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The Origins of Chicago Deep Dish Pizza

Apr 15th, 2020

Deep dish pizza is, arguably, one of the tastiest things Chicago is known for. It’s gooey filling and deep, crispy crust have spread from being a local treat to a worldwide phenomenon.

Deep dish pizza, in a nutshell, will always be a Chicago thing. And Chicago’s thing, hopefully, will always be deep dish pizza. 

But how did this mega-pizza come about, and why is Chicago it’s epicenter?

Well, lucky for you in our luxury Chicago apartments, we’re here to tell you how your city became the home of the ooey gooey deep dish pizza!

Origins of pizza

We can’t delve into the history of deep dish pizza without starting at the very beginning.

The first recorded mentions of pizza-type food were in the ancient Mediterranean in the late first century, where ancient Egyptians, Phoenicians, Romans and Greeks ate flatbread with various toppings. As time went on, flatbread became a popular food for the working-class, as it was inexpensive and easy to make. 

The poorer working class around Naples, Italy were the ones to bring ‘modern’ pizza into existence. Because they worked all day around the docks, food options were usually limited to street food, which was easy to make and could be eaten on-the-go. They would garnish their flatbreads with inexpensive toppings such as cheese, garlic and anchovies.

By the 16th century, flatbread with toppings was really starting to take off in Southern Italy. The flatbread was called pinsere in Italian and pinsa in Latin, both loosely translating to “flatbread” or “to pound,” referring to the flattened dough. This is where the modern day version of pizza began to take shape!

You might be wondering where the tomato appears in all of this. The quintessential pizza and pasta ingredient seems to be a hard staple in these foods now, but in reality, tomatoes weren’t introduced to Italian cuisine until the 18th and 19th centuries. The fruits (yes, tomatoes are fruits) were thought to be poisonous, so they were only grown for decoration since they arrived in Italy in the 1500s. 

What a surprise it must have been when the Italians realized that the funky-looking fruit they’d been avoiding for centuries was the perfect addition to their most popular dishes: pasta and, of course, pizza!

It was the working class who first began to use tomatoes in the 18th and 19th century, though whether it was out of curiosity or necessity, no one knows. Tomatoes began to appear on pizzas and other foods soon after that, and soon even the upper-class began to take notice of the culinary trend. 

The rest, as they say, is history!

Pizza in Chicago

Immigrants from Naples began arriving in the United States in the late 1800s and early 1900s as they looked for new jobs and new lives. Chicago was a popular destination for immigrants, and soon there was a large community of Italian immigrants in the city. 

These Italian arrivals, and their descendants, wanted to enjoy the food and traditions they were used to in their homeland. Families made them at home and in their communities, but there was nowhere for anyone to go to buy pizza for themselves.

That is, until two entrepreneurs decided to open their own pizzeria on the North Side of Chicago. Ike Seawell, a liquor distributor, and Richard Novaretti, known instead as Ric Riccardo, opened Chicago’s very first pizzeria in 1943: Pizzeria Uno on the corner of Wabash Avenue and Ohio Street.

And soon after, came Chicago’s favorite cheesy, saucy meal: the deep dish pizza.

Here’s where the history is a little unclear. No one is one-hundred percent sure who came up with the recipe for deep dish pizza. The Pizzeria Uno website credits Ike Seawell with the invention of the dish in an effort to create a hearty-yet-authentic meal. Historian Tim Samuelson believes that the restaurant’s manager and operator, Adolpho “Rudy” Malnati Sr., was the one to bring the iconic dish into existence. 

What makes a deep dish pizza a deep dish pizza?

If you’ve never seen or tasted a deep dish pizza, you can probably gather enough information about the dish just by the name. Rather than being baked on a flat pan or pizza stone, a deep dish pizza is baked in a pan more resembling a cake tin. The raised edges of the pan give the pizza more of a pie-like structure than a flatbread. 

There’s more to a deep dish pizza than just the height, though. 

The pizza pan is first greased with olive oil, which cooks the dough and gives the pizza a crunchier crust and stronger structure. Because the pizza is so dense and the fillings so copious, the dish needs to be cooked for a longer period of time to ensure the dough and fillings are cooked through. 

“Wouldn’t this make the cheese on top burn” you ask? Why, yes. Longer baking times cause cheese on top of the pizza to burn. This is how Chicago’s deep dish pizza got its second-most notable feature: inverted ingredients.

In a regular pizza, the dough is usually first covered with sauce, then toppings, then cheese. In a deep dish pizza, the order is reversed. A good amount of cheese, usually mozzarella, covers the bottom of the dough-lined pie dish. Toppings are added next, with common ingredients usually featuring Italian sausage and vegetables for an extra-hearty meal. Finally, a rich tomato sauce is poured over the pizza before the dish is popped into the oven.

If you’re in our River North apartments, good news! You’re just four blocks away from the deep dish capital of the world! And our South Loop apartments, aren't very far way either. Next time you’re peckish for some cheesy, gooey, saucy bliss, head over to Uno’s Pizzeria and see why their pizza recipe has become a global phenomenon!

If you’re looking to make your own Chicago deep dish pizza, here’s a great recipe that would make Ike Seawell himself proud!


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"Origins of Chicago's Deep Dish pizza Pinterest Graphic"

Featured photo courtesy Flickr/Marco Verch via CC 2.0 license

Author of Article

Colleen Ford is a South African who now lives in Spokane, Washington. She loves to travel, camp (in warm weather) and bake.

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