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.