Tag Archives: Chicago

When Good Just Isn’t Good Enough For Me & My Pizza

There I was standing in the middle of a Chicago hotel talking with a bunch of New Yorkers about the best place to have deep dish pizza in the city we were visiting. As we threw the names of different places out, an older gentleman, a man who calls Chicago home, came up to us. Having overheard the words “deep dish pizza,” he walked over and asked me the names of the places I was thinking of going. After rattling off the names, he paused and said to the group, “Those are good. But my personal favorite is Pizzeria Uno.”

It’s was like being told by a Maine lobsterman to go to Red Lobster when looking for the best lobster place in Portland. Or a southerner steering you to KFC for the best fried chicken in their city. It just rang hollow.

That conversation happened in late January as I was planning my second visit to Emmett’s in the West Village. Chicago focused, the cozy verging on subway car packed tiny place offers a menu of deep dish pizzas and Chicago dogs. They also uphold the time-honored Chicago rule of no ketchup on your Chicago Dog.

To get a proper appreciation for the effort at Emmett’s, I stopped at Lou Malnati’s in River North a few hours before my flight. I ordered the Malnati Chicago Classic and as I polished off my personal sized pie, I was struck by how appealing the buttery flavor of the crust was and just how much of everything there is in a deep dish. It’s no surprise given that the place has trademarked the phrase “Buttercrust.” Unlike your Sicilian that is overwhelmingly crust, the deep dish is more balanced.

But for all the hoopla surrounding the Chicago Deep Dish and Lou Malnati, I found myself walking to the “L” and thinking it was good, but nothing out of this world transcendent that would be a must visit the next time I’m in town.

It was this place of mind that I found myself when I ate at Emmett’s last Friday. My dinner companion and I found ourselves squeezed in so closely to the people on each side of us that Spirit Airlines executives would have blanched at our lack of personal space.

We went with green peppers and onions and after the requisite twenty-or-so-minutes for the pie to be ready, we dug in. The thing is the pie is good. The cheese is hot and gooey. The sauce has just the right amount of tang and the vegetables were fresh. Sans the Lou Malnati butter touch, the crust is crisp enough to hold the pie together, but doesn’t come out burned.

On paper, I should love deep dish. It has more cheese, more sauce. It’s more of everything I want, yet I can’t shake the feeling that something is amiss. Even though I was raised on Friday Night Pizza at the dinner table, to me pizza means a slice. The slice embrace a mobility that the deep dish doesn’t provide. Stop by a pizzeria, order a slice to go and in a few minutes you are walking out with a white paper bag containing two paper plates below a slice.

People get pretty parochial about pizza. Certain pizzerias are the best. Some toppings are unacceptable. Specific sauces are the only ones that can be considered. Our earliest memories help shape these beliefs. And for me, the pizza for me is the one that I can fold and eat with my hands. Not with a fork and knife.

All of that being said, if you like deep dish, Emmett’s is a place to visit if you don’t want to fly out to Chicago just for dinner. And don’t worry about not being able to finish. Reheated deep dish from is almost better than when it lands on your table at the restaurant. Almost.

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Boston Book Blitz Pt. 7: “The Bridge” by David Remnick

The Bridge by David Remnick - Via NY Observer

A few weeks ago, I found myself in a conversation about recently read political books. One of the books that came up was “The Audacity to Win” by David Plouffe. I had read it last year and while enjoying its first hand account of the Barack Obama presidential campaign, I felt it was too sanitized.  Another issue was that the history was so recent. As I read the book, I found myself reading about the campaign and finding myself thinking back to where I was at the time. Like how my friends Saeed, Deaux, and I tried to get into Park Slope’s Pacific Standard to see Obama’s convention speech. With more than two hours till he went on, the bar was already filled. We ended up finding a space at 4th Avenue Pub. Besides the TV, it seemed like no one spoke and no noise broke our attention to the events unfolding before us.

It was these thoughts that came to mind as I read David Remnick’s “The Bridge.” Remnick tells the story of President Barack Obama’s life and the role he has played and continues to play in this country’s on-going struggle with civil rights and race.

The book opens with then-Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton speaking in Selma, Alabama to commemorate the anniversary of the Selma Voting Rights March – “Bloody Sunday”. The title comes from Rep. John Lewis, who at the time was one of the youngest African-American civil rights leaders, remark that Obama was what comes at the end of the bridge the marchers in Selma tried to cross that day in March 1965.

David Remnick with...a fan? - Via Politico.com

Remnick, unlike Plouffe who focused mostly on the machinations of a fledgling campaign that slowly morphed into a fundraising juggernaut, pivots backwards, first chronicling Obama’s familial history. He goes back several generations, in an effort to explain how the child of a white teenager from Kansas and a Kenyan, who lived in Hawaii and Indonesia, developed into the Barack Obama of 2011.

In exploring Obama’s childhood, his college years, and his time as a community organizer, Obama the person comes alive. Maybe it is the sacrifices required of a presidential candidate or the office itself, but most of its occupants, even those alive or serving, seem to lose some personal characteristics once in office. In “The Bridge,” any struggling college grad will immediately recognize the post-undergrad living situations and desire to find a job with a meaning that Obama went through after graduating Columbia.

Obama at 2004 Democratic Convention - The Bridge tells of how the Kerry people took some lines out of Obama's speech and into Kerry's!

A good portion of the book is devoted to Obama’s search for a racial identity, a religion, and his place in politics. His relationship with race is a consistent theme in the book. Remnick avoids a full-on re-cap of the 2008 presidential primary/general election in lieu of highlighting moments where race was the dominant issue. Through all of this, particularly the Jeremiah Wright saga, Remnick remains even-keeled in his telling of the events, actions, and most importantly, the truth. Campaign spin is explained away, as is radical right wing fanaticism.

As someone who has some acquaintances and a family member who believe Obama is either a foreigner or   dead set on a litany of actions that will destroy America, “The Bridge” is the perfect antidote to that wackiness. While Remnick praises Obama where he deserves it, he does not spare in criticizing him either. Every birther should read this book. I’m saving up some money and sending a copy to Orly Taitz real soon.

More importantly, it does something I don’t think the campaign or the administration has done. Towards the end of the book, Remnick synthesizes the parts of Obama’s life that inform who he is as a political leader. Obama’s pragmatism, his ability to hear all sides of an argument, his basic belief in the ability of government to help people come together to define a new type of Democratic philosophy. A post-DLC, post-Clinton, 21st Century vision of what a Democrat could be. While I may not always agree with him, I am proud to call myself a Barack Obama Democrat.

My Favorite Obama Photo

While there are many parts of the book that I could not cover in this space, there was one that particularly resonated with me. Reading about Obama’s early years in Chicago’s political universe hit home as I worked full-time on my first political campaign. Now I’m a political junkie, went to school for it, and volunteered a ton, but the day in and day out motions of a political campaign was new to me. To experience something during the day, and as I sat tiredly on the bus, read about Obama’s experience doing the same thing gave me a hope. Not that I could be president one day, but a hope that the meetings attended, the phone calls made, the attention paid to those who are in need, can make a difference. To me, that is a hope we can all believe in.