pretty much ended up about right for everyone in the end anyway. Jay lost out the most.
Bus home and early night before a 7am flight to Boston. From waking up at 4am GMT on Tuesday and waking up at 4am CST the following day to then have a full day in Boston, I was surely grateful for my Lou Malnati’s binge.