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Thin Crust vs. Deep Dish: Which Is Better?

With thin crust deepening its dominance, dining editor Penny Pollack argues for the style. Marc Malnati, scion of deep-dish king Lou Malnati, begs to differ.

Dear Marc,

As a dining critic, I approach all food with impartiality. I’ve tried to like deep-dish pizza. Really, I have. I’ve eaten my fair share of the stuff—part of the job and critical to social acceptance in Chicago, where it tops the food-pride chart. But I just don’t get it.

Deep dish obliterates the root pleasure of pizza: a thin crust. Crispy on the edges, slightly chewy in the center. Flavorful in its own right, and an ideal table for the toppings. The best thin-crust pizzas are light enough to eat with your hands. Get a knife and fork involved, and all is lost.

When Egyptians baked pizza—flatbread with a few field-to-crust spices—it was thin. When it spread to other countries and met up with the tomato in Italy: thin. When it crossed the Atlantic Ocean after World War II, the pizza America embraced was thin.

The deep dishers bastardized the world’s most glorious meal into a blunt and unwieldy beast that provides little nuance and even less gratification. Layering sausage and cheese like bricks and mortar creates a heavy, thick, gluttonous mass. By morning, deep-dish pizza becomes an inedible fridge-suck. It can’t redeem itself even as a leftover.   

Yours,
Penny

 

Dear Penny,

Your argument is flimsy—sort of like one of your skinny, oily, wipe-my-face-after-every-bite Neapolitan pizzas. I’m not impressed when the cheese on my slice slides around or, worse, goes MIA. And pardon my lack of interest in dolphin sausage or caramelized tofu or whatever the hipster topping of the week is. Call me a purist, but nothing touches the simple tradition of deep dish. It’s not too thick, not too thin, and sturdy enough to hold mounds of toppings.

Pizza, as I know it, started in the hills of Italy as peasant food. Grandma would bake bread and top it with whatever veggies, meat, and cheese she could find. Her goal was to make something fresh and to provide enough for her family. Deep dish captures that spirit. It is not just a snack that you fold up and eat on the run. It’s more substantial and less pretentious—a knife-and-fork meal that families can share.

Chicago-style pizza is consumed by millions of people here every month, the vast majority of them Chicagoans, not tourists (as has been blathered errantly by your magazine). It is the iconic comfort food that reflects the soul of this town. No other product evokes this brand of passion. Just ask Jon Stewart. 

Sincerely,
Marc

Illustrations: John Kenzie

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