As a native Chicagoan (read: pizza snob) I’m always skeptical of anything labeled Chicago-style pizza outside of the Windy City. In my experience, out-of-town deep dish does it wrong in a variety of ways: (a) the sauce is too sweet, (b) the sauce is not on top, and (c) there’s not nearly enough cheese.
Maybe this has something to do with healthier lifestyles beyond the 773 area code. We’re talking an awful lot of cheese, after all. At Chicago’s popular Gino’s East, for instance, a large deep dish pie holds at least 10 ounces of cheese—-up to 20 ounces if the pie is plain cheese only.
Knowing this, I read Eli Lehrer‘s endorsement of the deep dish at District of Pi with a sense of doubt. My fellow Chicagoan, a vice president at the Heartland Institute, called it “an acceptable true-Chicago style Deep Dish pie” —-which, in my mind, suggests that it barely meets the cheese standard.
I had to see for myself. I dragged along a friend, also a native Chicagoan, to help me gauge the pizza’s authenticity.
“After the first bite we’ll know if it’s Chicago-style or just wrong,” my dining companion says as we glance over the menu.
The setting doesn’t scream Chicago-style pizzeria. Sure, there is exposed brick. But no checkered tablecloth. No graffiti-lined walls. Actually, this place is a little bit nicer than a Chicago-style pizzeria. Is that a chandelier in the back?
We ordered a large “Kirkwood” ($24), one of the house’s “deep-dish specialty pi,” which comes with mozzarella cheese, Italian meatballs, red peppers and basil. About 35 minutes later, it was in front of us. At first glance, it fit the profile perfectly—a thick, golden-brown-crusted pie smothered in a vibrant red, chunky sauce that is, thankfully, on top.
So far, so good. But, as I lifted the pie server, I noticed something awry. Your traditional Chicago pie oozes cheese to the point where it’s nearly impossible to pick up with your hands. This one was far too easy to lift.
When I plopped the pizza onto my plate and dug in with my knife and fork, I noticed another discrepancy. The part-flour, part-cornmeal crust was a struggle to cut through. Real deep dish is so battered by the deluge of piping hot cheese that it is soft enough to cut with a spoon.
To be fair, the meat was well-seasoned and nicely complimented the tangy, chunky sauce, which was abundant. Just like the real thing.
The biggest problem, though, was the cheese. Or lack of it. Compared to the veritable sea of cheese I’m used to, this looked like spaghetti and meatballs on flatbread.
I asked the waiter about the restaurant’s own standards of cheese distribution. He tells me that District of Pi piles on about five to eight ounces of the stuff per pizza.
Maybe that’s good enough for D.C. I, for one, could use about five to eight ounces more.
District of Pi, 910 F St. NW, (202) 393-5494
Photo by Maya Rhodan