Monday, June 22, 2009

From the Archives: Delisi's Pizzeria

On Tuesday evening, PCOC convened for its 29th meeting at Delisi's Pizzeria at 5806 N. Western on Chicago's far north side. Charter member Maggie Matthews chose Delisi's after hearing from her many contacts in the St. Hilary's area that Delisi's had some serious pizza game. Without vouching for the honesty or character of Maggie's local sources, I am happy to report that they sure know pizza because, in this member's opinion, Delisi's does put out some fine pies. Before getting to the nitty gritty on Delisi's pizza, a bit of a description on the place is needed to get the real feel of this great northside spot.

Delisi's is located on a strip of Western Ave between Bryn Mawr and Peterson that is dominated on the east side of the street by the never-ending wall of the massive Rosehill Cemetery. On the west side of the street, where Delisi's is located, there isn't much going on with the exception of a couple car dealers slinging beat-up rides and an occasional fast food spot serving out burgers, beefs (and even ghetto fries, but that is another story). It doesn't seem like there is much foot traffic on this stretch of Western which certainly must play a part in making Delisi's a place that seems like it is almost exclusively frequented by locals.

As you approach Delisi's, the first hint that you get that it is a pretty laid-back place is when you notice that the front door is really just a screen door: a brown screen door that looks like it could be the back door to any house or apartment in the city that, at this time of year, instead of opening out to a backyard or back stoop, opens right out onto the open air of Western Ave. Once through the screen door, if you've never been there before, you might think that you are in the wrong place as the inside of Delisi's doesn't look like a pizzeria, but really just looks like a bar with a few tables scattered around. And really, that is exactly what Delisi's is: a small neighborhood bar that serves excellent pizza (and judging from the menu, but not the tables of other patrons, sandwiches and dinners too). Pizzas are served to drinkers and diners at tables all within an easy yell of the bartender.

Speaking of the bartender, on Tuesday night, PCOC was blessed to enjoy the service and company of one of Chicago's finest bartenders. Marilyn, a longtime bartender at Delisi's, is, in my opinion, the driving force behind what makes Delisi's so laid-back and interesting. Within seconds of my early arrival with PCOC members Bryan Brisch, Maggie and Matthew Couri, Marilyn was deep into conversation with us about her story, our stories, Delisi's, pizza, beer, and even the "hurricane in her head." All the while, Marilyn was keeping track of a couple tables and a small group at the end of the bar, stocking beer faster than she likely has ever done before (as Brisch was guzzling BLs on a breakneck pace from the minute he sat down), and later, even banging on TV that was on the fritz, showing all of us just how you might develop a head hurricane like hers.

Despite all of what was happening around her, Marilyn still had the presence of mind to closely advise us on our pizza order. Even though we told her that we are partial to thin crust pizza, she insisted that we try a pan pizza. And when we told her we like out thin crust pizzas well done, she knew exactly what we were talking about and told the guys in the kitchen to make them crispy. But Marilyn's abilities were not limited to keeping cold beer in our hands (as she said, "F*ck it, how about another bucket"), or giving insider info on Delisi's pizza, she also is Delisi's DJ, and a good one at that. While Marilyn was certainly a big part of PCOC Meeting #29, the real star of the night in my book was Delisi's pizza.

For our group of nine, we ordered three large thin crust pizzas and one large pan pizza. Between the three thin crust pizzas, I was able to try some plain sausage, some spinach and tomato slices and some sausage and pepperoni, and I thought all three were excellent. What makes Delisi's thin crust pizza so damn good is its combination of a crispy, cracker-thin crust, good amounts of sauce, and a healthy amount of fresh, flavorful toppings. It is hard to say what really makes Delisi's thin crust pizza stand out for me, but it has something to do with the miracle of how the thin, crispy crust is able to support a healthy serving of sauce, tasty cheese and a substantial amounts of toppings without buckling, or being overlooked as an essential (if not the essential) part of the pizza. Whether its religion, science or pizza artistry that allows Delisi's to pull it off, count me as a fervent believer. The only thing I could think of that might improve the thin crust pizza at Delisi’s is to add a bit more tang to the sauce, but I am not sure that is even worth messing with the fine thing that Delisi’s has going.

As for the pan pizza, I thought it was pretty good too. As Marilyn explained to us, Delisi's pan pizza is well known in the area, and actually has a connection back to Ike Sewell, the legendary inventor of Chicago-style pan pizza and original owner of Uno's. It turns out that one of Delisi's first pizza cooks learned his trade while working at Uno's, and judging from the pan pizza that we had, he learned it pretty well. The crust was flaky and had a good buttery taste. The tomato sauce was fresh and tangy tasting, and the sausage, like that on the thin crust pizzas, had great flavor. While it doesn't reach the level of an Uno's of Malnati's pan pizza in my book, I thought it was not too far off. Some PCOC members thought that the pan was a bit too doughy, and I might have to agree. This may be what separates Delisi's from Malnati's and Uno's.

Overall, I was mightily impressed with Delisi's thin crust pizza, thought that the pan was pretty good, and, when considered together, I think Delisi's pizzas (and bar scene) make it a legitimate contender for one of Chicago’s finest pizza spots.

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