This past April, I ventured to Chicago. My mission? Sightsee all the things and eat my way through Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series. Last post we went in search of McAnally’s Pub. Today’s post I cover Toot Toot and the ‘Za Brigade’s favorite thing in the world: Pizza! Guess what, Dresden Files fans? There are, in fact, more kinds of Chicago-style pizza than the deep-dish tomato and cheese casserole of tourist renown.
Today’s post, I will go over the ones I found about, the ones I’ve tried, and what Dresden-related sights you’ll find along the way. Finally, I will also share a new Dresden Files-inspired recipe: The ‘Za Lord Thin-Crust Supreme.
Ready to go on the grand tour of Chicago’s pizza? Read on! I will warn you that this is probably one of the longest posts I’ve ever written.
- Click here to skip to Deep Dish Pizza.
- Click here to skip to Pan Pizza.
- Click here to skip to Pot Pie Pizza.
- Click here to skip to Bakery Pizza.
- Click here to skip to Tavern-Style Pizza.
If you’ve already read this through and just want to get cooking, you can find the printable recipe card through supporting my Patreon.
Or click here to skip to the recipe for The ‘Za Lord Thin-Crust Supreme at the bottom of this post.
Deep Dish Pizza
Yes, the tourists eat it. My friend, if you are reading this with any intention of going to Chicago, you are indeed a tourist. Let’s start with the ‘za you’ve heard of and take a bite of this tomato sauce-laden wonder that is the deep dish pizza.
For the uninitiated, the Chicago deep dish is a pizza constructed from a tall, corn oil-based crust, lined with slices of mozzarella, and topped with crushed tomato. It gets its name from its depth, resembling a pie more than a flatbread.
Local Pick: Lou Malnati’s
I admit I never got the chance to try Lou Malnati’s before leaving Chicago. It’s the favorite of every local I spoke to though, for both deep-dish and thin-crust pizza. They don’t have too many dine-in locations, and we barely had time to do take-out.
Everything, it’s a chain that’s near most metro rail stations. Need a night to Netflix and chill during your vacation? Pick up either a deep dish or thin crust from Lou Malnati’s on your way back to your hotel or Airbnb.
Pizzeria Uno claims to have invented the deep dish pizza. Documented evidence does not support this claim, but this tourist favorite is still worth checking out for its family-run charm. Another reason to check it out? It’s the only Chicago restaurant that will teach you how to make an authentic deep-dish pizza. And while Pizzaria Uno is now a chain in several major cities, why not have the bonus of learning at the original location?
For $45 per person (or less if you find a Groupon), you can sit down learn how to make the classic deep dish pizza from Lupe. Pictured below is Lupe. And she is passionate about her family, her pizza, and teaching people how to make her pizza.
The class starts early (8:45 am), but the only rush is braving early morning traffic. The beverage of your choice welcomes you on your arrival. Lupe and her children then will show you how to make their signature dough and salad dressing. All the while, they will regale with stories about their family and working for this historic establishment.
Then it’s up to you to make your own deep-dish pizza, pressing the fresh dough into the pan and layering with your favorite toppings. Lupe is incredibly knowledgeable, and its no surprise. Though she is technically retired, this class is her baby. She was more than happy to answer every question I had about this recipe’s versatility and portioning.
The stories were my favorite part of this class. But getting to go back into the kitchen and watch Lupe’s son make a deep-dish sausage pizza came in a close second. It gave me the chance to make this video for you folks!
And no experience like this is complete without souvenirs. The folks at Pizzeria Uno, of course, give you a booklet with recipes for their pizza crust, pizza, and salad dressing. But if you have a little room in your suitcase, you can buy a used, pre-seasoned deep dish pizza pan at an incredibly reasonable price.
Are you interested in trying my experience for yourself? Go sign up on their website!
Just a block or two from Pizzeria Uno, you can find the Chicago Marriott Downtown. This hotel is the site of the art gala where Johnny Marcone bought the Shroud of Turin in Butcher’s Death Masks. They have a nice lobby if you want to settle down for a cup of coffee, but there’s not much else to see unless you are attending a conference there. There is a lot of shopping and restaurants in the area for commuters and tourists, and beautiful architecture overlooking the canals.
Within walking distance, you can also find the Hotel Sax (now the Hotel Chicago) where Binder stays in Butcher’s Turn Coat. Across the canal, you can find the Carbon & Carbide Building, where Harry met with Nicodemus in Skin Game. And from there you can also visit Millenium Park and the Chicago Theatre. If you’re feeling up for an extra tour, book one of the Chicago Pedway — the underground tunnels that were the inspiration for Dresden’s Under-Chicago.
So now that we’ve covered the standard deep dish, we’re next going to cover one of the pizzas often mistaken for the deep dish, the Chicago Pan Pizza. What’s the difference? Small changes for gargantuan returns, my friend.
The pan pizza, while using a similar crust recipe to the deep dish, is parbaked and frozen, then surrounded by a glorious ring of cheese between the crust and the pan before full baking. You can find these pizzas at two chains in Chicago: Connie’s and Pequods. We stopped by Pequods.
This Clybourne Avenue establishment has “dive bar” plastered all over its interior and exterior. From its brick walls surrounding its exposed ventilation system to the displayed Pequods t-shirts dimly illuminated by neon tube light logos, this place eschews frills in the name of beer and pizza. So pull up a chair, order a pizza and a pitcher of beer, and pull out a book or a card game.
That’s right, like all deep dish-style pizza in this town, expect to wait AT LEAST 30 minutes for your food to arrive. Pequods is worth it, though. Observe its majesty!
The sauce is minimal, but it permeates throughout this pie, punctuated by chunks of Italian sausage and other toppings that have sunk underneath a curtain of melted mozzarella. The underlying crust, while solid, is just the slightest bit underdone for ease of chewing.
The outer edge is the starring feature of this whale of a pizza, however. That border of shredded cheese caramelizes into the dough, morphing it into a dish that surpasses the classic deep dish in every way.
Cook Au Vin
Admittedly this excursion is more of a food nerd’s distraction than that of the Dresden Files’ fan. Cook Au Vin is a location that teaches french cooking classes off of North Elston Avenue. The classes are expensive but understandably so as they cover a three-course menu, french cheeses and bread, and instruction from a professional chef. That said, you can also find a Groupon like I did to make it more budget-friendly.
We learned to cook a Bavette-style menu consisting of a mushroom and bacon topped vol-au-vent, sous-vide flank steak flambeed with cognac and served with bearnaise sauce, and chocolate lava cake. It was the first time I ever flambeed something using the fire from the stovetop. It scared the living daylights out of me. Dresden, I am not.
I also want to bring up the fact that the venue is BYOB, so do bring one or two bottles of wine to share. Don’t, however, drink most of the wine yourself and end up sacrificing the majority of your delicious meal to the porcelain god in the wee hours of the morning. This Goofus and Gallant moment is brought to you by The Gluttonous Geek.
Say that you need a bit of a pick-me-up after scarfing down a pan pizza? Or you need some caffeinated beverage to awaken from you from your poor decisions the night before? Werewolf Coffee, also on North Elston Avenue, is the perfect stop for a Dresden Files fan wanting a little magic with their latte.
I can see this place as Molly Carpenter’s breakfast haven –complete with ham and cheese croissants and bacon scones. Between its industrial-chic paneled walls, faux food-truck barista station, smooth beats, and Instagram-fodder lattes, Werewolf Coffee is a Summer and Winter Lady paradise. How so? Bring on the razzle-dazzle with a shimmery Charcoal Latte or rose petal-adorned Sweet Beet Latte.
A charcoal latte is the perfect fairy offering to soothe your wine-induced hangover. Milk frothy with honey and lavender sweetens the charcoal that will then purify your insides with glittery goodness.
To drink a Sweet Beet latte, you must breathe through your nose while taking a sip. Doing this allows the scent of roses to mingle with the delicate honey and beet flavors on your tongue. Drinking from this cup is a warm, comforting blessing on a frigid morning. You can honestly spend all day sniffing this cup.
St. Mary’s of Angels
The faces of angels adorn wall after wall in the forms of statues, stained glass, and both hand-painted and stenciled iconography. It is silent here, save for the hum of traffic, schoolchildren next-door, and the quiet rush of wind whispering and moaning above the church’s rooftops.
I stopped here on the way to a cooking class and scribbled this in a notebook while daylight still basked through the upper windows into the unlit sanctuary:
“It’s hard to imagine a character as Butcher’s Father Forthill in charge of such a grand building. Such intricacies abundant, but the grandiosity seems not just a temple of one’s faith, but a testament to its community.”
Saint Mary’s holds a history of bringing together the local Polish then Spanish-speaking families. It declined in the 70s and closed for demolition in 1988. Local donations ensured its complete restoration in the 90s, though.
Now this church stands because of a love for its place in a community’s history. And as I sat there in an empty hall, it felt as if the sounds of the surrounding city whispered a continual prayer to echo during the times when human voices cannot.
Pot Pie Pizza
We’ve covered pizza baked in a dish. Now it’s time to move on to pizza baked over a dish. My friends, I am referring to the Pot Pie Pizza from Chicago Pizza & Oven Grinder Company.
Chicago Pizza & Oven Grinder Company
A friend of mine suggested this place, and I am in his debt for doing so. You want to get here early in the evening because they are only open after 4 pm on weekdays and 11:30 am on weekends. It’s also always packed to the brim, and for good reason. This restaurant is the only place in the city you can get their mind-melting invention, the Chicago Pot Pie Pizza.
Vintage jazz recordings set the mood in this warm neighborhood establishment with impeccable, friendly service. Dimpled glass lanterns dimly illuminate the plethora of built-in booths decorated with red carnations and stocked with a shelf of herbs and seasonings.
The room itself smells of roasted tomatoes and freshly baked bread as I watch a bowl of pizza arrive upside-down at the booth across from me. The waiter ceremoniously overturns the bread-bowl onto the plate. He carefully slips out the ceramic bowl within using a metal spoon so that its bottom layer of melted mozzarella slides atop its filling with ease.
Just try to imagine that. Or you know, you can watch the video of when my pizza arrived.
Packed into that soft Italian bread crust is a rich and flavorful stew of crushed San Marzano tomatoes, bell peppers, whole button mushrooms, and Italian sausage crumbles. The melted cheese wraps each bite like the gratin on a pot of French Onion Soup. When you buy this pizza, you are not eating a meal. You are savoring a singular, precious moment in time.
And the time you will need between waiting for a table, waiting for your food, and supping on this half-pound wonder. Plan accordingly for this cash-only establishment, bring a book, and experience just how the best things come to those with the patience to wait.
Lincoln Park Zoo & Lincoln Park Conservatory
Jim Butcher features this free-to-attend city zoo in the graphic novel, Welcome to the Jungle. While I didn’t see any Hecatean hags, I did see some adorable meerkats.
I happened to visit during a sudden cold snap, so most of the animals were indoors. That said, I appreciate the zoo’s conservation efforts in giving the animals a comfortable environment in such a small space.
At the north corner of the zoo, you will also find the Lincoln Park Conservatory. This giant, Victorian-style greenhouse is like a pocket dimension of summer, a sanctuary filled with orchids and prehistoric ferns. You will feel like you stepped into a portal to the Never Never between the oxygen-rich air perfumed with tropical vegetation and the sound of musical bowls floating and clinking in the flowing waterways.
Chicago History Museum
From the zoo, you can walk for fifteen minutes along a scenic boardwalk overlooking Lake Michigan and the city skyline to the Chicago History Museum. Perhaps one of the less-hyped museums in the city, it is undoubtedly worth the visit for a Dresden Tabletop RPG GM in need of some in-depth city lore to incorporate into his or her campaign.
Covering the city’s history from even before its settlement, this museum is a love letter to the people of Chicago. Like the Dresden Files’, this city’s story is one of several communities learning to live and work with each other. This fact is evident as the exhibits showcase the contributions to music, craftsmanship, science, social reform, and industry that make up the threads of Chicago’s cultural fabric.
Next up on our tour of ‘za brigade baked goods is a pizza that’s perfect for the days you have a million things to see. Made from bread dough rolled into rectangle pans, this pizza is ready cold (or heated up) in Italian bakery cases around the city. My research turned up Impallaria Bakery, D’Amato’s, and Ferrara Bakery as some of the places that serve this dish. I only had the chance to check out D’Amato’s
Family-owned since 1961, this little bakery on Grand Ave thrives with business every day of the week. Once inside, your senses will float on the scent of coal fire-baked bread and cannolis, and freshly-brewed espresso. Though this place is a cash-only establishment, the prices are a steal. You will find yourself loading up on pizza and pastries to last throughout the day.
The pizza comes in slices the size of a paperback novel with a crust crispy around the edges, solid but not burnt on the bottom, and slightly melty on top with a light layer of cheese and tomato. Our slice of supreme was fluffy and delicious – topped with crunchy but not overpowering pepper and onion, and canned mushrooms. I am seriously salivating as I type this.
We also couldn’t help but pick up a loaf of focaccia as it looked far too tempting sitting next to the sheets of pizza. It was light, pillowy, and topped with perfectly roasted whole Roma tomatoes. I have not had better focaccia since.
A scenic walk to Grand station that will put you back on the Blue Line towards the loop. Grab a slice to go before heading downtown for your big sightseeing days.
Finally, the last pizza type I’m covering in this guide (and featuring in today’s recipe) is the most popular among locals. The Tavern-Style (or thin-crust) pizza is a Chicago south-side invention designed to keep patrons drinking. With a hand-rolled or pressed dough coated with melted butter, this crust resembles a warm saltine cracker in texture. Cut into squares and loaded down with toppings, this is the dish to satiate but not fill you before your next beer.
As I said in my last Dresden Dining guide, you most definitely want room for your next beer in Chicago. And I did manage to find a proper Tavern-style pie place only a few blocks away from some other Dresden sites.
Flo & Santos
As relatively short walk from The Field Museum and Chicago Aquarium is a place not only known for their tavern-style pizza but also their Polish cuisine. Beer, pizza, sausage, and pierogis make Flo & Santos a popular neighborhood spot, whether hosting the after-work drinking crew, or the marching band-led collegiate pep rally.
Did that sound oddly specific? Yes, that did happen.
Regardless I would probably haunt the place on the regular with their $4 house draft Mondays and $10 lunch specials. And the pizza? OMG, the pizza. We ordered a 12-inch pie with smoked kielbasa. It was fantastic.
The crust was sturdy but not chewy, melding with each bite of gooey cheese and sausage with a slight, cracker-like crunch. Other combos include “Flo’s Polish” (kielbasa, sauerkraut, smoked bacon) and “Marco’s Italian Beef” (shaved beef, giardiniera, caramelized onion, fire-roasted tomatoes). Curious we were, but we had at least one other meal to eat that day. Suffice to say, a single topping pizza from Flo’s is a delectable afternoon snack.
The Field Museum and the Chicago Aquarium are a few blocks north of this pizzeria. I’m going to hold off describing them until my next post. You will see why. In the meantime, check out this really cool Werewolf statue I found a block away.
An Offering to the ‘Za Brigade
After my adventures in the land of a million ‘za’s, I wanted to make a significantly different dish than my Dresden-inspired Deep-Dish Pizza from a few years ago. So I thought, why not make something more likely delivered en masse to Toot-Toot and the ‘Za Brigade on short notice? I felt a Chicago thin-crust pie fits the bill.
I started with my thyme-infused crust recipe and then topped it with Italian sausage and mushrooms for a Sicilian flavor, red onion and kielbasa for the Polish influence, and then a faerie offering of herbed milky ricotta and honey.
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All Hail the ‘Za Lord!
The 'Za Lord Thin-Crust Supreme
Equipment: Oven, microwave or precise teakettle, mixing bowl, small dishes for toppings, spatula, wire whisk, aluminum foil, 14″ pizza pan, and pastry brush.
- 3/4 cup water
- 1 1/2 teaspoon yeast
- 3/4 teaspoon honey
- 1/4 cup and 2 teaspoons corn oil
- 2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- garlic powder
- kosher salt
- 1/4 cup crushed canned tomatoes
- 1/4 lb Italian sausage, cooked and crumbled
- 1/2 large red onion, sliced
- 2 large button mushrooms, sliced
- 1/2 cup sliced kielbasa
- 1/2 cup ricotta cheese
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1/2 tablespoon Italian herbs
- 8 oz. shredded mozzarella cheese
- Activate the yeast by warming water to no higher than 109° F (microwaving it 5 seconds should do it). Pour it a mixing bowl with the honey and salt. Whisk to dissolve, then stir in yeast, corn oil, and a little flour.
- Gradually mix in the rest of the flour and thyme leaves with a spatula or your hands. Knead for up to 2-3 minutes and stop. Spray the dough with some cooking spray and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise in a warm place for two hours.
- Prepare your toppings while waiting for the dough to rise. Cook and crumble the Italian sausage. Mix the ricotta, honey, herbs, and salt together in a dish to refrigerate. Slice the vegetables and kielbasa.
- Preheat your oven to 400°F. Line the pizza pan (if it has holes) with aluminum foil and brush on a coat of melted butter. Turn the dough out onto the center of the pan. Spin the pan on the counter while pressing on the dough until it evenly covers the surface of the pan. Coat the crust with more melted butter and scatter garlic powder and kosher salt over the top of it.
- Spread crushed tomato on the crust with a spatula or spoon so that it leaves a 1/2″ border around the edge. Top with the mozzarella and dollops of the ricotta. Then arrange as much of the meat and vegetables on the pie as desired.
- Bake the pie in the oven for 30-35 minutes until the crust turns golden brown. Allow it to cool 5 minutes before slicing and serving.