ABC7's Hungry Hound Steve Dolinsky took the question pretty seriously and embarked on a pizza quest unlike any other. He begins his four-part series Friday, with a look at some of the best thin crusts in the city.
Seventy-six pizzerias over the course of two months - my goal was to get to the bottom of it, once and for all. But as you know, Chicago has multiple styles of pizza, including thin, tavern-style, deep, Neapolitan and stuffed.
So in my first report, I'm staying in the city, sharing my tops in three categories: thin, tavern-style and Neapolitan.
Top picks for Neapolitan, tavern and thin-crust pizza in Chicago
Like a well-worn coffee shop, The Boiler Room sits almost hidden beneath the Blue Line at California. The front window, though, allows a front row seat, to see how the city's best thin crust is made.
"It is a two to three day fermentation for the dough, so it makes it nice, airy and light; still foldable, it's not a cracker crust or deep dish but not quite a New York slice either," said Bill Harner, the general manager at The Boiler Room.
The dough is key, but it doesn't hurt having combos of diced and pureed tomatoes, provolone-and-whole-milk-mozzarella, and then crumbles of blended garlic and spicy Anichini sausage. Into a 600-degree, rotating gas-fired stone deck oven, the pizzas emerge ready to be devoured.
In Ashburn on the city's far Southwest Side, Vito & Nick's dominates the tavern-style category, with its cracker-thin crust and exceptional toppings, like homemade fennel seed sausage and mozzarella from Joliet.
"Grandpa started a tavern in 1920 and pizza began in 1945," said Vito & Nick's owner, Rosemary George.
Like any good tavern-style, the key is maintaining crispness, even with a square-cut pie.
"We make it the night before, and of course we keep punching the dough down so it keeps raising and the more it's done it's so tender and crispy and we use a roller," she said.
In Ravenswood, the city's premier Neapolitan pizza comes out of the brick, beehive-shaped, wood-burning oven at Spacca Napoli. That means strict adherence to Italian law regarding the flour, the San Marzano tomatoes, the fior di latte or bufala mozzarella and a sprinkling of parmesan and pecorino from Sardinia. Don't forget the drizzle of olive oil from Vesuvio.
The tell-tale sign? That chewy, blistered, leopard-spotted cornicione, or edge, which should be full of air pockets. In a city with a deep dish reputation, thin crusts can still steal the show.
"Chicago has always been thin crust," George said.
The Boiler Room
2210 N. California Ave.
Vito & Nick's
8433 S. Pulaski Rd.
1769 W. Sunnyside Ave.