In Dining

A small deep dish pizza from Pizano's Pizza & Pasta. (PHOTO: Lori Fredrich)

The deep dish on Chicago-style pizza: Pizano's Pizza & Pasta

It's time for Dining Month, presented by Deer District and its spooky Halloween-themed alter ego, Fear District. Throughout the month of October, we'll be serving up fun and fascinating content about all things food. The signature dish, however, is our 2019 Best of Dining poll, who's winners we will dish out all month long. Get hungry, Milwaukee!

"Where do I find Chicago-style deep dish pizza in Milwaukee?"

It's a question I'm asked on a regular basis. It's also one that's become far easier to answer in recent years as Milwaukee become home to various Chicago-style deep dish pizza brands. But, even among those popular brands – think Uno, Pizano's, Rosati's and (soon) Lou Malnati's – there are variations.

So, I decided to take the time to explore the Chicago deep dish pizza scene in Milwaukee, visiting each spot and giving you a full report on the flavors and textures you'll encounter at each location. To keep things consistent, I ordered a small (generally 10-inch) pizza with sausage, mushrooms and pepperoni at each location, and then tasted each pizza component (from toppings to crust) to give you the full lowdown.

If you're a lover of Chicago-style deep dish, my hope is you'll read along and maybe find a spot or two you haven't tried. If you're curious what all the fuss is about, this series might well assist you in finding your ideal pie.

But first, a few words on what Chicago-style deep dish really is.

Not every deep dish is Chicago-style

"Deep dish" pizza can come in various forms. But there is really only one type of pizza that qualifies as Chicago-style deep dish. Much of what you'll find in Wisconsin is more akin to "pan style" pizza featuring a soft, thick dough that's cooked in a deep pan. It looks a bit like Chicago-style pizza, but the top is likely covered with cheese.

When you break it down to basics, there are three ways to identify a classic Chicago-style deep dish pizza:

  • The crust: Chicago-style deep dish features an almost biscuit-like crust, which nearly always gets a boost from butter or corn oil. Note: Stuffed pizza is a category all its own. If there is a second, often very thin layer of crust in between the toppings and the sauce, it's not classic Chicago-style deep dish.
  • The toppings: they are applied in reverse order from most pizzas. The cheese is layered right on top of crust, with meat and vegetable toppings to follow; this prevents the cheese from scorching during the longer cooking time.
  • The sauce: You will definitely find the sauce on the top of your pizza.

For the purpose of this series, I made a grand attempt to focus on true Chicago style deep dish. But, as you'll find ... not every "Chicago-style" pie is created equal.

Pizano's Pizza & Pasta

1154 N Water St., (414) 277-1777
pizanoschicago.com

As the story goes, Chicago-style deep dish was birthed in 1943 when Ike Sewell and Ric Riccardo (AKA Richard Novaretti) opened a restaurant now known as Pizzeria Uno. The details of who created their deep dish recipe are clouded in mystery. But at least one theory credits Adolpho "Rudy" Malnati, Sr., a longtime Uno's employee and founder of Lou Malnati's, a brand he established in 1971.

What does that have to do with Pizano's? Well, Lou's half-brother Rudy founded Pizano's in 1991. And – as servers at the restaurant will sometimes share – he claims to be the keeper of the family's "original dough recipe."

True? We may never know. But it's a fun tidbit to add to your Pizano's pizza-eating experience.

On our most recent trip to Pizano's, we ordered a small deep dish pizza with the usual toppings (sausage, mushrooms, pepperoni), which we consumed in the dining room of the restaurant. The pie took about 45 minutes to prepare and came out to our table steaming hot.

The crust

Pizano's crust is moderately thin at the top (with super crisp edges), but grows slightly thicker and increasingly dense as it descends to meet the bottom of the pan. In our case, the bottom crust was quite soggy, with juices pooling the bottom of the pan. Flavor-wise, it's somewhat yeasty and not overly salty. It also doesn't possess the overtly buttery flavor that's inherent to some Chicago-style deep dish crusts.

The toppings

Starting from the top, the Pizano's pie sports a relatively chunky, bright sauce doppled with herbs. It's tomato forward with a slightly acidic punch. From there, you'll find fresh mushrooms that seem to have been cooked right in the pie; they were a bit watery and didn't pack the earthy punch I love. There are also relatively ordinary thinly sliced rounds of pepperoni which are salty and tender with just a bit of spiciness. The sausage, meanwhile, is pork-forward with less seasoning than some. In fact, I found myself missing the pleasant kick of fennel so often associated with the Italian topping.

What was absolutely not missing was the cheese, which was applied in plentiful amounts, giving the pie a nice pull as pieces were served from the pan.

Verdict

This is no Chicago-style imposter. But you'll like it best if you prefer a mildly flavored pizza with a crust that's more yeasty than buttery, light on the salt and super crisp on the edges.

Pizano's Pizza & Pasta is open Tuesday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

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