There was one sure mission that I had chosen to take on as my Amtrak train pulled into Chicago’s Union Station: hunt down a delicious land-mine of flavor AKA a Chicago deep dish pizza.
A little flashback to 2011 when I went abroad for the first time to New Zealand. Again I was on the train across the United States, but on a much shorter and more direct route than my recent gnarly train adventure across America.
I had met two travelers on the train, one a German fellow named Paulus, and the other an eccentric chap self-named Black Diamond. Black Diamond, or Theron Denson as is his real name, was traveling across the US as a Neil Diamond tribute singer. And I’ve gotta’ say, the guy was hilarious. The other guy — just a backpacker doing the same thing I wanted to do; travel the world.
With an Indiana Jones style hat I am still jealous of…
On that layover in 2011 they agreed to come with me to try my first ever Chicago deep dish, a legend oft whispered about on travel channels.
We chose to go to Gino’s East because it was decently close to the station, and I had just seen a tantalizing episode featuring that very pizza joint.
When you first walk in, your eyes are blitzed with color. Every single inch of this restaurant was covered in graffiti, scribbles, and drawings as it is encouraged that you leave your mark somewhere in the place. Now, as a huge fan of graffiti, this was a visual playground.
Probably one of the coolest looking restaurants I’ve been in to date, just based on the fact that they cater to the most basic childhood desire — draw on EVERYTHING. It’s pretty rad. High ceilings, polished wood, and a golden lit bar area was the staging ground for losing my deep dish virginity.
So, how was the first time?
Let’s just say she was a tease.
She was a little saucy. She was smoldering hot. She had me salivating as she propped herself on the table before me, daring me to dive in.
This landmine of flavor took about 40 minutes to come out, and by then the suspense of it had me fiendish. We all had gotten local Chicago amber ales, and with a clash of glasses and a “cheers” we grabbed hold of pizza destiny.
The sheer thickness of it was a little…intimidating. But I could handle her, I knew I could. Or so I wanted to pretend at least as I put the first bite in my mouth.
Savory. Cheesy. Zesty. And the meats were smoky.
The sauce was slightly bitter but it was complimented by the flaky golden crust. It was nearly 3 inches thick, and that crust tasted almost like sweet shortbread. I remember the lot of us grinning in pizza induced pleasure. But those massive slices do take quite a toll. After 2 slices each we were all throwing in the towel.
But damn were we satisfied.
Wipe your brow and fan yourself a bit, I know that was sexy.
And if my first time turned out to be that good, how would another time and another place hold up?
Would I be making a bad decision by cheating on my first deep dish love?
Giordano’s was the spot chosen for my second affair. My train arrived just around noon and I began scouring the map and reviews for a new deep dish joint. I actually even called around to all of the most iconic places to see if I could film the who thing, but unfortunately it was a Saturday and their marketing offices were closed.
Maybe it’s for the better, I’d hate to blur out details because the video got too sexy. Showing you how they smother that naked crust with a layer of liquid crimson sauce like a velvet dress could be R-rated…
Giordano’s was much more unassuming than my first.
Tucked away in the bottom part of a hotel was surprising for a legendary place like itself. When you enter in, there is no graffiti craziness here. I get it. A little more low-key, a little more classic. I like a girl who appreciates those things so I was getting excited.
My waitress, with hair as big as her marvelous smile, took my order. Classic “stuffed deep dish” was boldly advertised on the menu which had me thinking this deep dish wasn’t as shy as I thought.
It would take 30 minutes to come out, another tease of a pizza I thought to myself. No matter, I knew what to expect and I had waited before.
Or did I know what to expect?
Would she be different from the last?
After a while of waiting, I decided to snap some photos from around the restaurant to waste a little time. Plaques and news articles raving about the restaurant adorned the walls, and declarations of pizza love hung from the ceilings.
Oh, trust me, I know that love.
I returned to my table, and suddenly slowed right before it.
There she was before me, set high up on a stand. She was already sprawled out with a slice on my plate, and was already smoking before we had even begun.
I sat down slowly and took a deep breath, eyed locked on her. I glanced around, checking for anyone watching because of what I was about to do to her. I was going to ravage her, every last piece.
And I wanted to snap a photo of the sexiness…and didn’t was to be caught taking selfies…
Stuffed she was.
I chose the meatball stuffed deep dish (one of the reasons being I wanted to say it was cloudy out with a chance of meatball pizza :P) and this was just as thick as Gino’s East. I took my first bite, and with that my eyes rolled backward.
“Wow that is amazing” I said to myself.
But she was a little deceiving.
The molten cheese overpowers at first, but as you indulge in more bites, the sauce hits with a nice mild balance. The meatballs hit with a slight zing of zest. The sauce was herby and the whole around taste was balanced all around. Not too many highs and lows with the ingredient flavors.
She was consistent with her deliciousness. It was slow going. I made sure to enjoy every bit of a bite because I didn’t know when I’d have this moment again.
That moment would be soon over as well…
She was just as thick as the last deep dish years before, but I had the help of 2 others. This time, I hit that 2 slice mark and I realized I couldn’t handle any more. She was just too much and I finished early.
I promise, I’m not always that quick to finish.
Many a man would have succumb after just a couple as well. I have no shame.
And just as before, it was time for this traveler to go. To leave the darling deep dish behind with a small sizzle of hope that I’d have it again.
I know what is on your mind. You want to know who was better don’t you?
Well, both have traits that make my mouth water still to this day.
I loved the ambiance that Gino’s East has. Also, the flaky short bread crust was marvelous. The sauce was a little more bitter than I’d like, but the meats were phenomenal.
As for Giordano’s, what I loved about it was the even flavors. It wasn’t too wild with the different ingredients, and the service was more memorable than Gino’s East.
For the winner? I’ll take both ;)
I’ll leave it up to you to decide for yourself the day you have your deep dish love affair…
I hope you will tell me the juicy details of it too. If you ever fancy heading to Chicago to have your own deep dish love affair, hit up Trivago whom I’ve used in the past to find some rad hotels on the low down. And if you are on the east coast, this decadence is just a day trip away on Amtrak!
**DISCLOSURE** I was not financially compensated for this post. I received a free trip courtesy of Amtrak for review purposes. The opinions, photos, videos, and use of the word “gnarly” are completely my own based on my experience. I only positively review or represent companies that I actually have a positive experience with, and whom have values I agree with.