Over the past 20 years, pizza in Chicago has taken on a reputation of being all about a deep dish pie, with slices as heavy as lasagna. Piled with cheese and overloaded with cardiac stopping toppings.
Well, it is true that there are several good restaurants and varieties that fit that description. But I don't really see that as being real Chicago Pizza.
Those places are usually destination restaurants. You go to Ginos East. You go to Lou Malnati's. You go to Giordanos. They are fun, event restaurants where the server always delivers your pizza to the table with flexed forearms, full sized plates, and serves up the first piece to everybody. But that's not the everyday pizza that you grab to take home to the game.
No, Chicago Pizza is much different from that. The great thing about Chicago is that amazing pizza is located as far as the corner bar. That's usually where you grab the pizza to take home. (It helps that you can have a beer or two while you wait.)
True Chicago Pizza, in my opinion, is that thin, cracker-style crust, topped generously with items that create nice grease puddles on top. And, it is always cut in squares. Always.
I am reminded of this because today's taste test visits Picasso's Pizza, which has the closest Chicago Style Pizza in Madison. It's not even the cracker thin crust and grease puddles that make it so (although those help). No, it's the unmistakable aroma and hint of oregano in every bite. It gives it a feel and a flavor that takes me back to my buddy John Hehl's house, where we'd walk to the corner bar and pick up the pizza before going back to watch the Bears play.
But we're not ranking pizza based on warm nostalgia, we're ranking it based on taste.
Overall Impression: It's a nice neighborhood restaurant, converted over several years from being a takeout Chicago hot dog joint into a restaurant that puts out good food. The service here is, well, serviceable. They were busy with customers, but didn't acknowledge me until it was my turn. I get it, but there's a recognition and eye contact missing - elements of the best customer service places around. But, once they do make contact, they are generally friendly. I was helped by Chadwick, who I know is the owner of the place. In general, it's an average impression for the storefront restaurant. Nothing bad, nothing great. Score: 3 out of 5
Crust: Stands up for the type of pizza it is. It's cracker-thin throughout. It crisps apart on the edges when bit and the center is softer and chewy. Even so, it hold up to the toppings, which were generous but not overboard. Not a flimsy crust, despite its thin nature (see it's cross section in comparison to the cardboard it is sitting on). Score: 8 out of 10
Cheese: The cheese has a smooth quality with a buttery flavor. It's very well spread throughout the pizza - check out how it hits the edges! Score: 4 out of 5
Sauce: Spread thin, but flavorful throughout. Hints of garlic with a steady oregano seasoning to the tomato sauce. Really great for this type of pizza. Score: 5 out of 5
Pepperoni: Modest in quantity, but fine in that respect. The slices have just the right flavor, I think. If you eat one on its own, it has a spicy snap. But that spiciness nicely blends into the pizza so that it doesn't dominate as a flavor. It works with the other ingredients quite well. Score: 4 out of 5
Price/Value: No slices here, so I had to order a pie. Not that I'm complaining. So, for a quick lunch it might be on the costly side, but there is a chance of leftovers! Ah, who am I kidding? The thinness of the crust keeps it from being too filling. I paid $13.19 for a 14" pizza. If this wasn't so good, I'd give it a lower score. Score: 3 out of 5
Overall Score: 27 out of 35. We have a new leader in the clubhouse!
Scorecard so far:
1. Picasso's = 27 points
2. Ian's on State = 26 points
3. (tie) Falbo Brothers = 25 points
(tie) La Fortuna = 25 points
4. Pizza Pit Extreme = 21 points
5. Costco = 19 points
6. Pizza di Roma = 17 points
7. Rocky Rococo = 14 points