Thursday, March 15, 2012

Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind of Chicago Pizza

Having seen positive reviews about the crunchy caramelized halo of cheese that rings the pan pizza served by Pequod's Pizza on N. Clybourn in the Lincoln Park neighborhood I was intent on giving it a try. Hungry and parched after a long day at the Museum of Science & Industry, I polished off an iced tea before my substantial salad arrived.

The Pequod Salad is a mound of romaine lettuce, with torn pieces of sliced cheese, pepperoni slices, a few peperoncini, black olives, strips of green pepper, sliced mushrooms, grated carrots, thick tomato slices, and rings of red onion. With a choice of dressings I ordered the homemade Italian. The salad is a meal in itself and I succumbed to packing half the bowl to go.

Most pizzerias in Chicago serve up a crunchy thin-crust Tavern-style, not unlike the pizza served at Bordenaro's on the south-side of Des Moines. What is commonly referred to as Chicago-style is either 1) deep-dish, the thick crust style baked in deep circular pans, with high crusty edges and piled on with inordinate amounts of cheese, then optional toppings, followed by a ladle of chunky tomato sauce; or 2) stuffed crust, a variant of deep-dish where the cheese and toppings are capped under a thin layer of dough and finished with the sauce atop.

Peqoud's offers thin-crust as well as a fourth style of pizza somewhat common in the Chicago area – pan pizza – but not as well known apart from the abysmal offerings of a few national pizza chains.

The pan pizza at Pequod's is very similar to a pizza I enjoyed last December in Las Vegas. Whereas Northside Nathan's was a traditional Detroit-style – a thick bready crust baked on a well-oiled sheet pan to achieve a crispy bottom – Pequod's utilizes well-seasoned cast iron pans modeled after the steel pans used for the aforementioned Chicago deep-dish varieties. Lacking the raised edge of crust so identifiable with traditional Chicago deep-dish and stuffed crust, the cheese deeply browns against the sides of the cast iron pans.

This pan pizza with a thick, focaccia-like crust sporting a fried crunchy bottom, and a chewy, burnt cheesy ring on the sides is nothing short of awesome. The pepperoni on top benefits from the long bake with some crispiness on the edges.

Enjoyed at the table – fresh from the oven and given a few minutes to cool – Pequod's pan pizza is at its most optimal. Leftovers wrapped in tinfoil and packed into a Styrofoam container not so much. Eaten cold – later in the evening – the crust loses all its crunchy appeal and the breadiness becomes a liability. Only the chewy ring of burnt cheese keeps its toothy appeal.

I highly recommend a visit to Pequod's. Just resist the urge to order more than what you can consume for your meal. Either go with a big appetite for small ten inch, or better yet bring a dining companion.

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