Where do you find Chicago-style deep dish pizza? Lori Fredrich is exploring the Chicago deep dish pizza scene in Milwaukee, visiting a variety of pizzerias to give you a full report on the flavors and textures you’ll encounter. Check out all the deep-dish features so far.
"Where do I find Chicago-style deep dish pizza in Milwaukee?"
It's a question I'm asked on a regular basis. It's also one that's become far easier to answer in recent years as Milwaukee has become home to various Chicago-style deep dish pizza brands. But, even among those popular brands – think Uno, Rosati's and Lou Malnati's – there are variations.
So, I decided to take the time to explore the Chicago deep dish pizza scene in Milwaukee, visiting each spot and giving you a full report on the flavors and textures you'll encounter at each location. To keep things consistent, I ordered a small (generally 10-inch) pizza with sausage, mushrooms and pepperoni at each location, and then tasted each pizza component (from toppings to crust) to give you the full lowdown.
If you're a lover of Chicago-style deep dish, my hope is you'll read along and maybe find a spot or two you haven't tried. If you're curious what all the fuss is about, this series might well assist you in finding your ideal pie.
But first, a few words on what Chicago-style deep dish really is.
Not every deep dish is Chicago-style
"Deep dish" pizza can come in various forms. But there is really only one type of pizza that qualifies as Chicago-style deep dish. Much of what you'll find in Wisconsin is more akin to "pan style" pizza featuring a soft, thick dough that's cooked in a deep pan. It looks a bit like Chicago-style pizza, but the top is likely covered with cheese.
When you break it down to basics, there are three ways to identify a classic Chicago-style deep dish pizza:
- The crust: Chicago-style deep dish features an almost biscuit-like crust, which nearly always gets a boost from butter or corn oil. Note: Stuffed pizza is a category all its own. If there is a second, often very thin layer of crust in between the toppings and the sauce, it's not classic Chicago-style deep dish.
- The toppings: they are applied in reverse order from most pizzas. The cheese is layered right on top of crust, with meat and vegetable toppings to follow; this prevents the cheese from scorching during the longer cooking time.
- The sauce: You will definitely find the sauce on the top of your pizza.
For the purpose of this series, I made a grand attempt to focus on true Chicago style deep dish. But, as you'll find ... not every "Chicago-style" pie is created equal.
5121 W. Howard Ave., (414) 321-3900
If you didn’t know better, you might overlook this South Side bar and restaurant located in a strip mall just off of Howard Avenue and 51st Street. But based on the crowds fairly early on a Friday evening, the venue has built quite the following since opening in 2014. They’ve also become a convenient spot for take-out thanks to their drive-thru, which allows for easy low-contact pick-up.
Among the things which contribute to the bar’s crowd of loyal visitors are its daily specials, which include tacos and buy-one-get-one (thin crust) pizza deals. But they also serve something a bit less expected: deep dish pizza, a pie they call “Chicago Style.”
For this piece, we ordered a Brewtown Eatery medium deep dish with sausage, mushrooms and pepperoni for carry-out. We also asked that it remain uncut (a request they honored), and you can see the lovely result:
The pizza’s crust was thick, soft and bread-like with beautifully crisp edges, moderately crisp sides and a slightly thinner crisp bottom crust that made a beautiful base for the pie. Even better, it wasn’t at all soggy (big win for leaving the pie uncut).
Upon first look at the pizza, I had my suspicions that the pie was a stuffed pizza, rather than a classic deep dish. After all, it was deep and filled to the brim with toppings. As I sliced into the pizza and began examining the layers, I found I was right. There was, in fact, thin layer of crust on the top of the pizza, hovering just beneath the sauce. Wisconsin pizza places do seem to love their stuffed deep dish pizzas.
As for pizza’s toppings, which were laid down in the proper order (cheese on the base followed by toppings, sauce and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese), they were substantial.
The sauce, which was applied in a moderate layer (enough to completely cover that sneaky top crust) and sprinkled with parmesan cheese was pretty stellar. It was slightly chunky with a rich cooked tomato flavor augmented with a moderate amount of salt and seasoned with an Italian blend of spices.
Based on both their size and texture, the mushrooms were fresh, but well cooked and seasoned with salt (if they happened to be canned, they were of high quality). The sausage was flavorful with a pleasant texture, though not as fennel-forward as some. The pepperoni, on the other hand, was less compelling. It was very mild, thinly sliced and had a texture akin to the deli-style pepperoni you can buy at the grocery store.
And then there was the cheese. The crust sported a generous portion of cheese, which oozed out of the pie when sliced and offered a significant pull when slices were removed. Yes, this was a stuffed pie, indeed.
Although I had to disqualify this pie from the classic Chicago-style deep dish category, it was tasty. In fact, it was among the better stuffed pizzas I’ve tried. If you like a deep dish pizza with a more bread-like crust, more sauce and more cheese, this is a good place to start.
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.