Popular purveyors of Chicago-style pizza

Opinion: Columns

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By David Hammond

In 2016, I interviewed Oak Parker Craig Priebe, who had just had The United States of Pizza, published by Rizzoli Press. During this conversation, I asked Priebe if he had a favorite local pizza place, and he told me, "I like Bertolli's because they make an honest Chicago-style thin crust pizza. The pepperoni is the best kind, the big sandwich pepperoni. Their sausage has a great flavor too. I order simple pies from them, and I like to ask for the pizza to be cooked well-done for extra crispiness. Sausage and onion is my favorite."

If you Google "Chicago-style pizza," you'll find many references to, and images of, deep dish pizza, which is indeed *a* Chicago style. Another Chicago-style pizza that seems to get less airtime is the thin-crust, grid-cut, tavern-style pizza that many of us ate in the '50s and '60s when that was the only kind of pizza available, long before deep dish became a thing. Chicago-style, thin-crust pizza is, as Steve Dolinsky argues in Pizza City U.S.A., one of several different types of pizza served in the city. 

"Chicago is the city that works," Dolinsky writes, "and immigrants who originally built the roads, bridges and skyscrapers loved to end the day at the neighborhood tavern for a beer. Intuitive bar owners realized they could make ultra-thin pizza for cheap, cut their pieces into tiny squares (known as the 'party cut') and then pass the bite-sized snacks around the bar."

Bertolli's Pizza in River Forest offers three types of Chicago-style pizzas: pan, stuffed and thin crust. We went with thin crust and, like Priebe, we almost always order simple pies, usually just sausage or pepperoni. Last weekend, we decided to go with Priebe's suggestion and get a Chicago-style pizza topped with sausage and onion; we asked for the crust to be crisp and well-done. 

Bertolli's apparently has lots of fans: Oak Parkers, past and present, cheered my Facebook mention of the restaurant. Michelle Jensen proclaimed "Bertolli's is our fave!!" and Andrew Schoen described Bertolli's sausage as "next level."

Bertolli's sausage is, indeed, subtly different than what you'd find on many Chicago-style tavern pizzas. The abundant clusters of sausage on our pie were lush and flavorful. My personal preference is for lots of fennel in the sausage, but that's probably just me: I enjoyed every bite of Bertolli's sausage.

The onion is a good addition, adding a touch of acidity and sweetness to the pie, both of which work well with the cheese.

But aside from what was on the pizza, Bertolli's pies are also to be praised for what they *don't* put on their pizza: lots of cheese. The over-cheesing of a pizza happens all the time, and though this, too, is a personal preference, I prefer the cheese to be reasonably applied, not too abundantly. We want a balance of ingredients, and Bertolli's applies toppings in what seem to be equal amounts, so that no one of them overwhelms the others.

Pizza is America's most popular ethnic food. It's so popular, in fact, that I doubt most people consider a pizza pie to be anything other than all-American. The Oak Park-River Forest-Forest Park area is lucky to have such an abundance of excellent purveyors of the pie, including Jimmy's Place, Gaetano's and, of course, Bertolli's.

Read more of David Hammond's food blogs at OakPark.com.

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