I realize most of you don’t know me in person, but I’m really easygoing. I’m patient and I don’t get mad easily, which has served me well throughout the years. So food arguments don’t get me worked up in the least, because in the end, it’s all just food. But there is one subject that gets me really heated, and it involves one of Chicago’s famous edible creations: deep dish pizza.
Notice the final word in that last sentence, my dear friends. Pizza. I said pizza. Deep dish is fucking pizza. I feel so strongly about this fact that dropping F-bombs is, in fact, necessary. Stop calling it a casserole, you jerks.
Sure, the deep dish format isn’t the flat circle of dough with sauce and cheese on top that you might immediately picture when you think about pizza, but listen, I wrote a damn definitive guide to America’s regional pizza styles, and I can tell you that many of those pizzas are different shapes. They’re not all tidy flat circles. Mind-blowing, I know.
Some pizzas are rectangular and puffy (Detroit-style and Sicilian), and others are conveniently made on French bread. Others put the sauce on top of the cheese, and some barely have cheese at all. So any argument that deep dish is too thick to be a pizza, or any other complaint about its physical shape and order of assembly, quickly falls apart when you’re talking to a real pizza enthusiast.
Another thing is that haters—yes, I called you haters—like to say is that deep dish pizza is a casserole. We’ve all seen that Jon Stewart rant on The Daily Show, where he calls out deep dish in an impassioned screed.
“Deep dish pizza is not only not better than New York pizza,” Stewart begins. “It’s not pizza. It’s a fucking casserole.”
This whole three-minute monologue is endlessly quoted by people who think they’re the funniest person in the comments section. But guess what? That tirade was in 2013. In internet years, that’s like your grandpa bringing up an old Johnny Carson gag and calling it a knee-slapper.
(For the record, I love that Jon Stewart rant, and Chicagoans respect a good bit of quality shit talk. But parroting a nine-year-old sketch you saw on your favorite politics comedy show doesn’t qualify as good shit talk in our book.)
Let’s break this down on a technical level. Tell me, when’s the last time you had a casserole baked in a pan lined with dough? Don’t worry, I’ll wait. There’s obviously nothing stopping you from making a bread-lined casserole, and in fact, I encourage you to try. But a crust-lined casserole sounds more akin to a pie, doesn’t it? And don’t people refer to pizza as... a pizza pie?
Some purists insist that “true” pizza is something you should be able to eat with your hands. Ergo, deep dish, which is often consumed with a fork and knife, must not be pizza. But that argument is also bullshit.
Neapolitan pizza, the OG of pizza, is often eaten with a fork and knife in Italy because its center is so wet and floppy. Holding it with your hands would be an utter disaster, sending hot red sauce right down the center of your shirt and down to your crotch. Go tell Italians that they’re eating their pizza the wrong way. I dare you.
Besides, here’s something a lot of outsiders might not realize: You can eat most deep dish pizza with your hands. The crust on deep dish is designed to be thick and strong enough to hold up to a generous amount of cheese and sauce. It would have been irresponsible to create a crust that couldn’t do so.
Now, it’s extremely fair to note that a subset of deep dish pizza, stuffed pizza, can’t be eaten with your hands unless it’s cooled off. Stuffed pizza (not to be confused with stuffed crust pizza) is a deep dish pizza with a paper-thin layer of dough on top of the cheese (hence stuffed), with sauce piled on top of that. If you try to eat that with your hands while it’s still hot, well, you’ll have the ol’ sauce-on-crotch problem. But stuffed pizza is more of an outlier than the rule; it doesn’t fully represent deep dish pizza as a category.
I will say one last thing on the subject. I know that non-Chicagoans seem to think that deep dish is the city’s default pizza, but it’s not. We mainly consume a totally different variety: tavern-style, or a thin-crust pizza cut into squares. Deep dish is a once-in-a-while treat for most of us, while thin crust is our choice for movie night.
Deep dish is simply too heavy for regular consumption, but if you’re visiting town, locals will happily take you out for deep dish, since it’s a big celebration kind of meal. And you’re obviously worth celebrating.
The wonderful truth is that Chicago has a head-spinning amount of pizza options. During my long stint as a pizzamaker here, I made three different varieties on a regular basis: Neapolitan-style, Detroit-style, and New York–style slices (whose recipe came straight from Brooklyn). Unfortunately, deep dish pizza in our scene is sort of a relic from the past now, and very few new pizza places represent the style anymore. Maybe because you’re all so busy making fun of it that you haven’t given it a taste and discovered how great it can be.
Yes, deep dish pizza is weird. It’s tall, thick, loaded with toppings, and comically over the top in every way. Everyone here knows that. But it’s absolutely pizza. I will stand by that fact until my dying day. It’s delicious, and for the love of God, it’s not a goddamn casserole.