By Lori Fredrich Senior Writer & Dining Editor Published Oct 29, 2020 at 1:31 PM

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.

Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria 

15795 W Bluemound Rd., (414) 930-4500
8799 N Port Washington Rd., (414) 446-3500

loumalnatis.com

As the story goes, Chicago-style deep dish was birthed in 1943 when Ike Sewell and Ric Riccardo (AKA Richard Novaretti) opened a restaurant now known as Pizzeria Uno. The details of who created their deep dish recipe are clouded in mystery. But at least one theory credits Adolpho "Rudy" Malnati, Sr., a longtime Uno's employee with the creation of the recipe. As the story follows, when Riccardo passed away, Rudy and his son Lou continued to co-manage the pizzeria until Rudy’s passing.

By 1971, Lou Malnati was ready to break out on his own. So he and his wife Jean opened the first Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria in Lincolnwood, IL. Their pizza, notably less dense than Pizzeria Uno’s, was filled below the crust’s top edge. And that crust, eventually trademarked as “Buttercrust,” substituted butter for oil, creating a unique new flavor profile that would become a major distinction for the brand.

Even 45 years later, the pizzeria is still run by members of the Malnati family. They’ve expanded significantly, opening their first out-of-state location in Arizona in 2016, moving on to add locations in Indiana and (now) two in Wisconsin.

For this piece, we ordered a Lou Malnati’s medium deep dish with sausage, mushrooms and pepperoni for carry-out. 

Note: you have lots of choices when you order take-out from Lou’s, and not just in terms of toppings. You can specify the crispness of your crust (gooey, just right, well done or half-baked); we chose “just right”. You can make it a “buttercrust” (we did). And you can choose cut or uncut (always choose uncut; here’s why). Choosing half-baked is also a great idea if you’re buying pizza to enjoy later or the next day. All you need is an oven to bake it up hot when you’re ready to eat.

The crust

The crust on the pizza was crisp all around, but particularly on its edges, which rose about a half-inch above the toppings. The crust was tender with a vaguely biscuit-like texture and not remotely soggy (not even on the bottom), a fact likely assisted greatly by the fact that the pizza was cut just before eating. Its butter flavor was not overly pronounced (I’ll admit I was a bit surprised), but the crust was tasty, even on its own.

The toppings

As for pizza’s toppings, which were laid down in the proper order: first cheese followed by toppings, sauce and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese, were simple and more spare than other deep dishes we tried.

The simple no-frills sauce – comprised of bright, slightly salty tomatoes – was applied thinly, just coating the toppings and offering enough flavor to have a presence in every bite.

The mushrooms appeared to be fresh; but they were nicely cooked and not at all watery. The Italian sausage seemed leaner than some, but offered up a balanced profile, which included garlic and fennel. Meanwhile, the pepperoni was nice and sharp with better flavor than most. It was very thinly sliced; but neither greasy nor crisp.

Finally, at the bottom was a cloak of cheese (not quite as much, dare I say, as one might expect in Wisconsin), which balanced nicely with the other ingredients and protected the crust from sogginess, as intended.

Verdict

History aside, Lou Malnati’s is still about as Chicago as Chicago deep dish gets, forging its own path with a classic style pizza that still manages to stand out from the rest.

Lori Fredrich Senior Writer & Dining Editor

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.