That’s right, the above photo is Chicago deep-dish pizza. And no, it’s not an old photo from our days in Chicago. It’s a photo of what we ate last night!
Inside the mall near our apartment in Lagos de Moreno is a little pizza place called “Ed’s Chicago Pizza.” I admit, when I saw the sign I was skeptical. The Pizza Hut in Guadalajara also has a “Chicago pizza” but when we ordered it we ended up eating nothing more than a pizza with slightly thicker crust, nothing more than regular pan pizza, which is to say a pizza that was not by any stretch of the imagination worthy of the name “Chicago pizza.”
For the uninitiated: Chicago-style pizza has a crispy buttery crust. Upon this crust is piled a brick of far, far too much melty mozzarella cheese, with any number of ingredients (we especially like spinach in ours) stuffed into it. And this is all topped with a tangy, sometimes slightly spicy tomato pizza sauce. There are different varieties within Chicago, each with different emphases – the cheesiness of Giordano’s, the veggie-ness of Lou’s, the butteryness of Uno’s – but those are the basic ingredients. And outside of the ever-expanding chain wing of Uno’s (distinct from its two original North Loop locations, which are of a level of quality much higher than the chain), this kind of pizza is kind of hard to find outside of Chicago. So you can sympathize with my skepticism that a tiny restaurant in a dying mall in a small town in the middle of west-central Mexico would actually be serving real, authentic Chicago pizza.
Still, we wanted to give it a try – we do love pizza, after all. And when we walked in… Whoa.
It was like walking into another world. Old and cheaply framed 8 x 10 photos adorn the walls, photos that depict – wonder of wonders! – Chicago sports stadiums, scenes from the Loop, images of Lake Michigan. Nearly all of them seemed aged by a few decades, as if they were picked up in a souvenir shop back in the 80s – that is to say, they incited a rush of memories not only from the last two years but from my first twenty years growing up in the suburbs of that great city by the lake. Sitting there, in a metal chair, staring at the menu on a red checkerboard tablecloth, I got a little lump in my throat. We hadn’t even tasted the pizza yet, and already I could taste home.
We ordered a pizza with – no way, they have spinach?! – spinach filling. And oh was it ever indeed authentic Chicago pizza. The crispy buttery crust. The brick of melty mozzarella cheese. The slightly spicy red sauce covering it all. We could hardly believe what we were eating. And as usual with Chicago pizza, after two slices you feel like you can’t eat anything else for about a week, so we had plenty to take home.
As shocking as it was to find real Chicago pizza in rural Mexico, I probably shouldn’t have been so surprised. I have seen an inordinate number of White Sox and Cubs hats, jerseys, and t-shirts in this town, much more than you might expect. You’ll always see random sports apparel here – the other day I saw a beatup Phoenix Suns hat with the familiar 1995-era rectangular logo – but the percentage of Chicago stuff here is especially high, too high to be mere coincidence. I stood at a street corner earlier in the day and saw no fewer than three White Sox hats of different styles on three different people. Truth be told, White Sox gear outnumbers Cubs gear – I’m outnumbered again – but it still makes me unreasonably happy.
The thing is, I’m sure there’s a whole story of a people behind the Chicago pizza and the Chicago sports gear, a story that tells the history of migration to and from Jalisco and the Midwest, a story that Chris is telling a major part of with her research this year. (We’re still hoping she’ll write a bit about that soon!) But for now, epic stories aside, I’m just happy to have had a taste of home.