By Lori Fredrich Senior Writer Published Oct 28, 2020 at 1:01 PM Photography: Lori Fredrich

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.

Chuck’s Place

406 N. Main St., Thiensville
(262) 242-9797
chucksplacefamilyrestaurant.com

If you remember Freedmanelli’s Numero Uno in Shorewood, then you remember the advent of Chicago-style deep dish in Milwaukee. And, if you were saddened by its closing, you might well be delighted to know that the pizza still exists, though it’s moved about 15 miles north to Thiensville.

The restaurant was established by the late Charles "Chuck" Freedman, an industry veteran who owned a number of George Webb and Ham-N-Egger restaurants in the Milwaukee area during the 1960s.

But, despite a long time love of breakfast and sandwiches, Freedman also had a dream of being the first to bring Chicago-style deep dish (and stuffed) pizza to the Milwaukee market. So, after tirelessly working to duplicate the "top secret" signature crust, sauce and Italian sausage which defined Chicago style pizza in the Windy City, he brought his dream to fruition. In 1971, he opened Numero Uno on Oakland Avenue in Shorewood, a restaurant he operated until he was diagnosed with cancer in 1986.

Fortunately, Freedman benefited from both a strong will and good medical care, and he was able to put his hat back into the restaurant ring. In 1988, he established Chuck’s Place, a family restaurant which served all-day breakfast, lunch, dinner and the signature pizza he’d introduced at Numero Uno.

Freedman operated Chuck’s place for 12 more years before selling the business to Ted Hagen, a 20-year employee with whom he entrusted his beloved recipes. Today, Hagen still serves up the delicious deep dish pizza (the ingredients of which are almost identical to those used by Lou Malnati’s).

On our visit to Chuck’s Place, we ordered a medium deep dish with sausage, mushrooms and pepperoni.

The crust

The crust on the pizza was crisp and dense (you’ll likely want to tackle it with a knife). It possessed the proper biscuit-like texture and the classic yellow coloration. The crust was nicely oiled (but not particularly buttery), with significant crispness on both bottom and sides.

The toppings

As for pizza’s toppings, the sauce showcased a deep, rich cooked tomato flavor with some texture from petitely diced tomatoes. It was more sparingly applied than on some pies, but offered a good balance of tomato flavor.

Meanwhile, the mushrooms were very thinly sliced (and sometimes crisp)with a pleasantly earthy flavor. There was a balanced amount of cheese, and the sausage, which is sourced from Chicago’s Fontanini Italian meats, is present in every bite, thanks to its application as a thin patty, which stretches from edge to edge atop the cheese. It possessed a nice mild classic Italian sausage flavor. Meanwhile, the thinly sliced pepperoni was flavorful and moderately spicy with lovely crisped edges.

Verdict

This is a Wisconsin-made Chicago style pie that both captures the essence of the original and makes it well worth the drive to Thiensville.

Lori Fredrich Senior Writer

Lori Fredrich (Lo) is an eater, writer, wonderer, bon vivante, traveler, cook, gardener and girlwonder. Born and raised in the Milwaukee area, she has tried to leave many times, but seems to be drawn to this quirky city that smells of beer and alewives.

Some might say that she is a little obsessed with food. Lo would say she is A LOT obsessed with food. After all, she has been cooking, eating and enjoying food for decades and has no plans to retire anytime soon. 

Lo's recipes and writing have been featured in a variety of publications including GO: Airtran Inflight Magazine, Cheese Connoisseur, Cooking Light, Edible Milwaukee, Milwaukee Magazine and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, as well as on the blog Go Bold with Butter, the web site Wisconsin Cheese Talk, and in the quarterly online magazine Grate. Pair. Share.