Sunday, August 2, 2009

Lou Malnati's, Chicago IL

Having visited Art of Pizza when my family was too full to enjoy it, we opted for another go around with the windy city’s pizza after spending a few hours in Millennium Park and wandering about Michigan Avenue. Parking all the way back at the park and hiking the three quarters of a mile was not my mother’s idea of fun given the city’s street/sidewalk quality, but the weather was beautiful and a walk was in order after the gluttony of previous days. While Chicago foodies will argue back and forth until the end of time about whether Uno’s founder Ike Sewell or employee Rudy Malnati (whose sons own both Lou Malnati’s and Pizano’s) originally invented the deep-dish, all I wanted was an excellent pie. As my sister had been to Uno and we’d all tried Giordano’s in the past, the choice was Lou Malnati’s or Gino’s East – we opted for Lou’s.

Arriving just after 1:00pm the patio was open but we opted to eat indoors at the River North location on Wells Street. Greeted promptly by a friendly young waitress who I honestly couldn’t believe was old enough to serve a beer, our waters were filled quickly and my sister opted for a local Goose Island 312 while my aunt and mother chose their standard iced tea. Orders placed we sat and waited while examining the kitschy bar interior and laughing as the crowd burst into boos while watching the Yankees put up a few runs on the White Sox.

Waiting for about 10 minutes we were brought our first item, Lou's Bruschetta with fresh chopped tomato and basil tossed with olive oil and served with homemade garlic toast. Excellent and crisp Italian toast with a mild although notably clean tasting olive oil and subtle use of garlic was matched well by the impressively fresh tomatoes and aromatic basil. While it wasn’t listed, I detected a bit of rosemary in the dish that added additional complexity. At less than $5 the portion was generous and the quality excellent.

Finishing our bruschetta it was another 20 minutes before the young lady arrived to tell us our pizza would be out soon. Interestingly, my mother began sorting plates from the center of the table at this time and noted one to be quite dirty. Showing this to the server the server stated “hmm, well, all our plates are in the washer now but I’ll see if I can find one.” With nearly twenty Lou’s operating in Illinois, I’d like to think their flagship would have a bit more tableware – or that someone in the place could hand wash a dish.

Arriving in about 10 minutes, along with a fresh plate, was our main event – a medium Lou with Buttercrust, Fresh spinach, mushrooms and sliced tomatoes covered with a blend of mozzarella, romano and cheddar cheese. Served in prototypical deep-dish glory the pie came steaming hot with cheese still bubbling and the thick buttery crust layered all the way to the top of the pan. An intoxicating aroma I had to bear in mind the temperature to make sure I didn’t burn my mouth digging in. Slicing the pizza with an enormous pizza cutter we were each plated a hefty slice and waters and teas were refilled.

Not quite as traditional as the standard sausage/cheese variety of deep dish, this glorious pile of cheese and veggies topped with a hearty tomato sauce was quite excellent with a great juxtaposition of buttery, creamy, savory, sweet, and crunchy. While the sauce wasn’t quite as impressive as Art’s, the use of multiple cheeses added a lot of nuance to the dish and really set it apart from “other” Chicago Pizzas – the whole tomatoes and garlicky mushrooms were also excellent and I particularly loved the butter crust as it was crisp on bite but gave way to the teeth and nearly melted in the mouth. While the menu stated a “medium” would be enough for 3, the heft of this pie made that a challenge that took some time to complete – with myself doing most of the legwork.

When the meal ended we were asked if we’d like dessert – and while I still do regret not experiencing the deep dish chocolate chip cookie, I had dinner plans with an old friend at North Pond later in the evening and didn’t want to chance it. All told really enjoyed Lou’s and the price can’t be beat – were it not for the beverages we’d have likely been out of there under $25 all inclusive. While I must say I liked Art’s Pizza better, the service and style at Malnati’s was excellent and it’d be a great place to catch a game with friends. A long walk back to Millennium Park interrupted by more shopping was a great way to close out the trip with my family and I’m glad we had a chance to try Lou’s. Gino’s East or Uno is next.

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