Emmett’s (50 Macdougal Street, 917-639-3571) has been open and serving Chicago-style deep dish pizza right here in New York for about two months now. Seeing as I’m from Chicago, I decided to give it a try and pass along my thoughts. Now, this is the easy part, because all I had to do was go there and eat it. What’s more difficult is presenting Chicago-style pizza in the proper context, for it may be the most misunderstood food product in the entire world.
So, here are some things you should know about Chicago-style pizza:
1. Deep Dish Pizza Isn’t a Thing Chicagoans Eat All the Time
It’s actually quite flattering that people think Chicagoans are hearty enough to casually snack on these birthday-cake-sized wheels of decadence. Sadly, we only have five feet of large intestine, just like everyone else.
Deep dish is a version of pizza that’s reserved for cravings or special occasions, like entertaining friends or relatives from out of town. Thin crust (cut in squares) is the most commonly consumed style of pizza in Chicago, and it’s terrific.
Still, it’s very nice to have the thick stuff as an option.
2. We Really Don’t Care About the New York Pizza vs. Deep Dish “Feud”
Chicagoans have a unique brand of civic pride that can be construed as “insecurity” when it comes to New York. I love both cities. Still, as someone who grew up in downtown Chicago, I am occasionally prone to bouts of competitiveness that highlight our special brand of big-city provincialism.
But with pizza, you’ll find that we are pretty blasé when it comes to the competition. That’s why it was so confusing when Jon Stewart’s rant against deep dish got so much attention. Daily Show episodes are inexplicably recapped every morning on the Internet (stop doing this, by the way, it is lazy), but the pizza thing took on a life of its own beyond next-day blog posts. It was one of the show’s most passed-around clips of 2013.
Everyone I know from Chicago enjoys New York pizza. There aren’t “debates” about this. It’s tasty and triangular and I certainly wouldn’t kick a slice of it out of bed. It’s nice to see that the insecurity seems to be on New York’s side here.
You all have very good pizza. Keep up the good work!
3. Deep Dish is Pizza
This seems to be the go-to argument against deep dish: “It’s not even pizza!” First of all, stop being a pizza ref, you are better than that. Secondly, it is pizza, just a different variety of pizza. When you cut it, does it not bleed tomato sauce? When you bring it to a party, do people not say, “Yay, pizza”?
Beefier and heavier-duty ingredients don’t change the DNA of a food item. Is a hoagie still a sandwich?
Why yes, yes it is.
4. You Don’t Have to Like Deep Dish Pizza
Hey, I understand. It’s big and heavy and not for amateurs. It has the caloric make-up of a aircraft carrier full of party subs. If you decide it’s not for you, no sweat. Feel free to order some tavern-style thin crust instead.
There’s that amiable Midwestern disposition that makes Chicago — and its pizza — so special.
5. Regarding That Chicago Thin Crust, Cut in Squares: It’s Far Better Than New York Pizza
Yeah, I know what I said earlier regarding not caring about the competition and I still don’t care because there is no competition.
Chew on that, ya bums.
Now onto Emmett’s.
Opened by two brothers from the Chicago area, Emmett’s doesn’t bend over backwards to let you know where it’s from. I saw a Cubs sticker and a small Blues Brothers poster on the outside of the restroom door. That’s it for Chicago ephemera.
The pizza is qualified as “deep dish,” not “Chicago-style” on the menu, and it’s really quite good.
Any questions of its “authenticity” are inherently flawed, given there is wide variance within the parameters of deep dish pizza. What makes Emmett’s version “deep dish” is that it’s cooked in a large, high-walled pan with one layer of dough spread across the bottom and sides, a layer of mozzarella, your choice of toppings, and a thick blanket of tangy tomato sauce.
It is so hot when it arrives at your table that they give you a small hourglass to signal when it’s OK to take a bite.
The crust is crispy and delicious, far better than, say, the buttery and wafer-like crust served at Chicago’s (vastly overrated) Lou Malnati’s. (Esquire recently named Lou Malnati’s the country’s “most life-changing pizza,” which is only true if you happen to be conceiving a child while eating it — and I’m sure some folks in Chicago have). Emmett’s cheese is stringy and salty and clings for its life when a slice is separated from the mother pie.
It’s very good pizza that fills you up after just two slices, as it should. I stuffed myself on three slices with pepperoni, sausage, and green pepper and enjoyed every bite.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 30, 2014