Saturday, July 11, 2009

New Review: Lou Malnatis Pizzeria Lincolnwood

The Joint: Lou Malnati's Pizzeria, Lincolnwood

The Dish: There may not be a more well-known or loved pizza franchise in Chicago than Lou Malnati's. For decades, Lou's has been turning out famous deep dish pies, spreading Chicago style deep dish devotion across the city and suburbs with its 30 locations. Lou's has even set its sights on converting the rest of the nation to its deep dish religion with its shipping service that sends Lou's frozen deep dish pies on dry ice to pizza freaks nationwide.

Lou's traces its deep dish wizardry back to the original Chicago deep dish emporium, Pizzeria Uno. After cooking up pies at Uno's for thirty years, in 1971 Lou Malnati decided it was time he started up his own joint and opened Lou Malnati's Pizzeria in Lincolnwood, just north and west of the city limits on Lincoln Avenue.

I've been visiting Lou's original location in Lincolnwood for more than 20 years, and while I can happily report that the pizza at the original Lou's is still top-notch, the atmosphere has changed substantially. My memories of Lou's in Lincolnwood are of a dark, smoky, wood-panelled pizza joint. These days, Lou's in Lincolnwood seems more like just another franchise rather than an authentic original. But this criticism is surely more about me and my memories and one that should not deter anyone from visiting Lou's in Lincolnwood for one of it's incredible deep dish pies.

Lou's deep dish pies are cooked in 2 to 3-inch deep pans blackened from hundreds of trips through Lou's ovens and can take as long as 45 minutes to get to your table after ordering. Due to the long wait time, many call ahead with to order their deep dish pies to cut down the wait time at the restaurant. (While the call-in order is a great idea for the time-conscious, it's also great for a pizza freak like me, as I can tell you from experience, a 45-minute wait on an empty stomach while Lou's steaming deep dish pizzas are being delivered to surrounding tables that seemingly arrived after you absolutely inspire murderous thoughts, or worse.)

Lou's deep dish pizzas start with the three traditional characteristics of Chicago style deep dish pies: a thick, pastry-like crust topped with plenty of gooey cheese and an incredibly fresh, chunky, slightly sweet tomato sauce. Lou's encourages patrons to add any number of ingredients to this mix, but for my money (and probably most other non-veggies) the best topping to add to the basic pie is chunks of Lou's savory, and very garlicky, italian sausage. This combination of fresh, homemade ingredients adds up to one of the finest examples of world famous Chicago style deep dish pizza along with Pizzerias Uno and Due, Pequod's, and a couple other deep dish joints.

While Lou's is famous for its deep dish pizza, it also serves pretty damn good thin crust pies too. Lou's thin crust pies have a thin version of the same pastry-style crust in Lou's deep dish pies and can be loaded with same tasty toppings. Besides the difference in crust thickness, Lou's thin pies lack the excellent chunky tomato sauce that is such an important part of Lou's deep dish pizza. Bottom line: if deep dish isn't your style, or you're looking to avoid the food coma that comes gratis with Lou's deep dish pies, their thin pizza is a pretty decent alternative.

Over the years, like many others, I've often struggled to determine what makes Lou's deep dish pizza so great. Is it the tasty, thick crust? Or the amazing sausage layered across the pie? Or maybe the chunky tomato sauce? I've probably changed my mind on what the answer to this question is dozens of times since my first Lou Malnati's experience. To this day, I'm still not sure what the secret is behind this mystery. But this isn't a bad thing. It simply gives me a great excuse to head out to Lou's for another pie in the near future.

Chicago Pizza Project rating: 3.5 out of 4

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