Over the next two weeks, I'm taking a look at a pair of relatively new pizza joints, both offering something a little out of the ordinary. We begin in Wilmette, where a deep pan is the specialty.
Nothing quite like a pizza discussion to get people riled up in Chicago. If you love Burt's and Pequod's, you're definitely going to love Lefty's. It's an off-shoot of sorts, created in that tradition of Sicilian-style dough, but Chicago deep pan-style, with a caramelized cheese perimeter.
EXTRA COURSE: Thin-crust pizza at Lefty's
Not something you're likely to find at most pizza joints in the region, but this recipe - and technique - dates back to the 1970s.
The finished pies, with their light brown undercarriages and fennel-jammed chunks of sausage, certainly look familiar to anyone who grew up in the Northern suburbs. That's because this deep pan - currently the featured item at Lefty's Pizza Kitchen in downtown Wilmette - has roots in Morton Grove, since the owner here used to be involved with Burt's 2.0.
"After the rehab and grand opening I left, sold my stake back, came here, opened up and brought some of the recipe with me, I had to change it a little bit," said John Munao, the owner of Lefty's.
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They still add oil to the dough and let it proof overnight, then shape it into balls, placed in a well-oiled deep pan to proof again for a few hours at ambient temperature. The Sicilian-like dough is pressed out into the pan, spread evenly; then thin slices of whole milk mozzarella are layered on top, some of them touching the interior wall - more on that in a second.
Once the mozzarella barrier is installed, a thick, reduced tomato sauce is ladled over the top, spread thin and even. Then toppings of your choice: pepperoni if you're from elsewhere, sausage if you're a Chicagoan. The legendary "pinch-and-press" method in effect here. Finally, a healthy shake of dried oregano, followed by a generous sprinkle of parmesan - a bit of saltiness to balance that rich mozzarella. Into the oven for about 30 minutes.
"It's not your typical deep dish. Burt did not call it a deep dish. Burt called it a pan pizza. It's a breadier, Sicilian style," Munao said.
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Pizzas are cut with a knife the size of a sword, and you can see immediately, there's a difference inside the crust. They also make thin crust pies here, but they're started in the deep pans first, then removed to finish on the stone deck. Munao said thin remains the most popular, until customers realize they're actually known for deep pan.
"Once they figure out the style, then they start to order the pan. But both have been very popular," he said.
Lefty's Pizza Shop
1156 Central Ave., Wilmette