Illinois: Pepperoni and Giardiniera in Chicago

Georgia to Illinois in a week may seem like I am taking this very seriously, but I already had a planned vacation to Milwaukee for the week. As I started my day in Milwaukee (at 11:00AM because I’m on vacation and I can), I checked the weather at home in Savannah. It was a gorgeous 63 degrees and sunny. This morning, as I scooped doggy poop out of 18 inches of snow in 16 degree weather, I couldn’t help but yearn for home just a little. When you’re using a plastic bag to scoop pup-poop and for just a short, fleeting moment, you enjoy the warmth of the bag… it’s too damn cold.

I wanted to get two pizzas taken down during this visit, both Wisconsin and Illinois, but the pizza in Wisconsin is located in Fish Creek, 3.5 hours north of Milwaukee, where they are smart enough to be closed for the winter. No worries, pizza-kids… They’ll be re-opening in February. So, for this trip, I visited Pizano’s in Lincoln Park in Chicago to check out their Pepperoni and Giardiniera pizza.

You’ll get to meet three co-pilots on this trip. Brandon, whom I’ve visiting for the week, lives in Milwaukee, and my girlfriends Carrie and Gina live in Chicago. Brandon loves food as much as I do… last night, we “joked” about how we should go be fat kids and eat Taco Bell for almost three hours before one of us finally said, “No really. Let’s go.” This was after we made plans to go to the gym and then spent 3+ hours putting together a puzzle, pretending to lose track of time until I finally piped up and said, “Oh man! It’s 9:30! I guess we don’t have time to make it to the gym…” He’s not fooling me. I know he was doing the same thing. (Sidenote: This is how pizza happened on Sunday also.) … Carrie and I are from Albany, Georgia and shared a very good mutual friend in high school who passed away several years ago, and we’ve semi-adopted each other since. Gina is not from Albany, but was my parents’ neighbor there for a couple of years, and she very patiently dealt with me traipsing over every so often and even destroying property on occasion. Tonight, years later, we all found ourselves at Pizano’s in Chicago to check out this pizza.

To make a long story short, I directed everyone to the wrong Pizano’s. It was an express/takeout only location in Lincoln Park. We all met there then climbed in Brandon’s car to see if we would have better luck at the State Street location. Carrie and Gina had never met each other before, but were insta-friends and within 3 minutes, the stories has already been told of of the time I caused Carrie to sink her SUV into a ditch on a dirt road and the time I smashed my car into Gina’s mailbox, and it was agreed upon that I should not be allowed to drive anywhere. Thanks, guys! (By the way, this was no tiny wooden mailbox.. It was a giant brick monster and far more damage was done to my 1999 Pontiac Grand Prix than the mailbox.)

We traipsed into Pizano’s, and we were promptly taken through the entire restaurant to a table in another room in the corner as far away from other patrons as possible. I guess we just looked like we should be kept separate from others, which is pretty darn accurate. After going to the wrong Pizano’s, I grabbed the menu, anxious to find my pizza under the “Best Pizza in Illinois” section. Lo and behold… I couldn’t find this pizza. It wasn’t on the menu. I panicked and grabbed my phone to look up the pizza on the Zagat list and make sure I had it right. It turns out all was fine, and they did indeed make the pizza, but it was not a menu ticket-item.

The waiter came, and my southern accent and I tried to order a thin crust pepperoni and giardiniera pizza. Now, I took the time to Google what a giardiniera was before eating it, but I did not think to Google how to pronounce it. ”Gardiniera” came out more like that angry grrr sound an agitated cat makes before it coughs up a hairball. Actually, it came out exactly like what you would expect someone from South Georgia trying to say “giardiniera” would sound like. The waiter looked at me like I had two heads, and luckily, Gina jumped in to translate. Apparently these peppers have some kick to them, and when I saw on the menu that their thin crust pizzas had the stamp of ”As Featured on Oprah and in USA Today”, I began to get pretty excited about this pizza.  This is a city known for pizza… DEEP dish pizza. And I’ve never had deep dish pizza, but if THIS was going to be the best pizza in Chicago… screw the deep dish, Oprah-Zagat sanctioned thin-crust here I come. Let’s be real y’all. Oprah’s a big girl. I expect her to know her ‘za. (That’s frat bro for pizZA.)

We caught up and while we waited on our pizzas to come, the Chicago-based girls told me where their favorite pizzas in the Windy City were… but we are here to talk about this one so, here’s Zagat’s photo and review:

Illinois- Pepperoni and Giardiniera at Pizano's in Chicago

“Deep dish is the “thing” in Chicago, but it’s not the only thing that Chicagoans eat. The cornmeal crust on most thin-crust pizzas makes them special, and Pizano’s does it well. Giardiniera is arguably a Chicago specialty, with pizzas, subs and hot dogs topped with them frequently. It’s not even on the menu at Pizano’s, but it’s available. The meat and heat combo really sums up what pizza in Chicago is all about.”

Now, I will say that it was a dark room, and again… I have a fear of other people seeing me taking photos of my food, but here’s mine:

Illinois

Despite that lack of the classico Italian red and white checkered cloth (which the real tables had, but not our outcast corner) and my lack of photography skill, they actually did look very similar. This is where all of the good things I have to say about this adventure (pizza-related) ended. In fact, this pizza made me reluctant to continue on my pizza journey at all. It was mediocre at best. I would have traded it for a Domino’s pepperoni and jalapeno faster than Honey Boo Boo could have eaten it. I will say this, to their credit.. the thin crust was pretty awesome. It’s a solid, thin crust. It held the toppings well. However, it had a mealy, crunchy, strange almost corn flour like taste to it. All in all, pass on this one.

Side note: After that, we went to Silver Cloud Chicago on an excellent call by Gina, where they were wrapping up filming an episode of Chicago PD. I would love for this to be to point where I tell you that we all worked our way onto the set and something wild happened, but no such luck. However, with this being only my 3rd trip to Chicago, the girls insisted that I have a shot of the local firewater. I wasn’t driving, but co-pilot Brandon was, and we were going all the way back to Milwaukee. I wasn’t sure what to think of this, but I was a bartender for years, and I know that there is pretty much nothing out of a bottle that I can’t handle one shot of and even do it with a smile for the creepy old man who bought it for me… BUT… this terror did not come from a bottle. In fact, this shot, called “Malort” for those of you keeping track, didn’t come from a bottle…. It is no coincidence that it sounds like Voldemort. This shot tasted like every 3AM mat shot I ever poured for whatever broke college kid or newly turned 21 year old ding-dong would take it. However, it did inspire me to behave like a newly turned 21-year old the whoooole two hour trip home to Milwaukee. Details not included.

Next up… Charleston, South Carolina.

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